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Scientists discussed their work at the annual PIK Research Days

12/17/2010 - While climate change continues and climate policy continues to labour, “tremendous challenges” are ahead for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, its director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber said at the PIK Research Days. More than 250 scientists and staff members had gathered for this annual event of two days to discuss their work. Findings of PIK scientists have been taken up by decision-makers, Schellnuber said. One example for this has been the result on the magnitude of the CO2-emission-budget that is left if the limit of two degrees Celsius global warming should not be transgressed. “Just continue to do good science,” Schellnhuber told his colleagues.

PIK is growing, Schellnhuber pointed out, both in terms of budget and staff. “Perhaps the most important development within our Institute is the increase in PhD students,” he said. Their number has almost doubled in just three years, reaching nearly one hundred. “We are training a young generation who is aware of the scientific as well as of the political challenges.” Despite all the differences between the various PIK research domain, there is one thing all the work done there has in common, vice-director Ottmar Edenhofer stressed. “Sustainability is the idea that guides us all”, he said.

Two issues are among the most urgent challenges to be tackled by global sustainability research, said Wolfgang Lucht, co-chair of PIK-research domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerability. The first one is to investigate the impacts of identified tipping elements in the earth system. The second one is to identify  tipping points in our social systems. “It is as complex on the social side as it is on the side of nature, if not even more complicated,” he said. Lucht outlined a framework for future research, based of the five ‘grand challenges’ recently identified by the international research community and highlighted by Schellnhuber AMONG others in Science.

The work presented at the PIK Research Days covered quite some ground. The projects ranged from game theory approaches to international emissions reduction policy to the transformation of the energy system in Germany, from low-carbon pathways for developing countries to drivers and impacts of global land use change.

For his talk on the development of the next level of the earth system model “Climber”, the physicist Georg Feulner was voted the best speaker of the Research Days. Within the next year, PIK researchers will accomplish the coupling of complex data sets and formulae describing the dynamics of the atmosphere, sea, land and ice with an advanced vegetation model also developed at PIK. This allows the effects of climate change to be simulated even better on high-performance computers.

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