Students' report of an extreme climate study

Report of an extreme climate study

Mendy van der Vliet (juni 2017)

The last 6 months I spent in Canada to study there for the winter semester and explore it’s nature by travelling the last 6 weeks. As a minor for my master Climate Physics I studied advanced climatology, atmospheric modelling and statistical machine learning at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. In these courses I learnt about the physics behind the greenhouse effect, large-scale weather fronts, local storms, sea level changes, and to find statistical algorithms behind big data. I know this sounds all very non-social and exact, but I also learned to communicate about this science by writing articles for newspapers and sharing my knowledge with students of other disciplines. Besides, physical and biological systems*  over the entire world are changing at an extreme rate as a response to climate change. This affects human society, therefore, it is important to understand and model these changes.  

The 5th of January I flew to Edmonton, and immediately noticed the temperature difference, which was only -20°C (lucky me!). You might understand that Canadian education has a high level and the country is beautiful, but for sure* you are wondering why I have chosen to arrive in the midst of the extremely cold central-Canadian climate. And yes, although prepared with thermal underwear and snowboots, my perspectives about going for a walk changed quite a bit. What is more unknown about this climate is that the rate of temperature change can also be very extreme: changes of 45°C   over a couple of days. You understand that wearing the right “gear” required some practise. However, as a climate scientist I found these weather extremes and big snowy landscapes of course fascinating.

Next to the climate, I also learnt more about the Canadian culture. Adapting to the extreme weather, Canadian people put their thermostat on +25°C inhouse, to make the experience of going outdoors even more refreshing. And what is more surprising is that they talk about weather even more than we, Dutch people, do! In general, the Canadian culture is a funny combination of American and European influences. Given the first, everything is big: distances, fast food branches, supermarkets, and cars. Given the second, everybody in Canada seems to have a distant relative from England, Italy, Scotland, and quite often the Netherlands. They also hold Europeans in high regard on themes as politics, culture, and sustainability (at least the people I spoke too did, although I have to say that Canadians are extremely polite).

Regarding the last theme, sustainability, I found that Canadians recycle almost everything, on the contrary there is less eagerness for changing their own lifestyle compared to the Netherlands. Especially in Alberta, which is known for her oil and meat production, and where everybody drives around in big pick-up trucks. “Vegetarians are hippies”, and “cycling is simply dangerous” are statements I heard often. Therefore, I felt the urge to spread my climate knowledge to (hopefully) create more awareness about climate change. I organised a discussion evening named “Climate Change: what is true, what to do?”, in which I presented the state-of-the-art knowledge on climate change and its effects on society. Wonderfully students of all disciplines were present and we discussed solutions in small groups, targeted on politics, economy, communication and energy.

In conclusion, I found the experience very enriching, especially because of the interesting people I have exchanged ideas with. In Canada I took the first steps to communicate about my academic knowledge to a broader audience. I am very grateful to the ACSN for my scholarship, which made it financially possible to have this networking and studying opportunity.