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Renewed focus on climate research at Aarhus University

A sound knowledge base is required if Denmark is to hold onto its leading position in climate research and adaptation. By establishing a strategic research centre, Aarhus University will now combine classical science, research-based public sector consultancy, engineering and social sciences, to create the prerequisites for studying the challenges of basic science, as well as providing practice-related solutions in collaboration with the business sector and public authorities. The Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change – iClimate – was inaugurated on 5 December at an official ceremony in Roskilde.

2017.12.04 | Rasmus Rørbæk

The iClimate research centre covers a wide scope, and will carry out studies of areas such as the North Pole with unmanned drone missions, which will provide new insight into the processes resulting from climate change. (Photo: Colourbox)

The centre has a holistic approach to the climate to find details in a larger perspective. This illustration shows how the different focus points will be included in the overall work. (Illustration: iClimate)

Climate change is taking place around us, and we are vulnerable to the accompanying risks. We may not think about it in our day-to-day lives, but we are reminded of it when we are affected by violent weather phenomena such as downpours or severe storms. We really notice it when our roads are suddenly flooded or the basement fills up with water. When farmers are unable to harvest their crops or railway services are disrupted by water that will not drain away, it has an impact on the social account.

Climate change is a reality, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already concluded that global warming is now taking place at a much faster rate than even they had previously predicted. The year 2016 was the hottest ever recorded in world history, and there can hardly be any doubt that we are facing a climate-changed future regardless of whether or not we intervene.

Climate change is no doubt the most important global challenge to be identified by the United Nations. Climate change reaches into everything, ranging from food and energy production, public health and security policy to the way we design our cities. This is because everything depends on how humans adapt to the new climate reality in the future.

Throughout history, mankind has known one thing – we can adapt to local climate conditions and other factors of critical importance when necessary. We have built, reconsidered and changed our society and industry on the basis of the available knowledge regarding the climate wherever we are.

On this basis, Aarhus University is now opening the Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change (iClimate) – a strategic research centre that aims to provide a solution-oriented approach to this complex area.

“For a number of years, research into climate technology and climate change has played an important role in our understanding of the changed climate conditions of the future, and our options for adaptation. The climate is something that affects all companies today. For the great majority, this could be about the way their own company reduces its climate footprint and adapts to climate change but, for many companies, it’s also about how to provide services and products that reduce the climate footprint for the markets of the future.

In setting up this strategic research centre, our hope is that society and industry gain access to world-leading research and an opportunity to create a systematic foundation on which to assess the consequences of climate change.

For many years, Denmark has been a pioneer country in climate research, and Aarhus University has positions of strength with internationally leading research groups. In collaboration with society and companies, iClimate will now provide even more support for a sustainable future,” said Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology. He initiated the setting up of seven interdisciplinary research centres at Aarhus University to address some of the major challeges facing the world society today.

One centre – many solutions
The background to iClimate may seem grim. And rightly so perhaps. The latest knowledge about climate change is summed up in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which stresses that climate change appears to be accelerating. Each of the last three decades has been hotter than the one before and, since the 1980s, we have witnessed a steady and strongly increasing temperature on the world surface. Other changes have also shown to be accelerating – the sea level is rising and the polar ice caps are diminishing.

In recent years, there has also been increasing focus on climate-related issues in the Danish world of research. A large part of the work to date has consisted of understanding and describing the changed climate conditions, and has focused to a limited extent on the accompanying challenges, including opportunities for limiting the impact of human-induced changes. iClimate will focus to a greater extent on more solution-oriented approaches to these challenges, with a solid foothold in the accumulated knowledge.

“iClimate is assembling a broad portfolio of academic expertise with an ambition to enter into even closer collaboration with private and public players. With this centre, we’ll be strongly involved in creating the necessary interdisciplinarity. Our holistic approach to climate research with aspects from natural, social and technical science means that we can discover how and when authorities, the business sector and citizens can or should prevent and adapt to the impact of climate change,” said Professor Jørgen Brandt, centre director at iClimate.

Other focal points include creating knowledge about climate drivers, which – as the expression suggests – affect climate change. There are still unknown factors here in areas including the importance of the oceans, the significance of what is happening in the Arctic, and the impact of the short-lived greenhouse pollutants such as atmospheric particles, methane and ozone. There are many aspects within the melting of the polar ice caps that are also unknown, and the centre will carry out a number of different studies here, including the use of unmanned drones. Agriculture and food production will undergo modifications in a changing climate, where areas such as crop yields will change, and agriculture itself holds opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a smart way. Energy production and consumption will also be included in the work at the new centre, as well as industrial production and urban significance. Research into atmospheric processes and modelling, and other disciplines related to air pollution, will also be included in the research portfolio.

“iClimate has quite broad aims, and this is deliberate. To borrow a line from the famous Canadian author Margaret Atwood, it’s possibly wrong to mention it simply as climate change – because the fact that it changes everything means that it interferes with all aspects of our lives and our livelihoods. Aarhus University is in a fairly strong position as regards attracting internationally leading research groups in so many fields, and meeting a need for strengthened efforts regarding collaboration and knowledge sharing between the Danish research environment and industry and society,” said Professor Brandt.

Knowledge-heavy solutions
iClimate aims to develop specific solutions for the benefit of industry and society. This is welcomed by companies such as Arla Foods, which is one the world’s leading manufacturers of dairy products. The concern is one of the key global players when it comes to finding solutions that can ensure food for as many people as possible, produced in a way that makes the least possible impact on the world’s resources.

“Climate change is being experienced around the world, and something has to be done. For a number of years, we’ve been making targeted efforts with sustainability in the entire chain from farmers, production and transport to consumers. At the same time, we’ve had constant focus on optimising all processes, including water usage, energy efficiency improvements, wastewater management, etc. We’ve also focused on the climate gains connected with the members of cooperative societies and consumers – and not least for our climate. It’s very positive that Aarhus University is now inaugurating this centre for climate research. I’d like to welcome this strong research centre to collaboration in a wide range of areas, starting with knowledge-heavy solutions,” said Sustainability Director Jan D. Johannesen, Arla Foods.

iClimate was officially opened at a ceremony in Roskilde on Tuesday 5 December. Speakers included Connie Hedegaard, chair of the Aarhus University Board, and there were also a number of academic presentations during the afternoon. Read more on the centre’s website: www.iclimate.au.dk.

The director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change – iClimate – is Professor Jørgen Brandt, who is affiliated with the Department of Environmental Science. The centre also consists of Aarhus University’s Department of Bioscience, Department of Geoscience, Department of Agroecology, Department of Chemistry, Department of Engineering, Department of Animal Science and Department of Food Science. It also includes DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, and DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture.

For more information, please contact

Centre Director and Professor Jørgen Brandt
iClimate, Aarhus University
+45 3018 3128

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen
Science and Technology
Aarhus University



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