This week we will be spotlighting the research of Siddhant (Sid) Kerhalkar, a second year Ph.D. student in the Intercampus Marine Science Program (IMS) with the School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST). Sid is from Pune, India. He moved around to different areas on India’s east coast throughout his childhood and graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Sid’s research involves trying to understand the interactions of the ocean and the atmosphere in the Bay of Bengal throughout the monsoon season. During monsoon season moist air comes from the Southwest of the Indian ocean and moves towards the Indian subcontinent causing heavy rainfall. Yet this rainy season is not as simple as it may sound. Sid says, “Despite being a seasonal phenomenon, monsoons bring a lot of variability within the season. This variation is what I am currently studying. What causes such variations? We need to get an understanding of the physics for the transition from what phase to another. What are the consequences to the Bay of Bengal and the atmosphere above it?”
Despite the extensive scientific study of monsoons that has been conducted over the past two decades, the interseasonal variations of monsoons remain largely unpredictable. Understanding more about these monsoons is crucial to improving the lives of people in India.
“One-third of the global population resides in this region,” Sid says. “Improving monsoon predictability could help us anticipate the floods or droughts caused by this beforehand. It could help save lives and prevent widespread destruction. The countries within the Indian subcontinent rely on monsoon rainfall and agriculture for their livelihood, so incorrect predictions can severely impact them. This program also allows us to know more about the Bay of Bengal which is very much undersampled as compared to other areas.”
While Sid studied Engineering as an undergraduate he also minored in oceanography and climate studies. This field of study holds an important personal connection for him. “As someone who lived on the eastern coast of India for 19 years, I am no stranger to phenomena like monsoons, hurricanes, and other oceanic disturbances,” he says. “My motivation to study the atmosphere and oceans has come from the fact that I have been stuck in two such Category-4 hurricanes. I have had the first-hand experience of observing and surviving such tough conditions.”
While Sid’s work is rewarding it also comes with many unique challenges. The Bay of Bengal is considered one of the freshest ocean systems. As a result, scientists cannot make assumptions about it based on other oceans and patterns. “The most challenging part of my research is to understand the physics of interactions between the atmosphere and oceans. It is also challenging to figure out which part of the Bay of Bengal should be studied in detail. With limited resources and observations, it is very difficult for oceans to be studied completely and thus we need to rely on alternative Satellite-based products or understanding the physics using numerical models. With these observations we can take over a small section of the mighty bay,” he says.
Sampling the Bay of Bengal also requires traveling over 7000 miles and living at sea for nearly a month with storms and rough seas. “But we get rewarded too: in the form of being closer to nature, beautiful sunrises, sunsets, and sea creatures. This is something which makes even getting sea-sick worth it.” Sid says.
“The best thing about all this is the efforts we take to sample the atmosphere and ocean and understand them, is done for the betterment of society. At this point, we are also fighting a much bigger problem, climate change.” – Sid Kerhalkar
In the short term, Sid hopes to develop a deeper understanding of the data that has been collected on air-ocean interactions. He is considering staying in academia after completing his Ph.D. but whatever he does he hopes to make a difference. “Despite advancing a lot in terms of understanding the oceans and observing them, not a lot has been done to make policies to protect them and in turn protect society,” he says. “Instead, the current policies are concentrated on exploiting nature and oceans.” While his current research is focused on just one area of the world Sid is passionate about finding solutions and learning more about how to help society as a whole. “I want to focus on studying more about climate change and to try to use science to influence the future policies of the overall world.”
“Ultimately I am incredibly indebted to my advisor and other professors at SMAST as well as UMass Dartmouth, Provost’s office, UMass Dartmouth, GSS, UMass Dartmouth, and ONR for their constant support towards our research goals. I am also thankful to my advisors in my undergraduate school, my parents, and to my friends to have been inspiring me and being a pillar of support during this journey till now.” Sid says.
Sid’s hobbies include playing Tennis and Soccer. He also enjoys photography and hiking and hopes to graduate in the spring of 2024.
You can find out more about Sid and his work by visiting his website https://kerhalkarsid.github.io/
Or by following him on social media.