With Vanier Scholarships – Elise Legarth

November 28, 2022
Elise Legarth (credit: Junyi Sun)

Elise Legarth, Vanier Scholar and PhD student in Atmospheric Sciences at UBC EOAS, originally from New Zealand

What path have you taken that has led you to a PhD at UBC EOAS?

I was not really sure what I wanted to do when I left school, but I had to pick something! I really liked Geography, so I chose to study a course called Earth Sciences and Agricultural Business at university, then went on to do a Master’s in Hydrology. Those are more related than they sound, especially because in New Zealand all agriculture is grass-fed, looking at the hydrological impacts on agriculture is a nice mix of hydrology and business applications.

In New Zealand, one key thing that we really struggle with in terms of getting our models to work is the lack of recent climate data, which is the input that has the biggest impact on your model results. We were using historical data to model the future, so it is not super accurate. This got me interested in how the climate and hydrology interact and I knew I wanted to move overseas, so I applied to come here to work in Dr. Roland Stull’s team.

What is your PhD project?

I am developing a new methodology to predict probable maximum precipitation and probable maximum flood. In layperson terms, it means if you need to build a bridge, you have to accommodate a certain flood level. How this is currently done is not particularly accurate, as we have seen here in BC and elsewhere with bridges being wiped out over the last couple of years. These current methods also do not take into account Climate Change, so I am working on a new and better method.

How will becoming a Vanier scholar affect the path of your PhD?

The obvious answer is the funding. This will help me attend conferences and a whole lot of things that our normal PhD funding would not cover. It also allows me to focus on my research and take up other opportunities rather than having to work part-time and as teaching assistant. Also, the prestige of it gives you a lot of connections.

Finally - what are you most excited about in the rest of your PhD project?

One of the things I am doing on the side that the Vanier scholarship has allowed me to pursue is to join the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program run in San Diego. For this, we fly military planes out into atmospheric rivers and drop off a load of weather balloons into the middle of them, so we can better forecast them in future. I am part of the forecast team who helps decide where we should place the balloons to get the best data. But in simple terms, I am going to go to San Diego and fly into the center of huge storms in an Air Force plane – pretty cool!