An Earth System Modelling group starts at IMAU

From co-tenants to co-tenure-trackers

When we were flatmates seven years ago, we couldn’t have guessed that we would end up as tenure trackers starting a climate modelling group at IMAU – or could we?

Back at our student home, we had the walls decorated with weather maps, Icelandic volcanoes and satellite pictures of hurricanes. When we started doing the dishes, we usually ended up simulating floods on the kitchen floor. Needless to say, at the time we both followed the Climate Physics Master and then did a PhD at IMAU. Claudia spent four years tickling El Niño in a hierarchy of climate models, while Michiel, after chasing (modelled) hurricanes across the Atlantic, drifted deep back in time to unravel how Antarctica’s past climate may have been suitably warm for crocodiles. Although we didn’t share an office, Claudia would turn up at Michiel’s room every day to get a short-term weather forecast for a bike trip (and then cycle regardless of the prediction).

After achieving his PhD, Michiel quickly found a tenure track position at IMAU, while Claudia wandered through scientific disciplines all the way to the wonderland of economics to understand how to combat climate change. Now, she too returned to IMAU as tenure tracker, and the former flatmates will work together to set up an Earth System Modelling group.

Here is a (slightly condensed) protocol of our first work meeting.


Claudia: Hey, Michiel! – What are you doing currently, apart from stormchasing of course?

Michiel: Last year I was still busy simulating warm climates of the past – these can be useful analogues for the warm climate we may be heading to in the future. Soon I will turn my focus to actually simulating future climate, in particular heat exchange between different components of the climate system.

Claudia: That’s bad… I actually plan to study how to avoid the very warm future climate you are talking about!

Michiel: You still hope we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time?

Claudia: Ah well, economies are even more prone to disruption than the climate, so maybe dropping solar panel prices will indeed trigger a green transition. If not, we might need to consider more drastic measures, such as geoengineering.

Michiel: And you’re telling me that pumping SO2 into the stratosphere like some dirty old volcano is saving the world from climate change?

Claudia: That’s what I want to find out. Especially whether geoengineering can prevent the most threatening consequences of climate change, namely climate tipping and sea level rise.

Michiel: Well, that sounds like a plan. I study what happens to the climate if we don’t act, and you investigate whether geoengineering can help – or make matters worse. The first aspect we should look at -

Claudia: How about your beloved hurricanes?

Michiel: Exactly! As a first step, we will need to map changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation …

Claudia: … and to El Niño …

Michiel: Then we start tracking the cyclones and analyse their characteristics. Who knows, we may find novel behaviour such as transitions into different storm types!

Claudia: And the great thing is, we’ll probably be the first to run geoengineering simulations at such a high model resolution.

Michiel: Yes, IMAU is one of just a few places with access to the computational resources for such large experiments.

Claudia: Sounds like the perfect project for us! We’ll simulate hurricanes -

Michiel: –  and artificial volcanoes –

Both: Who would have guessed seven years ago?


Claudia Wieners and Michiel Baatsen