Bjorn Stevens on the philosophy of climate modeling

In love with Maxwell

Bjorn Stevens has a lot going on: scientific member of the Max Planck Society, director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, head of the department Atmosphere and the Earth System, professor at the University of Hamburg, lead author of an IPCC AR 5 Chapter 7, co-lead of a WCRP Grand Challenge on Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity. All of these roles don’t come as much of a surprise, once you get your head around the degree to which Bjorn manages to combine a deep scientific enthusiasm with big vision, an in-the-trenches grasp of details, a willingness to take risks, and an inspirational leadership style.

Bjorn grew up all over the place, with the family following the career of his father, a petroleum engineer. The rise to the top of the climate science profession had plenty of twists and turns too: irregular schooling, an early passion for Maxwell’s equations, two degrees in electrical engineering, a switch to atmospheric science, time off during the PhD to rethink priorities.

It’s hard to say what influence his unusual background had, but Bjorn is now outspoken on many topics: how to use models, the magnitude of aerosol forcing, the possibility of an iris effect – much of which comes, unusually, with clear statements on how he could be proven wrong. More than anything else, our talk continually came back to Bjorn’s sense of fascination with the beauty of the natural world, and the endless challenge in figuring it out.

And most important, Bjorn likes fries and gravy. He claims not to eat them anymore.

I’m certainly not the first person to interview Bjorn Stevens! You can check out another discussion at Ecoshock. There’s also a plenary lecture at the Platform for Advance Scientific Computing, and a recent lecture at the Lorenz Center should soon be available.

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