Climate Scientist Nurhati ’05 Dives for Science

Intan Suci Nurhati '05 prepares equipment for coral drilling. By researching Singapore's corals, she hopes to gain insight into climatic changes in the region. (Photo by Alex Westcott/TODAY)

Intan Suci Nurhati ’05 prepares equipment for coral drilling. By researching Singapore’s corals, she hopes to gain insight into climatic changes in the region. (Photo by Alex Westcott/TODAY)

Postdoctoral Associate Intan Suci Nurhati ’05 and others from the Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) are the first team to drill for coral samples in Singapore waters. Nurhati is a climate scientist but she works alongside a marine biologist and a professor of ocean geochemistry, creating “an interesting synergy where [they] work on different topics” but use the same material – corals.

As a climate scientist, Nurhati’s main focus is changes in the climate that have been recorded by the coral. “By studying the chemistry of corals, you can tell changes in temperature, which is vital if you want to study the rate of ocean warming,” she said. As important as climate change is, Nurhati insists that “as a society, what affects us more is rainfall. If we have flooding or droughts, that will really affect us and endanger our food security.”

Coral is used to study environmental changes due to its long life of up to 100 years that yields an extended and detailed record of data.

“If you study the environment, most of the environmental issues we face today require a longer record (for research purposes). For example, the study of global warming needs temperature measures, but we have been measuring temperature continuously via satellite for the past 30 years, at most,” she said. While it has a long lifetime, coral also grows very quickly, allowing researchers to obtain monthly data with precision.

At Wesleyan, Nurhati majored in earth and environmental science, with Professor Suzanne O’Connell advising Nurhati on her thesis, Spatial and Temporal Variability of the Indonesian Throughflow Sediments Possible Indicators of Climate-Induced Hydrologic Changes. Nurharti earned her Ph.D from Georgia Institute of Technology. She also was a Freeman Scholar at Wesleyan.

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