About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum

Welcome to the May 2021 issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!

In light of the prevailing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the progress of global and local vaccinations, as well as the global position on safe travel, the Board of the HKLF has decided after careful consideration that the Forum, originally scheduled to be held on 15-20 November 2021, would be deferred for one year to November 2022.

The Secretariat of the HKLF has contacted all participating Shaw Laureates, applicants and our working partners individually on the deferment. We will also notify all stakeholders upon the scheduling of a new date of the inaugural Forum next year and the drawing up a new programme overview. The Secretariat of the HKLF will continue to go full steam ahead with our preparation to ensure that the inaugural Forum would be a great success.

The HKLF has just celebrated our 2nd anniversary on 14 May 2021, to mark this occasion, this issue of newsletter will feature the hot topic of weather and climate change as our main theme. We are delighted to have received support from the Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO), Dr CHENG Cho-ming, and former Director of the HKO, Mr SHUN Chi-ming, in preparing this issue of newsletter. Two articles in this issue, one on challenges in weather forecasting and the other on the Meridian are indeed contributed by them. They have also agreed to take part in a series of short videos for the HKLF to share their experiences in the pursuit of science and as the director of the HKO.

Our online quiz game “Science Hunt” ended in early April 2021. Congratulations to winners of the game. They have all collected their prizes with glee. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Xiaomi Corporation for their sponsorship of most of the prizes for this game and THE NEXT! To keep up the momentum of promoting science in the community, we have launched a new game called “Your Fame, Its Name” on 10 May. It is an amusing game as participants are required to write a short piece on a fun scientific term currently in use, which is named after a famous person, cartoon character, or fictional character. So put your thinking cap on and join in the fun and game.

Please stay tuned to our website and social media for the latest news of the Forum, coming episodes of videos and our new game!

Last but not least, the Shaw Prize 2021, which began the nomination process in early September 2020 and ended on 30 November 2020, will announce the winners in the three prize categories on 1 June 2021.

Global Response to Climate Change

Climate Change and its Adverse Effects

Earth’s climate has been constantly changing.

From 1901 to 2012 there was a warming trend in almost every corner of the world, which was caused mainly by human activities. The earth’s climate used to be affected primarily by natural hazard such as solar activity, changes in the earth’s orbit and volcanic activity. However, since the First Industrial Revolution in 1760, which resulted in an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, human factors have gradually overshadowed natural ones to become the main contributor to climate change . Climate change, in turn, has become the most significant challenge for humans at present and in the future.

According to data, the global surface temperature warmed by 0.85°C on average between 1880 and 2012, and each of the last three decades was warmer than the previous one. Statistics also show that the period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the past 1,400 years in the Northern Hemisphere. Global warming has become an indisputable fact. What effects have this change had on mankind? First of all, sea levels are rising due to the thermal expansion of seawater and a combination of glaciers, ice caps as well as ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melting into oceans, all of which is related to global warming. Since 1992, the massive loss of the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated. The average ice loss increased from 34 billion tonnes per year over the period 1992-2001 to 215 billion tonnes per year over the period 2002-2011. The average ice sheet loss in Antarctica increased from 30 billion tonnes per year over the period 1992-2001 to 147 billion tonnes per year over the period 2002-2011. The ice sheet that was lost mainly came from the northern Antarctica Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of western Antarctica.


Challenges in Weather Forecasting

Brief History of Weather Forecasting

Since ancient time, human’s livelihood is tightly related to weather. Farmer’s harvest depends on weather. As early as in the Shang Dynasty (13th century BC), there were written records of weather observations and weather predictions on oracle bone inscriptions. Studies indicated that in 1217 BC, China not only had 10 consecutive days of actual weather records, but also made 10-day weather forecast, which exemplified the importance of weather in ancient times.

Recent Development in Meteorological Technologies

Nowadays we rely on computer models to make weather forecasts. The technology concerned is called numerical weather prediction. First of all, weather observational data are collected. Then computers are used to analyse the current weather conditions (technically called "initial conditions"). Thereafter the evolution of future weather is calculated in accordance with the laws of physics. The results of calculation from the computer models are then used to generate the forecast maps that represent the future weather.


Author: Dr CHENG Cho-ming, Director of the Hong Kong Observatory

Hong Kong Meridian (I)

How important are the making of astronomical observations and the provision of a time service?

Since the early development in the 19th century, shipping has been the lifeblood of Hong Kong’s economy. To ensure smooth port operations and the safe navigation of ships, an accurate time service, meteorological observations and geomagnetic observations had to be provided. These were the three major tasks of the Hong Kong Observatory when it was established in 1883.

As early as the 1860s, there was already suggestion from Hong Kong society that an accurate time service based on scientific methods should be provided. Catalysed by a severe typhoon in 1874 (known in history records as the “Catastrophic Typhoon of 1874”) which killed thousands of people in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong colonial government began to consider setting up a science-based observatory. Ultimately the HKO came into being, which has been standing on a hill next to Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon till the present day.

Like other observatories around the world, the HKO has long been providing a time service to ships in the harbour through its Time Ball. The first-generation Time Ball Tower was installed at the former Marine Police Base in Tsim Sha Tsui and began operation on 1 January 1885. Later, owing to environmental changes, the second-generation Time Ball Tower was installed on Signal Hill in Tsim Sha Tsui.

I believe that if you have the opportunity to visit the famous Royal Greenwich Observatory in England, you would most likely have taken pictures at the “Prime Meridian”. But you may not have thought about the meridian in Hong Kong, which was established at the time when the HKO was set up and has existed for more than 130 years.

Navigation and time

Why does an ocean-going ship need accurate time in order to navigate safely at sea? The reason dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when Europeans rushed to explore the ocean while vying for greater economic and political influence. Previously, ships had to travel along the coastline. Even with the help of a map, crossing the vast oceans was very dangerous. Without accurate location positioning, ships could deviate from their planned routes and become lost, and in the worst cases they could even hit the reef and sink.


Author: Mr SHUN Chi-ming, Former Director of the Hong Kong Observatory