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Meet the leader of SAEON’s Data Science Team

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Dr Claire Davis-Reddy enjoys solving complex problems


Claire’s PhD research investigated the dynamics of vegetation phenology and productivity over Sub-Saharan Africa in response to climate variability and change (Photo: Timm Hoffman)

Dr Claire Davis-Reddy joined SAEON uLwazi’s Node in Cape Town on 1 February.

Claire has a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch, specialising in the fields of spatial statistics, remote sensing and vegetation modelling.

Her primary objective in this new role will be to improve SAEON’s data products, atlas portals and views in order to facilitate effective data- and evidence-driven decision-making.

Before joining SAEON, Claire was a senior researcher in the Climate Studies, Modelling and Environmental Health Research Group at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). She established a formidable track record of interdisciplinary research and leadership in the field of natural resources and the environment and developed strong networks with partners and academic institutions across South Africa and Africa.

Claire’s research has contributed significantly to the understanding of climate change risks and impacts and has fed into both national and regional policy. Examples include South Africa’s National Climate Change Response White Paper, the SADC Climate Change Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Response Framework as well as the SADC Climate Change Strategy.

The most noteworthy of her publications is Climate Risk and Vulnerability: A Handbook for Southern Africa (1st and 2nd Edition), which provides decision-makers with up-to-date information on the latest climate change science.

Leading the Data Science Team

Her responsibilities at the uLwazi Node include planning and prioritising data projects, establishing operating procedures for data collection and analysis to ensure the quality and integrity of data products, building analytic systems and predictive models, creating standards for data visualisation and reporting, testing of data-driven products, and managing a dynamic team of data scientists, machine learning engineers and big data specialists.

“Data and statistical analysis have always been a passion of mine,” says Claire. “I am purely a quantitative thinker and love solving complex problems. This position presents a perfect bridge for my post-PhD as it combines my technical background with 10 years of experience in climate change risk and adaptation-related research.”

Third phase of the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas

Claire will be spearheading the development of the third phase of the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA), funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

“When starting at the CSIR, I was part of the core team that established the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas and now by joining SAEON I get a chance to fulfil my, and others’, vision of what this tool is meant to achieve,” Claire explains.

SARVA was initiated with the intent to provide decision-makers with up-to-date information on global change risks at a scale relevant for planning. SARVA III will build upon massive efforts in this field, including the recently launched Green Book.

Claire’s other projects at the uLwazi Node include the National Climate Change Information System being developed for the Department of Environmental Affairs, the development of a National Hazard Database in partnership with the National Disaster Management Centre, the second version of the BioEnergy Atlas funded by the Department of Science and Technology, and the Carbon Sinks Atlas in partnership with the CSIR.

For this new phase in her career, Claire says her mantra will be a quote by American businessperson Carly Fiorina: “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”

 Further facts about Claire  

  • Her PhD research investigated the dynamics of vegetation phenology and productivity over Sub-Saharan Africa in response to climate variability and change, and how this information can be used to strengthen the ability of dynamic global vegetation models to predict future vegetation change. Her PhD research has provided input into the first African-based Earth System Model, the Variable-resolution Earth System Model (VRESM) under development at the CSIR.
  • Claire has served as Chairperson of the Adaptation Network of South Africa, a platform for sharing experiences, practical approaches and frameworks relating to climate change adaptation. She has also served as the vice-Chair and Chairperson of the Arid Zone Ecology Forum, a non-profit organisation focused on developing research and knowledge of the arid zones of southern Africa.
  • Claire was exposed to SAEON very early on in her career by being part of the Graduate Student Network, attending the annual meetings and presenting her Honours and MSc research.
  • She has had an interest in the natural environment and conservation since childhood. Being raised on a farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg entrenched a deep love of the outdoors and all creatures from tiny bugs she collected as a child to the caring of new-born lambs.
  • She enjoys Saturday picnics with her husband and nine-month old boy, baking, yoga and hiking.  
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