Guest lectures from Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research

Can the ocean be used to predict climate? How can the main dynamical features of the air and the sea be explained to pupils and students?

I. Northern climate predictability rooted in the ocean by Tor Eldevik, professor Geofysisk institutt / forskningsleder Bjerknessenteret

A century ago, Vilhelm Bjerknes and colleagues – in Bergen – realised weather prediction as an operational practice. A main challenge for the scientific community today is to realise similar predictive skill for the evolution of regional climate on seasonal to decadal time scale. The challenge is concerned with two parallell efforts:

1) to develop numerical climate prediction models that are the climate-scale equivalent to those used in weather forecasting, and 2) establish from observations and mechanistic understanding to what extent climate actually can be predicted.

As a specific example, it will be shown how our observed northern climate relates predictably to the state of the Atlantic ocean. Particularly, we predict that Norwegian air temperature will decrease over the coming years, although staying above the long-term (1981–2010) average. Winter Arctic sea ice extent will remain low but with a general increase toward 2020. 

II. From chaos to(wards) curiosity in the classroom by Helge Drange, Geofysisk institutt, UiB.

The step from passively experiencing movements in air and sea – and in many aspects taking nature for granted to actually understand and describe the main dynamical features based on first physical principles, is perceived as a grand challenge for most students. There are several reasons for this: The first three semesters at the University is typically filled with theoretical mathematics and physics, often with weak link to applications. When the students are introduced to atmosphere and ocean dynamics in the fourth semester, the students need – for the first time – to actively apply the mathematical and physical tool boxes. The theory of fluid dynamics on a rotating sphere is both complex, beautiful and sometimes counter-intuitive, and for many, mentally overwhelming (and we have all been fourth semester students…). 

To illustrate some aspects of what the theory says about the basic movements in air and sea, hands-on experiments with a small, rotating tank can be used. Several of the experiments are very simple to carry out, and can therefore easily be intertwined with more traditional teaching in the classroom. Examples will be given where water, ice, salt and colour moves and mixes in visually beautiful ways – to support theory, contribute to deeper learning, seed curiosity, and motivate discussions. 

A natural, follow-up to the above is to introduce measurements of weather and water in the math teaching at the high schools. An example will be presented where parts/chapters of the school books in mathematics, physics, technology, etc. can be substituted by analysing real-time observations from air and sea, and by solving associated exercises. The activity is named ‘Ekte data ’.