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Prof Rüdiger Gerdes

Rüdiger Gerdes can look back on years of experience in sea-ice research. But he began his career by studying oceanography at the Leibniz Institute in Kiel. Back then, he initially investigated how processes from practical mathematics could be applied to oceanographic questions and problems. He subsequently deepened his knowledge in this area as a postdoc at Princeton University and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in the USA. When he joined the AWI in 1991, at first he didn’t research sea ice; instead, in connection with ocean modelling, he focused on processes at work in the general thermohaline circulation, before expanding his scope to the Arctic and to the Antarctic ice-shelf areas.

When he became Head of the Sea Ice Physics Section, he turned his attention to the exciting role of sea ice in climate models. After stepping down as Head of Section in 2016, he continued his research activities at the AWI and as a professor at the Jacobs University of Bremen, where his current duties chiefly involve supporting sea-ice modelling. Other focus areas include Arctic shipping and sustainability questions in modern shipping, as well as climate-change projections.

What part can meereisportal.de play when it comes to knowledge transfer?

For the most part, the media can only provide situational and public-friendly coverage of climate-relevant topics in sea-ice research. That’s where meereisportal.de can come into play and ensure that the information doesn’t remain incomplete. The public wants to know the background and complains when information is poorly prepared. The need and desire to truly understand these things are there and have to be responded to.

What findings and observations do you find especially impressive?

I’d have to say, those on the role of the Barents Sea for the European North Sea and the Arctic Ocean as a whole. The Barents Sea is a largely ice-free zone in the Arctic, and one in which processes like the transport of specific water masses take place, affecting the entire ocean. After all, this transport influences, for instance, the broad-scale oceanic circulation, which is an important factor for the weather in Europe. Here, we’re especially interested in findings on the connections between components, not on the components themselves.

What aspects of your work as a modeller do you enjoy most?

Of course, it’s always a pleasure when you find something you weren’t even looking for. I enjoy recognising connections and applying various disciplines like mathematics and sea-ice physics. But exchanging notes with colleagues and presenting my own research are also parts of my work that I enjoy.

My personal hero is…

Kirk Bryan (from the GFDL, USA), one of the pioneers of ocean modelling and an incredibly inspiring colleague. Back in the day, at a small conference in London, I was giving a presentation on a new water mass in the Tropics that absolutely contradicted the observational data. Kirk Bryan promptly stood up from the audience and clearly stated that my mistake was due to an error in his model. I’d never seen such self-confidence and open-heartedness before.

Picture of Prof Rüdiger Gerdes

Prof Rüdiger Gerdes

Sea-ice Physicist