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Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 09:02

Facing the gathering storm

By Wang Yuke

As HK Observatory anticipates more storm surges in the future, a new technology developed by Chinese University of HK engineers might help raise alerts 72 hours in advance. A report by Wang Yuke.

Facing the gathering storm

Hong Kong is gearing up to mobilize advanced technology to confront dangers posed by climate change, super typhoons and the threat of devastating storm surges that come in the wake.

The Marine Environment Prediction System, developed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), observes nuances of tidal conditions, affording a 72-hour early warning of dangerous storm surges. The developers say that’s much earlier than present technology allows. The new technology may soon become part of the forecasting array at Hong Kong Observatory.

Melting polar ice, rising seas and the imminent risk of floods threaten coastal cities all around the world. Hong Kong has consolidated its infrastructures to counter the threat of floods borne on incoming waves. The Civil Engineering and Development Department will repair the wave wall at Tseung Kwan O’s South Waterfront Promenade, toppled by Typhoon Kalmaegi last September. The bike lane and footpath were reduced to rubble. “That is not enough,” said Sai Kung District Councilor Christine Fong Kwok-shan, who is a building engineer, “we need a forecast system that can inform us of big waves and imminent floods.”

"The two countermeasures (coastal infrastructure and a forecasting system) are complementary when it comes to tackling typhoons and we can’t afford to miss either one. Hong Kong repairs its dams but has given little attention to software capabilities to warn of incoming events,” Fong added.

The CUHK’s Marine Environment Prediction System is still in trials, awaiting approval by the Innovation and Technology Fund before being embraced by the Hong Kong Observatory. The system already has passed important tests, by accurately predicting wave height prior to Typhoon Kalmaegi.

Pan Jiayi, who leads the development team, and Lin Hui, director of the Institute of Space and Earth Information Science at CUHK, told China Daily, “that day brought the highest astronomical tide of the year: the strongest gravitational effects of the sun and moon combined. We predicted that when the typhoon swept across Hong Kong, the wind would push the waves higher to a meter above normal sea level.” The prediction proved consistent with the actual measurement taken by the Hong Kong Observatory.

"Our job is just to provide information to the government and other organizations. It’s the Observatory’s duty to act on the information,” said Pan.

Facing the gathering storm

A cargo barge crashed into the sea wall in Heng Fa Chuen during the Typhoon Nesat in September 2011. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

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