3 July 2017

Introduction IMAU newsletter by Rupert Holzinger

Good developments and new challenges

This is the last IMAU newsletter of a successful academic year. Last month the international committee that evaluated the research performance of IMAU and the other institutes of our department for the period 2010-2015 issued their report, and praised the stable high performance level of our institute. Their report is very encouraging in our quest for understanding the climate system, which remains important and relevant despite of emerging research areas on mitigation and adaption.

The last two decades were shaped by the discussion between so-called climate-sceptics and the vast majority of climate scientists, who eventually succeeded in convincing the public of the fact that global warming is real and actually happening. Global warming is driven by physical laws that are as indisputable as, for example, the law of gravity that causes a stone to fall down if you release it. In 2017 both facts, global warming and the law of gravity, are broadly accepted and alternative facts presented by some will not be more than a footnote in the books of history.

In 2017 we want to move on and deal with the consequences of climate change. The decarbonization of the economy has started and -despite strong economic growth- CO2 emissions remained basically stable since 2013. Globally installed wind and photovoltaic power are both increasing exponentially, already  avoiding 5% of the CO2 emission (~1.5 Gt/yr) from fossil fuel burning. Huge research programs on mitigation and adaption have been set up. All positive developments indeed!

However, do we really know enough to project the climate with sufficient accuracy and with sufficient regional detail? Among IMAU'ers I predict a broad consensus on the answer to this question: no. We lack crucial knowledge on effects that act on time scales of decennia to centuries such as ice-sheet stability, changing vegetation cover, ocean currents etc. But we also lack crucial information on effects that act on shorter time scales. For example, how will clouds change and interact with aerosols and radiation? Unfortunately, obtaining funding for fundamental research becomes harder these days, which is an unwanted side-effect from shifting the focus to solutions (adaption and mitigation).

At the IMAU we are very well aware of the importance of fundamental research. We keep educating the new generation of scientists and we are active in outreach in many different areas. We hope you will enjoy reading about these activities in this newsletter. For instance, in this issue you can read about Aimée Slangen's career after receiving her PhD in 2012, the research plans of our new part-time professor Guus Velders, or about Roderik van de Wal’s activities in New York.

Rupert Holzinger