Interview with Heinke Schlünzen, March 2012

Prof. Heinke Schlünzen is a meteorologist. As a CliSAP Principal Investigator she coordinates the Group "Urban Systems". She also leads the Research Group "Mesoscale and Microscale Atmospheric Processes and Phenomena".

Profile Picture Heinke Schlünzen

What have been the main steps in your professional life so far?
The very first step was my decision to study physics and meteorology. Both subjects I rated as being very suitable for research into environmental impacts, even though these two sciences are not the "traditionally involve" in environmental research. However, I pursued my studies in meteorology to contribute my share in this field. Another important step was to decide for a habilitation with the aim at becoming a professor in meteorology. Since 1990, I have been head of the research group on "Mesoscale and Microscale Atmospheric Processes and Phenomena" at the Meteorological Institute. Another relevant step in my professional life is to bridge the gap between science and practice. Thus, I coordinate the development of Air Quality Guidelines for the Commission on Air Pollution of the Association of German Engineers. I am also a member of the Executive Board of the International Association for Wind Engineering; it is new for them to have a meteorologist in that position.

What is your main contribution to CliSAP?
Together with Prof. Jürgen Oßenbrügge from the Institute for Geography, I coordinate the CliSAP research activities on the urban system. Together with 30 natural and social scientists, we investigate the urban climate and its impact on human comfort and local economics. We regularly exchange ideas and jointly develop new approaches to obtain an integrated idea of the urban system. My own group "Mesoscale and Microscale Atmospheric Phenomena" (MeMi) investigates the urban climate while focusing on Hamburg. I am also a Principal Investigator of CliSAP and a member of the steering committee, thereby contributing to CliSAP in total.

And vice versa, in what way has CliSAP helped you most?
Before CliSAP, I already had many ideas to quantitatively evaluate the urban climate. Within CliSAP I found a like-minded, interdisciplinary environment and the funding to do the research – an experienced scientist and a PhD student perform this work now. We are now able to make good progress within the CliSAP research group "Urban Systems" and to trigger new research projects. In this context, we have also established an interdisciplinary expertise team on the urban system, which is needed to understand the system as a whole.

You have built up a broad interdisciplinary cooperation within CliSAP. Can you say something about this network? What are the added values of this cooperation, what potential do you see for the future?
Our network includes experts for the atmosphere, plants and soil, as well as socio-economists. With this interdisciplinary approach, we generate knowledge outside the usual paths. We link our research to local decision makers and city planners, as well as to other national and international research projects investigating the urban system. This network of experts allows adaptation measures to be developed much faster than it would be possible with any other disciplinary approach.
For the future, I see an even more intense collaboration and a transfer of knowledge to other urban areas on the globe. Doing this, the CliSAP research group on urban systems provides a unique knowledge basis.

Your major issue in CliSAP is the urban climate. How do you see the interplay of local and global issues for your own perspective and for CliSAP as a whole?
In some ways, urban areas are not special – they will experience climate changes in the same way as their surrounding. However, in three ways they are very special: 1) Due to the large amount of energy used in urban areas, they emit much more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the surrounding rural areas. 2) Due to the high population density in urban areas, many people will be impacted by the consequences of the climate change. Thus, it is important to determine these impacts and consequences in order to be prepared. 3) The temperature, wind, humidity or precipitation in cities are influenced by buildings and other urban structures and show a typical urban effect. An increased aerosol load affects the air quality and precipitazion. These urban made changes and the impacts of the global climate change suggest several consequences: the reduction of emissions and the rebuilding of urban areas towards more adapted and less-vulnerable places.
CliSAP investigates regional effects in most vulnerable areas, such as the Arctic, but also urban systems. For these regional studies reliable results on the global scale are a prerequisite, therefore the global scale investigations of CliSAP are also very important for urban scale studies.

