Interview with Sun-Seon Lee, Ph.D.

Sun-Seon Lee is an Assistant Research Fellow at the IBS Center for Climate Physics (ICCP). She received her master’s degree in 2006 and doctor’s degree in 2010 in the department of Atmospheric Sciences at Pusan National University (PNU), Busan, South Korea. After developing her first career in PNU as a researcher from 2011 to 2013, she moved to the United States to work as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Pacific Research Center in University of Hawaii in 2013. For 4 years, she mainly worked on predictability and prediction skill of intraseasonal variability until she joined ICCP in 2017. Her research utilizes ultra high resolution climate simulations to understand past-to-future climate change and climate variability in ICCP. 

Q. How is IBS supercomputer Aleph used for climate modeling research at ICCP? 

We have huge computational needs for our research and supercomputers allow us to solve computational problems. In other words, state-of-the art climate modeling requires tremendous computational resources, so we need a high-performance computer system. We purchased supercomputer facilities in 2018 and it is named Aleph. In 2019, total 240 simulation years of ultra high resolution experiments were conducted on Aleph and about 1.8 PB data of present-day and future climate were produced. From January of this year, in a partnership with National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), we have been conducting the CESM2 large ensemble simulations on Aleph. From this project, total ~4.7 PB will be produced. Simulation data conducted by Aleph will be opened to the scientific community for domestic/international collaboration. I believe that all these modeling projects would not have been possible without Aleph. 

Q. How much reliable and accurate are climate models? How can be applied to a real world?

To represent complex physical interactions between atmospheric, land-vegetation, hydrology, ocean, and cryosphere, climate models use mathematical equations. Climate model simulations can help understand the interaction between subsystems, past-present-future climate change, and influence of human activities to climate. But the complex nature of the real world cannot be presented in any model. Due to uncertainties in the model formulation, there are always some differences between a model and reality. But I think climate models are very powerful tools for improving our understanding of Earth system.

Q. Your recent co-author paper published in the journal Nature on last October has been greatly spotlighted at home and broad. The greater the influence of a research paper, the more efforts it should be taken to disseminate the knowledge and its outcomes to the public. What was your experience in public relations and what do you think scientists’ role in this area?

Indeed, it was a great experience to me. By combining genetics, geology, and climate physics, this study provides comprehensive insights into the effect of past climate on human migration. I was surprised that more people than I expected are interested in the human history, homeland, and migration. I also learned a lot about genetic divergence from the work. In my opinion, the role of scientists in their own fields is to help people live well now and in the future. As a climate scientist, we analyze the data, study the natural and human-induced Earth’s climate changes, and predict its impacts on human life. More importantly, I think scientists should effectively communicate their science with the public.

Q. What is your favorite aspect of your research and what excites you about your work?

When I learn something new, I would usually feel excited. As a climate scientist, my favorite aspect of my work is that I can make a contribution to the society. There are many unresolved questions about the weather and climate variability which are directly connected to our lives. I feel lucky and happy that I can contribute my efforts to scientific and socio-economic issues.

Q. Are you satisfied with your life as a scientist? What is work-life balance to a scientist?

Yes, I satisfy with my work and my life. Of course, it is very hard to make good balance between work and life. I often work at night or on weekends and sometimes my kids don’t like it even though they are proud of me. Having a happy work-life balance is a homework in my whole life. I’m trying to focus on one thing at a time and be positive for myself and my life.

Q. What is your future research plan? 

First of all, I’d like to study and improve my understanding on the processes and mechanisms of aerosol−cloud interactions which is one of the largest uncertain parts in climate system and remains a challenge in climate modeling. Furthermore, I would like to explore the impact of climate change on extreme weather, i.e. how human-induced climate change affects the frequency and intensity of individual extreme events.