Heading to Svalbard

My name is Håvard Kristiansen. I am a PhD-student at the University of Oslo, and I am from Oslo. Three years ago, I got a master’s degree in nuclear chemistry from the University of Oslo. After that, I worked for a year for the city public waste management, dealing with recycling of hazardous waste, before I started as a PhD-student at the Department of Geosciences at the university. I am now half-way in my four-year contract as PhD-student.

My current field of study is the carbon balance of permafrost. I work on the development of a computer model called Cryogrid, which simulates the temperature and water content of permafrost, given soil parameters and climate forcing. Temperature and water content are two of the most important physical controls on the soil carbon balance, and therefore, I am trying to build a carbon cycle into Cryogrid.

Plants are of course a very important and interesting part of the carbon cycle, and I have struggled with how to describe them in my model. How can we simulate photosynthesis, plant growth and litter fall with as few parameters as possible, and with realistic and transparent control by temperature and water content? And most  relevant to TraitTrain,  how can we benchmark our results, i.e. how can we make sure we get reasonable results from the model?

I am very excited about this course. I look forward to experiencing the arctic conditions, although – or perhaps because – I have had some experience with it in the past, if only once before at Svalbard. More importantly, I look forward to learning about how to make scientific observations of plants in the field. Since I am not a biologist or geoscientist, I do not have any training in scientific field work, so that is an important gap in my skill set which I am eager to fill.

I don’t know what to expect about people on Svalbard and their opinions on climate change, but if I had guess I would speculate that they are roughly aligned with people in mainland Norway, whatever the opinion on climate change in mainland Norway is. The only polling results on the matter I can recall reading was in Hans Rosling’s recent book Factfulness. Rosling gave numerous lectures to a variety of crowds all over the world. In the process, he took the opportunity to quiz his crowds on fundamental facts about economic and demographic trends. Generally, he found that most people had an overly dramatic and negative outlook, systematically underestimating measures of human progress such as child survival rates, vaccination rates and access to education. However, 85 percent of the respondents correctly responded that most climate experts agree that the climate is warming due to human causes. But do people believe the experts? And are Rosling’s representative for people on Svalbard? I guess we’ll find out.

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