University of Nottingham Malaysia
     
  

Inspiring people

Andy Chan
Studying haze pollution to lessen its impact on climate and health
Professor and Dean of Faculty of Engineering
Andy-Chan
Can you explain your research?

I study haze pollution in South East Asia and how that impacts on the global climate. Haze changes the rainfall and humidity of a region. South East Asia is blighted by severe haze episodes every two years. In Malaysia and Singapore, for example, visibility can be reduced to less than 50 meters when the haze hits. The problem has a profound effect on public health; it significantly affects livelihoods particularly the agriculture and economies of South East Asia.

Most haze originates from forest fires and palm tree-burning on farms in Indonesia and Malaysia. The main aim of our research is to understand how that haze disperses around South East Asia. We use computational and experimental tools, together with satellite information and imagery from NASA to analyse the physics and chemistry of how haze moves. With this knowledge, we can educate farmers to time when and how they should burn to minimise their impact on our climate and health. We can also influence government agencies responsible for public health and the environment.

Where else has your research been applied?

Urban planning is another area we are applying meteorological understanding to inform the design of new, smart cities. The aim is to ensure the buildings in new urban projects are well-ventilated and free from air pollution. We have established guidelines which have been published in a reputable journal. Now some of the news cities in Hong Kong – where I'm originally from - are being designed according to these strategic planning guidelines.

Our haze research is sponsored by NASA. The space agency puts up a lot of satellites into the atmosphere for scientific studies, but haze in South East Asia considerably obstructs what the satellites pick up.
Why is collaboration important?

Our haze research is sponsored by NASA. The space agency puts up a lot of satellites into the atmosphere for scientific studies, but haze in South East Asia considerably obstructs what the satellites pick up. We are conducting the studies as part of a consortium called Seven Seas Studies, comprising universities and government agencies in seven South East Asian countries. The consortium is working together on experimental data collection and to share the findings with the scientific community globally. This is one of the first times we have done this in such a successful manner. 

What inspired you to pursue this field of research?

I trained in theoretic fluid mechanics and wanted to apply this theoretical knowledge into something more practical. It just clicked in this case in South East Asia because one of the biggest problems here is haze. Haze really is a fluid. It’s about where it moves and how it moves. The understanding I have acquired before has profound use in my development of the computational codes and the analysis of this data. It is a long-term development of education.

One of the most challenging problems in fluid mechanics, mathematics and physics is to understand turbulence
What research other than your own excites you?

One of the most challenging problems in fluid mechanics, mathematics and physics is to understand turbulence. Turbulence is everywhere – it’s about when fluid moves in a chaotic manner and we really don’t have very good understanding of this, either fundamentally or in real applications. The understanding of turbulence is important especially in atmospheric dynamics. Understanding more about turbulence will help us to understand the global air circulation and hence we can predict meteorology more accurately. This is one of the holy grails that scientists are trying to work towards. 

How does the University of Nottingham in Malaysia support your research?

The University provides a very conducive environment for our research. Here, we have expertise from different areas: fluid mechanics, computer science and geography which can inform new ideas in urban planning, the environment and remote sensing. We have had a lot of IT support too, which is crucial given all the high-performance computers used to conduct our research. This provides a productive environment for us to work in. 

 
 

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