Improving extreme weather warnings
He never attended an open day. ‘I saw a booklet about the Physical Geography programme. I’ve been interested in weather, the sky and mountains since I was a kid, so it seemed like a good choice.’ A good choice, indeed: Rob Sluijter has now been working at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) for over twenty years.
Rob’s work involves a unique focus on the world of tomorrow. He currently serves as programme manager of the new Early Warning Centre at the KNMI. This centre was established to provide earlier and more detailed warnings about the impact of extreme weather conditions, which are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change. ‘Climate change has to be tackled at its source, but the fact is that we are seeing extreme weather more and more often. This means we will also have to adapt to the new situation. Part of this involves improving our extreme weather warnings.’
And these warnings are crucial for many sectors. At the warning centre that is currently being developed, staff are working to create weather alarms and set expectations for specific parties like aviation authorities and the fire service. ‘The fire service wants to know as soon as possible when there’s a risk that trees might fall down.’ A key player in these efforts is alumnus Yvonne Schavemaker, who recently joined the KNMI. She focuses on the quality of the measurements. ‘Her work forms the basis for the new weather services,’ Rob says. ‘The better the measurements, the better the services we can provide.’
Thinking in terms of systems
Rob’s studies laid an important foundation for the work he does today. ‘As a physical geographer, you learn to think in terms of processes and systems and to identify relationships.’ That interdisciplinary perspective also came in handy during Rob’s work on the Bos Climate Atlas. This atlas aims to shed light on the changing climate for young people who already see weather extremes as a normal occurrence. While working on the atlas, he collaborated with a UU alumnus from a completely different field: publisher Peter Vroege, who studied Dutch at our university. ‘The publishing staff are very good at outreach: they’re able to make clear visual representations of all the systems and convey each concept in a nutshell.’
Collaboration and pooling knowledge are also a core part of Rob’s current role at the Early Warning Centre. ‘To create a good product, you need people from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds. Not only meteorologists, but also someone who understands statistics and someone who can handle communication. They each contribute specific bits of information. I act as a sort of “knitting needle” that brings the information together.’
The Early Warning Centre will continue to be developed over the next five years, but the first results are already available, such as the Climate Dashboard (in Dutch): a tool that compares the average temperature in De Bilt to both the trend over the last few decades and the future forecast.