You are one of those members of CliSAP who studied and now work in Hamburg. How has the "atmospheric science location Hamburg" developed in these decades?
The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology was founded in 1975 and added to the basic atmospheric research, which has a long tradition in Hamburg. In 1982 Michael Schatzmann initiated a Technical Meteorology research group at the Meteorological Institute of the Hamburg University. His applied research attracted me and I started my PhD in that research group to develop a mesoscale numerical model. In 1989, the Centre for Marine and Climate Research (ZMK) was founded. The ZMK was the result of the close collaboration between meteorology, oceanography and geophysics. Not only our group Technical Meteorology, but the whole campus has prospered, while being involved in several Special Research Fields (SFB) and huge projects funded by the Science Ministry. Many projects have been carried out in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht. Consequently, a joint research Centre (Centre for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, ZMAW) was founded in 2004, which has shared facilities and eventually became the trigger for CliSAP. As successor of the ZMK and with inclusion of university research areas involved in CliSAP, the Centre for Natural Sciences and Sustainability (CEN) was founded in 2011.
Looking back, one can see a continuous growth in all fields of atmospheric sciences; however, I never had the impression it is an unhealthy growth. Maybe this is a kind of secret recipe for the atmospheric sciences in Hamburg: slowly but continuously growing so that all people involved can really be taken "on board".

What would you consider the most significant achievement in your career?
I have introduced several quantitative evaluation methodologies for numerical models into the mesoscale and microscale modeling community. I would rate this introduction to be my most significant achievement.
Around 1992, I started to develop serious model evaluation methodologies and gave first presentations on this subject at conferences. Some colleagues supposed this being the end of numerical sciences. However, it was not the end and today's quantitative evaluation methodologies are common practice in all environmental research studies. The results do not only "look good", but they are presented with quantitative numbers for the "goodness".

When you look back in time, what do you consider the most significant, exciting or surprising developments in atmospheric science?
Most significant was and is the fast computer development that allows using e.g. high-resolution atmosphere models to determine e.g. the impacts of single buildings on the surrounding. For me the most exciting was that the first model results on climate change were confirmed again and again by later studies although with much more detail. It is most surprising to me that the climate change research results do not trigger more public reaction.

What do you think is the role of science within society?
Scientists should objectively inform the society. They should not try to stir emotions to get their topic "sold" but create a truthful atmosphere by providing reliable answers.

How would you assess the present situation of females in climate sciences?
When I studied some 30 years ago, it was clear that "You as a woman cannot be as good as the male students in mathematics, you have to understand that!" (quote from one of our professors); 20 years ago females in sciences "… have something to do with the equal opportunity officer – that must be a warning for you" (quote from a colleague at that time); 10 years ago it became mandatory to have female participants in round table discussions. However, despite progress at the surface there is still a lot to do to ensure equality. Natural sciences have been and still are male-dominated. Fierce competition hinders the advance of females. Female colleagues are often more active on a social level to improve working conditions than in working for their own advancement. However, I seriously believe that we need good teamwork in research and thus the "female approach" is required to solve the problems we are facing. If this becomes generally accepted, the small number of females in natural sciences will be history.

What would be your advice for a young researchers who contemplate specializing in technical meteorology?
Technical Meteorology covers the fields of pollution dispersion, high-resolution investigations within the obstacle layer including urban wind comfort, heat budgets in urban areas, anthropogenic precipitation impacts and a lot of other quantitative aspects of urban climate. Focus of Technical Meteorology is on developing solution methodologies for urgent environmental problems. Before specializing in Technical Meteorology all scientists need to learn their subjects from scratch and become experts in their respective fields. At the same time they should learn to collaborate with experts from neighboring fields. Multidisciplinary projects are a perfect place to learn this collaboration. Good peers are curious to know what the others are doing and accept that the other science field is just as difficult as the own, independent of how easy the other scientist can explain it. In the Technical Meteorology group at the University of Hamburg engineering and meteorology approaches are directly combined, so that all the expert knowledge can be learned, including physical and numerical modeling, evaluation methodologies for data and model results, as well as working in interdisciplinary teams and talking to decision makers. And concerning the future of this science field: whenever one environmental problem was solved a number of new ones appeared. Thus, there is still a number of unsolved problems to be solved by students specialized in Technical Meteorology.

Do you think that you are a role model for your students?
I do not believe in role models. I believe in the individuality of people. However, I would appreciate it if some of my ideas would seriously be considered by my students. For instance, allowing equal opportunities for all members in a team, independent of the position and task. In addition, they should think about becoming a migrating science bird – I, however, have always had many scientific ideas and did not rate migration as helping me in developing even more. Another relevant point is to be somewhat robust against comments from outsiders, since the development of new science is always connected with new ideas and many people (including scientists) are somewhat adverse to changes. Thus, the wind is sometimes against those who develop new ideas. This just shows that it is best to be a meteorologist and to know the wind direction - then you can be prepared.

This interview was carried out by Prof. Dr. Mike S. Schaefer, head of the working group "Media Constructions" at the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP, and Prof. Dr. Hans von Storch, head of the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht.