Interview with Dr. Jin-Song von Storch, July 2011

Jin-Song von Storch leads the “Ocean Statistics” working group at the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology and is a Senior Scientist at the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP.

Profile Picture Jin-Song von Storch

When and why did you decide to work scientifically in Germany?
At the time when I finished my PhD after having spent 9 years in Germany, I had no clear idea about the situation in China. So it came quite naturally to stay in Germany.

What have been the major steps in your professional life so far?
My habilitation and the Heisenberg Programme1 awarded by the German Science Foundation have had significant influence on my scientific career. I have been a senior scientist at MPI-Met since 2004.

What is your main contribution to CliSAP?
Within the STORM project (a consortium project aiming at high-resolution climate change simulations), we are about to complete a tenth-degree simulation of the ocean for the past six decades. The simulation contains several novel features and is one of very few
simulations of this kind worldwide. It provides an important data basis for a large number of ocean-related investigations across CliSAP. We expect a simulation of the same type for the atmosphere in this year, with similar impact on atmosphere-related research.

Vice versa, in what way(s) has CliSAP helped you most?
The strong financial support from CliSAP has been extremely valuable for the STORM project.

What do you see as CliSAPs largest achievements so far?
CliSAP succeeded in bringing people from different disciplines / institutes together. The harder part is to get more in-depth scientific cooperation going.

Do you think that you are a role model for your students?
I don't consider myself as a role model. People experience different things. But a good mixture of determinedness, hard-working and luck helps.

What would you consider the most significant achievement in your career?
I tend to be most excited about the most recent result. This is certainly the case now. The high-resolution modeling helps me to learn about certain types of wave processes which were not well known to the oceanographic community so far. Not only that, the new finding has the potential to modify our view about how the general circulation in the ocean works. If this is further confirmed, it would be a significant achievement.
If I look back, my angular moment paper2 in 2001 is significant (at least for me). It offers a rigorous explanation of how things work (in this case how a geophysical fluid reacts to an imposing torque). Due to the great complexity of our study object, the climate, the explanations we offer are often either speculative, imprecise or representing one of several possibilities. Given this, it is a great satisfaction to be specific and precise once.

When you look back in time, what do you consider the most significant, exciting or surprising developments in oceanographic research?
As a meteorologist I don't really have a good historical overview in the field of oceanography. Having said that, I do consider the RAPID-program (a continuous observational system along 26.5° N in the Atlantic) as a major development in modern oceanography. In my view there are two ways to achieve progress in science, either being extremely intelligent (in very rare cases) or being clever in developing instruments that allow us to see things we would not see otherwise. The unique design of the RAPID array is an excellent example of clever instrumentation.

What do you think is the role of science within society?
Science is a luxury good a society may or may not want to have.

Do you see a rising influence of politics or the economy in climate science?
Yes.

What constitutes "good" science?
Good science serves curiosity.

(Where) Do you see differences between scientific cultures in Western countries and in China?
Following what I just said about good science, there shouldn't be any significant differences between doing science in the West and in China, though the way of approaching problems could be very different.

How would you assess the present situation of females in climate sciences?
The fact that we have very few females in top positions is a reflection of our society which defines family values and influences women and men in defining their role in their environment. It is not a question of woman's ability and has little to do (in most cases) with
discrimination.

What would be your advice for young women and men, who contemplate going in to climate science?
Go ahead, but be flexible.

What would you do with an additional million Euros for your research?
One million Euro is really not much if your research depends on high-performance computer (Power6  costed about 30 million, not mentioning the enormous manpower needed to ensure an efficient use of Power6).

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

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1 The Heisenberg Programme aims to promote and maintain young outstanding and highly qualified researchers to give them incentives for continuing their careers in science and research.

2 von Storch, Jin-Song, 2001: How do surface torques affect the global atmospheric angular momenta? Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 58, 1995-1999.

3 The Climate Computing Centre operates the high performance computer system for earth system research (HLRE2); the IBM Power63 super computer „Blizzard“ was installed there in 2009.