Sung-Ching Lee is a postdoctoral research fellow at UBC Geography.
He studies how soil-plant-atmosphere interactions affect ecosystems.
Can you tell us a little about your research?
My research and training is in micrometeorology, ecosystem ecology, and ecohydrology. My work aims to contribute to the understanding of soil-plant-atmosphere interactions in various ecosystems (e.g., forest, peatland, estuarine wetland) based on micrometeorological methods, including flux measurements by the eddy covariance approach, closed-chamber measurements, and stable isotopes. Primarily, I used continuous eddy covariance measurements in various natural ecosystems to investigate the effects of environmental controls on the dynamics of carbon dioxide and methane budgets.
How does your research relate to climate change, and why is that connection important?
Among the many ecosystem services provided by wetlands and forests, climate regulation is identified as one of their most important benefits to society. The outcomes of my research allow improved assessments of how wetlands and forests respond to a changing climate, and how changes in land surface dynamics affect the climate system. Hence, my research results have helped show how forests and wetlands – the large terrestrial carbon storehouses in the world – can help tackle climate change and provide practical and sustainable benefits to both nature and people. Through conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid carbon emissions in natural ecosystems, we can use these ecosystems as natural climate solutions that offer cost-effective options to climate change mitigation.
Why does working on climate change feel important to you?
More and more people from different sectors including public, government, and industry recognize that climate change is the most significant threat to our lives. We, as scientists, need to do good science to provide evidence and advice to inform decision makers at all levels about climate change. The IPCC’s Assessment Reports are widely regarded as the most important and authoritative publications on a global scale that summarize the state of knowledge about climate science. My work can contribute more accurate and updated estimates to the IPCC’s Report, and hence alleviate the challenges around communication and collaboration that arise from science–policy interactions.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your area of research?
Understanding carbon exchange more deeply at local scale is as critical as mapping the carbon uptake strength globally. The uncertainties presented by the IPCC have been found to be a major limitation when communicating to the public and to governments. We need to be cautious of over-reliance on model projections in informing decision-making, particularly where model outputs are subject to errors and uncertainties, as these may undermine the ability to make robust decisions. By using micrometeorological methods to collect data, we can provide a better understanding of mechanisms controlling biosphere-atmosphere interactions, and hence validate the model projections.
How do you hope your research will effect change?
Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing society today. The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the world, including in Canada. Climate change also has important economic implications for Canada, and could cost Canada $21-$43 billion per year by 2050. The knowledge and experience gained through my research projects will have an immediate impact on wetland and forest conservation and restoration strategies. The information resulting from this research will be of critical importance in terms of understanding how to target and manage wetland and forest conservation and restoration to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, while enhancing carbon sequestration and the value of wetlands and forests as natural climate solutions.
My work will be especially important for demonstrating and communicating the value of maintaining and restoring coastal wetlands, wetlands in working agricultural landscapes, and coastal forests. Furthermore, a better understanding of wetland carbon dynamics will play an important role in attracting industry and corporate sponsors to help expand the conservation footprint of my partner, Ducks Unlimited Canada, within the Canadian Prairies and to help inform and bolster provincial and federal policies regarding the conservation and restoration of these key wetland habitats.
Are you involved in any climate advocacy?
I have been volunteering to help undergraduate students who are interested in climate science to design experiments, attend field trips, interpret data, and write scientific reports. Also, I have been assisting students, especially who speak English as a second language, to navigate the graduate school application process and edit the application documents. Then personally, I am switching to a vegetarian diet.
Conversations about climate change always feel urgent, and sometimes the scale and nature of the crisis seem overwhelming. What have you learned or seen in your work that makes you feel hopeful about tackling climate change?
These days, it is easy to be upset when it comes to climate change, especially when news about droughts and floods is everywhere. However, we can see more people are concerned, especially young people. I am always encouraged when I look across the related programs at UBC, Canada, and around the world. I see so many students attend universities to study climate change and find solutions. These young scientists are not cynical; they are eager to understand the problem and want to know what they can do.
One of the things that motivates me to keep doing good science is because I have colleagues and young students from courses I teach who will go out and try to make the world a better place. Therefore, I believe we need to be hopeful. Being positive and hopeful is actually in itself an important way to combat climate change. Then, our impact will become visible, and I think we’re seeing that now.