Norwegian Research School in Climate Dynamics

The main objective of the Norwegian Research School in Climate Dynamics is to establish an internationally recognised research training environment for PhD candidates in climate dynamics, giving them in-depth knowledge in their specific study field within climate research, trans-disciplinary knowledge in the dynamics of the entire climate system, insight into the political and societal impacts of climate change, and the necessary skills to play an active role in appropriately predicting, mitigating, and adapting to climatic and environmental change.

 Scientific motivation

Northwest Europe owes its mild favourable climate to the northward transports of heat associated with the North Atlantic storm tracks and the North Atlantic- and Norwegian Atlantic Currents, the northern extensions of the Gulf Stream. As a result of these large-scale heat transport mechanisms in the atmosphere and ocean, the climate in our region is 10-15 degrees warmer than the mean for the same latitudes. The climate is further characterized by strong year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability, making it particularly challenging to separate anthropogenic (man-made) climate changes from natural variability in this complex part of the Earth’s climate system. 

Particularly strong changes in our local climate have been observed for the last couple of decades: A warmer and wetter atmosphere, a warmer and more saline upper ocean, changes in the oceanic circulation, a dramatic reduction in the Arctic sea ice, and significant changes in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and other elements.

At present we do not know to which extent this is related to anthropogenic forcing, or if the next few decades will show further amplification or a return to more normal conditions.  Experiments with climate models indicate that both may be possible, and that natural variability can dominate over global warming for several decades. Yet the demand for societal planning and risk ablation requires that we have at hand improved knowledge that enables a much better prediction of the system.

Northwest Europe and northern North Atlantic is 10-15°C warmer than the annual mean temperatures for the same latitudes (colour scale).   This is due to the heat and moisture being transported by the storms from southwest (blue curves) and the heat being transported by the northern extension of the Golf Stream (red). The dependency on heat import and strong local feedbacks cause large year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability in the climate of the region. To improve the regional-scale climate scenarios, better prediction of the future storm tracks and ocean circulation are required.

Similarly, the largest impacts of climate change to societies are expected to be in the poorer countries, with challenges due to reduced water availability and to coastal flooding as primary concerns. The dynamics that will govern how the climate system will respond and influence these parameters are poorly understood and predictive capacities on regional scales are poor.

The extent to which the climate responds to either an externally imposed (e.g. solar) or internally imposed (e.g. changed composition of atmosphere) radiative forcing depends on the sensitivity of the system. Our incomplete understanding of the numerous feedback processes contributing to this sensitivity, among them water vapour, particles, and clouds in the atmosphere, atmospheric and oceanic circulation changes, sea ice and snow cover, glacier dynamics, and carbon cycle, is the single largest obstacle for understanding the natural climate variability and climate change, and to narrow the uncertainties in future climate projections. 

Strongly related to sensitivity and feedbacks is to which extent there exist thresholds or so-called tipping points in the climate system, where non-linear feedback effects can result in rapid transitions from one climate state to another. Much-quoted examples from the past are the rapid shifts that have occurred in the ocean circulation and land temperatures in our region, often triggered by large fresh water outbursts from land associated with iceberg calving or breaking ice dams. Other perhaps more imminent questions relate to the possibility of a sudden transition to an ice-free Arctic, an abrupt out gassing of methane associated with melting permafrost, a strong acceleration in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and associated sea-level rise, a significant reduction in the net oceanic uptake of CO2 enhancing global warming, or large ecosystem changes through oceanic uptake of CO2 and subsequent acidification.

Perhaps the most exigent societal question of our time is to what degree, and at what pace, mitigation and adaptation strategies should be implemented in everyday politics. The success of all future political measures will strongly depend on the right input data from the climate community, making it more than ever before important to train future generations in the complex dynamics of the climate system. Related to this complexity is the need for collaboration between scientists of various skills, whether they have their expertise in the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, biogeochemical cycling, or in climate modelling, and a need for scientists to be able to communicate to non-scientist to a much larger extent than before. The most efficient way to foster such a research training environment is to make a forum where the young scientists from the various institutions can meet, be trained in-depth and in breadth, be introduced to national and international networks, get the chance to exchange experiences and ideas, and simply make friends for life-long networks.

Description of activities

In order to strengthen the national research training, the following activities are part of the Norwegian Research School in Climate Dynamics: 

A1. Invite expert lecturers to give short, intensive courses (often followed by student activities and reports) at one of the partner institutions. Students outside the host institution will have their travel and accommodation covered by ResClim. The aim is 3-5 courses each year, being held either in Bergen, Oslo, Tromsø, or Longyearbyen. 

A2. Arrange specialised workshops with national and international participants. Various topics should be covered. The aim is two workshops each year. International network building will be promoted.

A3. Arrange specialised or more generalised summer schools with national and international renowned expert lecturers. The aim should be at least one summer school each year, and should preferable be in collaboration with our international collaborating institutions. International network building will be promoted.

A4. Arrange an annual short symposium on climate change and global challenges (poverty, health, energy, mitigation etc.). Depending on the research schools that are funded, this activity could be done in collaboration with other national research schools within relevant disciplines.

 A5. Arrange an annual all-staff meeting for students, supervisors, and members of the international advisory board. Students will present their projects and key results, and plans for further developments of the school will be made.

A6. Support shorter research stays at one of the international partner institutions. To spend a period abroad either during or just after the PhD study will often turn out to be a very good investment for ones later research carrier. Organise and support participation and presentations at international conferences and symposia, and use these as training elements for networking and transferable skills. Identify mentors for such activities.

A7. Improve research facilities for the students. Examples are to support smaller laboratory equipments, analyses costs, and field trips. 

A8. Involve top-level academics from partner institutions (national or international) to participate in supervising committees. This will expose the students to a broader network and can in certain cases lead to more trans-disciplinary thinking. 

A9. Actively promote students to participate in outreach activities (media, lectures to non-scientists, cross-disciplinary seminars, etc). Such activities can be seminars in connection with e.g. the symposium above (A4), or at open public days at the various institutions. 

A10. Arrange special courses focussing on training and developing supervising skills. Examples can be courses in how to plan and secure progress in a PhD project, courses in research ethics, or courses in human relations and team building. In most cases there will be local expertise at one of our universities who could give such courses. The supervisor network provided by the research school will also provide a forum for discussing research training in general. 

A11. Establish a national steering group. From project start this will be led by the coordinator and consist of the members named in the proposal. We should aim to change at least 50 percent of the members every second year to ensure new ideas and also promote women more visible in the research school. The steering group will meet at least once a year.

A12. Establish an evaluation board with national and international members, evaluating activities, publication records, turnover rates, networking skills, international recruitment, gender issues, and more. Arrange one annual meeting, often in connection with the all-staff meeting in A5.

A13. Set up a secretariat (leader, secretary, and postdoc), establish a research school web site to coordinate information flow between the participating institutes, do national and international outreach, initiate activities, assist in meetings, and more.  Investments in video conference and web cast equipments should be considered. This could be used to promote more collaboration between students sitting at various institutions, and at the same time help to reduce the amount of travel. By the end of each year an annual report describing activities and results achieved will be made.