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Featured Researcher: Harman Singh

Posted on November 9, 2021

In an era of increasingly volatile weather patterns brought on by climate change, scientists are using data and innovative experimental methods to better predict floods and help guide policymakers. That’s just what Harman Singh, a graduate student in geography, is hoping to do with her mixed-method approach in investigating complex urban flooding in Kerala, India.

In 40 words or less, what’s the elevator pitch for your research? 

I examine complexities associated with flash flooding through mixed methods approaches to capture impactful drivers and people’s perceptions of such events.


 How did you get into this research field? 

Growing up in India I experienced urban flash flooding. When I started taking classes in Geography, especially Geographical Information Systems, I knew I was interested in using these tools to map and understand flooding. I complied a semester-long project with a group of students on the Keralan flood of 2018 by using remotely sensed imagery and the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) to highlight flooded regions on land surfaces. I was encouraged to present this work at local and national conferences (American Association of Geographers). My interest in conducting and learning more about research grew from there and I continued working on this project.


What do you hope to accomplish with your research? 

I hope that through my research I can suggest avenues to better guide complex flood prediction and policy. I like to use mixed methods or cross-disciplinary techniques in my research to broaden the scope of my study and add to the existing knowledge present on the subject. My research is focused on India, as it is underrepresented in the literature, to address the impacts and drivers of natural hazards in the region.


 How does supercomputing enable your research? 

Some of the big data that I use in my research are temperature and precipitation records that span over several years. Often remotely sensed imagery requires several gigabytes or a terabyte of storage space. Supercomputing enables me to store and analyze this data that would otherwise be hard to do. It has also solved data sharing and accessibility problems. When I was running coding scripts for a project last year, they were able to run in under a day on a supercomputer. Without supercomputing this would have taken several days to complete.


What is your academic background? 

I got my undergraduate degree from Penn State in Geography. I hold a minor in Sustainability Leadership and certifications in Justice, Ethics and Diversity in Space, Geographical Information Systems, Landscapes: Societies, Cultures, and Political Economies. I decided to continue my academic training at Penn State, and I am currently in the five-year (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) program in Geography focusing on topics such as natural hazards, GIS, statistics, and perception analysis, with Dr. Helen Greatrex.


What – or who – are your dream collaborations and collaborators in other fields or disciplines? 

  • The Earth Institute at Columbia University 
  • Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder 
  • Earth Observatory of Singapore 


 If you had unlimited money, what project would you take on? 

Broadly speaking, if I had unlimited money, I would use it to fund research on the changing climate and climate education. The effects of climate change are uncertain and rapidly evolving. Many climate systems are nearing their tipping points after which the earth could experience irreversible changes in the state of a system. However, I believe that it is equally important to fund programs that educate people on the changing climate to keep up with the science, discuss adaptation techniques, and prepare communities for the future.


What’s your advice for would-be scientists? 

My advice for would-be scientists is to keep up with the evolving science in their field of interest and to follow their gut reaction. Search for or create opportunities for yourself and try to execute your research ideas. I would also advise them to study something they are passionate about and to always be open to new ideas.

Favorite hobbies/pastimes that have nothing to do with your professional work? 

I enjoy exploring the outdoors and playing sports. On the weekends or during vacation I plan hiking trips (most recently I visited Olympic National Park in Washington). I bike, play squash, and basketball. I like collecting and looking after indoor plants. I occasionally, paint or craft.


What profession other than your own would you enjoy? 

Other than research and academia I believe I would enjoy a professional career in hiking or art. I find it appealing that both are creative fields, and both could require spending time outdoors. My interest in maps overlaps with both fields too. I like planning, studying, and memorizing maps before going on a hike. Color theory is fundamental in cartography and art. As an artist, I would be interested in painting landscapes.


What is something that people are surprised to discover about you? 

I moved away from home at age twelve. I attended a boarding school, set up by the British in India, up to the end of high school. Directly after which I moved abroad to pursue college degrees and have been living in Pennsylvania ever since.


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