We don't know what we're doing. And we know it

Professor Torben R. Christensen with technician Ken Hill at a measuring station in Kobbefjord, next to Nuuk in West Greenland. Photo: Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen

We don't know what we're doing. And we know it

After one of the warmest Decembers of the past 100 years, many of the inhabitants of Nordic countries are wondering whether we are feeling the effects of climate change. “The climate system is like an engine,” says Torben R. Christensen, a climate researcher under the Top-level Research Initiative. “We have started up certain integral parts of it but we don’t know how the engine works.”

The fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented in September 2013, states that climate change is the result of human activity and that we must expect it to continue affecting the world in which we live. The panel’s analysis this time around is based on many more data sources, improved climate models and more confident climate knowledge than before. Contributors to the report include the Top-level Research Initiative’s Nordic Centre of Excellence DEFROST, with Professor Torben R. Christensen of Lund University at the helm.

To enhance the global knowledge base on climate change, the DEFROST centre brings together researchers from a wide range of different fields to work together to address the same questions, but from different perspectives. Some are out on the tundra, others are working with ice and sea ice, some are mostly in laboratories while others spend their days at their office computers.

Until now there has been very little interaction between certain groups, such as those studying sea ice and those doing research on land. Where researchers once spoke “different languages”, they are now collaborating on finding answers. They are interdependent parts of the same whole, much like the processes within the climate system itself.

“All of the processes under investigation are key components in the climate system,” explains Professor Christensen. “Even a slight change to a single element will have a major impact on the entire climate system. We mustn’t be afraid to ask each other questions.”

Read the entire interview of Torben R. Christensen in NordForsk Magazine!

Written by: Lisa H. Ekli
Photo: Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen