Student Profile: Renzhi Jing, graduate student, simulates hurricanes to predict future storm impacts

Wednesday, Dec 5, 2018
by Sharon Adarlo

Renzhi Jing, 26, doctoral student:

Studies: Jing is a fifth year graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in environmental engineering. She is also enrolled in the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning’s Graduate Certificate Program in Statistics and Machine Learning. She’s been at Princeton since 2014. Before coming to Princeton, she studied at Peking University where she earned two bachelor’s degrees in physics/atmospheric science and Chinese language and literature.

Research: Jing is part of the Hurricane Hazards and Risk Analysis research group headed by Ning Lin, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The group is working to study hurricanes (also known as tropical cyclones), climatology, hurricane hazards, and hurricane damage while also exploring ways to manage hurricane-related risks.

As part of the group, Jing specializes in generating hurricane simulations using machine learning and statistical techniques. Generating synthetic storms is a necessity because, according to Jing, scientists and engineers don’t have enough historical data for risk assessment.

“Usually we have about 15 tropical cyclones every year in the North Atlantic Basin,” she said. “And the risk assessment for a given location along a coastline is limited by this shortage of data.”

In order to generate synthetic tropical cyclones, she collects real world data from historical hurricane records, as well as reanalysis of past weather data to place past measurements on a shared reference grid. She conducts statistical analyses of this data to arrive at insights about how storms behave under a given climate.

“I investigate how storms’ behaviors may vary dependent on climate and large-scale environmental factors,” she said. “To take a simple example, if the ocean temperature is extremely high, we may expect a more active hurricane season. If the ocean is cold, there might be fewer storm events.”

Her statistical models allow simulation of the complete lifetime of storms, including their genesis, track, and intensity. The many synthetic storms generated this way can then be coupled with other hazard models (such as storm-surge and flooding models) for coastal risk analysis.

Jing became interested in hurricanes after studying physics and becoming interested in the environment, particularly after participating in Earth Hour, an annual event that encourages people to turn off non-essential lights for an hour in March. It is meant to raise consciousness around environmental issues.

Extracurricular activities: Jing has been active in the Association of Princeton University Chinese Students and Scholars, having served as treasurer of the Association. She’s also been a teaching assistant for CEE460 Risk Analysis.

For fun: Jing enjoys singing in choirs, running, and playing table tennis.