Prof Dirk Notz
Sea-ice Physicist at the University of Hamburg
Even as a child, Dirk was fascinated by the Arctic landscape, a fascination that deepened during the year he spent on Spitsbergen as part of his meteorology studies at Universität Hamburg. Driven by the desire to better understand the Arctic, that feeling has never left him. He wrote his thesis on two-layer permafrost soils at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. There he also met his doctoral supervisor, who he later followed to the University of Cambridge. His Ph.D. research focused on the internal structure and microphysics of sea ice, and was based on a combination of observations, fieldwork and climate modelling. Since 2008, he has led the research group “Sea Ice in the Earth System” at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, and since 2019 has also been a Professor at Universität Hamburg, specializing in the cryosphere and particularly sea ice. Dirk’s research group uses a wide variety of methods to investigate sea ice at all scales, from the microphysics of ice to its role in the global climate system. One of his most significant contributions was the discovery of a linear relation between CO2 emissions and sea-ice loss in the Arctic.
What are you working on at the moment?
An important part of my current research, and one that I’d like to extend, is our understanding of the ratio of multiyear ice to first-year ice in the Arctic. It’s vital for us as a research community to pool our resources in order to gain a better understanding of multiyear ice and its properties before it disappears completely.
How important is it to combine a variety of research methods in your investigations?
I try to uphold the scientific principle that we can only understand what’s really happening if we use observations and models in equal measure and develop them side by side. Robust findings are only possible if we combine insights from modelling and observations. If we relied solely on model studies, we would hardly be able to argue that the results from the models had anything to do with reality. On the other hand, when it comes to measurements, we have to be able to explain why data collected at three locations in the Arctic is in any way related to how the Arctic functions as a whole.
What is your motivation for being involved in scientific communication (like meereisportal.de)?
In my opinion, particularly in the field of climate research, it’s essential that we as scientists present our findings to the public, so that they can make informed decisions about how we as a society want to live in the future. I don’t see it as the role of scientists to make recommendations on what actions should be taken or to issue demands. But I think it’s very important to make it possible for society to decide for itself that there is a need for change, based on our knowledge of Earth’s climate system and its future.
My hero is...
I can’t narrow it down to one individual, but something that rarely receives enough praise is the extraordinary dedication of the entire ship’s crew, who by working around the clock, selflessly and often thanklessly, have actually made everything that we know about sea ice, possible.