Trisha Patel’s story: South African SRM lecture to published master’s thesis

Trisha Patel talking during a roundtable discussion at Degrees’ research planning workshop in Istanbul, Turkey - January 2023. Photo Credit: the Degrees Initiative.

Trisha Patel, a junior researcher working on the 2023 South African Degrees Modelling Fund (DMF) team led by Dr Andreas Schwarz Meyer, has published the research from her MSc dissertation in Environmental Research: Climate. Degrees reached out to talk about her work and future plans.

Getting into SRM research

Trisha first heard about solar radiation modification (SRM) during a lecture at the University of Cape Town by Dr Romaric Odoulami, who presented his research with the DMF’s 2018 South African project

Afterwards, Trisha said, “I went home and read about it, and I was like, wow, this is so interesting.” Her first thought was that the concept of SRM sounded “mad cool and cutting edge” but also concerning and controversial. She laughs, “I messaged him the next day and said, please supervise me!” 

During her research, Trisha realised that no country-scale study had been done to model the impacts of SRM on temperature and rainfall in South Africa. So she got to work, completing her dissertation in 2021. The study concluded that while SRM could reduce temperatures, its effect on rainfall would likely be uneven – leading to drought in certain areas and intensified extreme rainfall in others.

"I went home and read about it [SRM], and I was like, wow, this is so interesting! I messaged him the next day and said, please supervise me!"

Trisha’s professors decided her work was of such a high standard that they would support her to write up the results into a journal article, an unusual achievement for a master’s student. Her paper “Potential impact of stratospheric aerosol geoengineering on projected temperature and precipitation extremes in South Africa” was published in June 2023. Read the full summary of the paper here.

She said the experience of publishing her thesis was “thrilling, rewarding, relieving”. Her favourite part of the research was taking the results a step further and mapping out the potential impacts of SRM and climate change on real communities. She says the idea was “to explore how these scenarios might impact vulnerable agricultural and urban communities in South Africa”. She thinks it’s vital for countries like South Africa to be part of the SRM conversation because developing countries bear the brunt of the worst impacts of climate change.

Studying SRM and existential risk

Continuing down the path of risk analysis, Trisha successfully applied for a summer Fellowship this year with the Existential Risk Alliance (ERA) at the University of Cambridge. The Fellowship is aimed at early career researchers exploring existential risk mitigation across various research areas, including AI, climate change, biosecurity and nuclear.

"The reality is that not enough is being done to reduce emissions globally. Developing countries like South Africa are facing serious climate challenges from a crisis they did not create."

Trisha has been working with the climate change group led by Gideon Futerman. She is researching the interplay between SRM and global catastrophic events to understand the pathways toward termination shock

Her research involves interviewing experts across various disciplines, including SRM, volcanology, pandemics and solar storms. She says, “It’s a lot of fun mapping out first and second-order impacts and then making these causal loop diagrams.” Her work aims to identify measures to build the resilience of SRM infrastructure and decrease the risk of termination shock. She will publish her results in a report later this year.

Looking ahead, Trisha is keen to continue working in the field. She jokes, “I have commitment issues, so committing to a topic is not my forte”, adding, “I’d like to write my PhD about SRM. I’d just like to be 100% certain on what aspect of it.”

Rounding up her future plans Trisha says, “The reality is that not enough is being done to reduce emissions globally. Developing countries like South Africa are facing serious climate challenges from a crisis they did not create. I want to continue my research to try to understand if SRM is a genuine option to reduce risks or just hare-brained science fiction.”

Congratulations to Trisha! We look forward to seeing where her research takes her in the future.

Find out more about the 2022 DMF team in South Africa studying whether SRM can reduce risks to biodiversity and human health here. You can also get in contact with Trisha via LinkedIn here

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