Interview with Dr Leonard Borchert
Leonard Borchert is a versatile climate researcher. After studying coastal dynamics and the economic impact of climate change, he started examining decadal surface temperature predictability over Europe in 2015. He is also part of several networks that work to improve the situation of PhD candidates in Germany.
- Climate dynamics
- Climate prediction
- Science politics
Of interest to
- Environment NGOs
- Climate enthusiasts
Is it possible to predict the climate reliably several years in the future?
This depends on the specific location and target variable: For example, most current climate models cannot predict precipitation accurately on this time scale. In general, current climate models predict relatively well if weather conditions will be warmer or cooler in the next ten years if they take into account what the climate condition was at the beginning of the prediction. The forecast of exact temperatures does not work that well. Studies that simulate predictions in the last 60 years and compare these with actual observations have found that these decadal climate predictions work particularly well in the North Atlantic region.
How do the predictions work that you analyse in your thesis?
Here, the demarcation to climate projections is very important: The predictions I deal with are generally less reliable than climate change scenarios. The reason for this is that for the decadal time scale there is more to take into account than the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, for example, like with weather forecasts, the condition of the climate system at the beginning of the prediction. In my thesis, I analysed why surface temperatures of the North Atlantic region are so well predictable up to ten years. I found out that the oceanic transport of heat into the North Atlantic plays an important role for the reliability of temperature forecasts there.
In your time as a PhD student and until now, you have been involved in various PhD networks. What do you think about the situation for PhD students in Germany right now?
In the last years, many things have improved. For example, many academic organisations have abolished scholarships and introduced supervision panels, groups of researchers that supervise single PhD students. Many PhD students are now well insured during their PhD studies, but this is unfortunately not the case for PhD students with scholarships. Also, the risk for abuse of power through single supervisors has diminished through the panel system. Still, there are many things left to be done: PhD students often do not receive full payment for full-time work, they are often physically and psychically challenged through stress, and despite supervision panels, abuse of power still exists. But there is hope: I am again and again impressed by the work of self-organised groups of PhD students, for example, the N2 network where I am also active.
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