Student exchange opportunities! Grab it!

Why not spend some time in tropical Singapore, where the sun is (almost) always shining and temperatures never fall below 25 degrees C, and combine this with studying geosciences?

Thanks to an agreement between the science faculties at Stockholm University and Nanyang Technical University we can now offer a tailored exchange program for undergraduate students with the recently started Asian School of the Environment. The School’s programme in Environmental Earth System Science allows students to specialize in geosciences, ecology, and society and the earth system. Read more about the study program here and about the Geoscience Program at the Asian School of the Environment.

Field courses to Bali and to other areas in Southeast Asia form an integral part of the study programme.

Since the different courses at the Asian School of the Environment run in parallel over a whole semester, you would be required to spend a full semester in Singapore (fall semester: mid-August to mid-November; spring semester: mid-January to mid-May). Given that the academic year basically overlaps with that at Stockholm University, an exchange should be of no problem! For more information: NTU’s academic calendar can be found here.

The agreement between Stockholm University and Nanyang Technical University means taht you are not required to pay tuition fees and you will get full credits for your completed courses. What more can you wish for?

Maybe I should add that there is a wide range of sport facilities on campus? That there is a huge swimming pool with nice, warm water? That food on campus is cheap and good? That Singapore is a hub for reaching many destinations in Southeast Asia?

If you are a geoscience/geology student at Stockholm University and interested in taking exchange courses or doing a project work at the Asian School of the Environment, contact me by email ( or pass by my office in January when I am back in Stockholm after having spent three wonderful months here in Singapore.

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A view from far away

When I am abroad (and of course also when I am back home) I try to keep updated on what is going on by reading a variety of online news in the languages I know and by browsing through my FB page. The view I get when being abroad is that of a huge distance between me and what is going on in Europe, while when I am in Europe I feel that I am in the middle of what is happening and can easily get carried away by newspaper headlines and the general mood.

I am abroad now, far away from Europe and am living (for a few months) in a small country (Singapore) where people of many different cultures, ethnicity, languages, religions, background, and preference of food are living together in harmony. People dress the way they want, eat the food they want to eat, and pray where and when they want to pray. I could walk around in shorts, in a hijab or in a business dress and no one would look strange at me; I can eat Chinese or Indian food for breakfast, halal food for lunch and a burger for dinner; and I can go to a temple in the morning or pray five times a day and no one would think that this is strange.

The obvious success of Singapore with its just over 5.5 million inhabitants actually builds upon this racial, ethnic, cultural and religious harmony, which is praised as something really special and very important. From this view point, the various discussions and events in Europe (as perceived from my newspaper readings) come across as totally strange. Of course I am still very shocked by what has happened in Paris, but I am also always deeply shocked whenever I read about what is going on in Nigeria or in the Middle East, or elsewhere. But I am even more shocked by the negative opinions and the hate that are circulating in social media and by the way newspapers and politicians contribute to stirring up these feelings.

Let me however make one thing clear so that I am not misunderstood: I detest all kinds of violence, I think wars and atrocities committed between people are the most terrible things I can think of. I think wars are mainly being fought because they are big business (so much money can be made from producing the never ending amounts of weapons). I also think that religion and politics must be separated and that religion is each person’s own private matter. And, I think that violence just leads to more violence and that hate leads to more hate. What seems to be going on in Europe right now certainly does not give me a good feeling.

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It is actually a great feeling …

…. when your PhD student manages to get a paper accepted in Nature. It never happened to me before, but today was the day! Francesco, who had worked so hard on this paper and on the replies to the various reviewer comments, can see it printed in Nature Communications today. We paid pretty much to make the paper Open Access, so just go ahead and download as much and as often as you like!

The short scientific abstract reads “Sources and timing of freshwater forcing relative to hydroclimate shifts recorded in Greenland ice cores at the onset of Younger Dryas, ~12,800 years ago, remain speculative. Here we show that progressive Fennoscandian Ice Sheet (FIS) melting 13,100–12,880 years ago generates a hydroclimate dipole with drier–colder conditions in Northern Europe and wetter–warmer conditions in Greenland. FIS melting culminates 12,880 years ago synchronously with the start of Greenland Stadial 1 and a large-scale hydroclimate transition lasting ~180 years. Transient climate model simulations forced with FIS freshwater reproduce the initial hydroclimate dipole through sea-ice feedbacks in the Nordic Seas. The transition is attributed to the export of excess sea ice to the subpolar North Atlantic and a subsequent southward shift of the westerly winds. We suggest that North Atlantic hydroclimate sensitivity to FIS freshwater can explain the pace and sign of shifts recorded in Greenland at the climate transition into the Younger Dryas“.

A more digestable title and summary of the paper follow below:

Melting Scandinavian ice provides missing link in Europe’s final Ice Age story

Molecular-based moisture indicators, remains of midges and climate simulations have provided climate scientists with the final piece to one of the most enduring puzzles of the last Ice Age.

For years, researchers have struggled to reconcile climate models of the Earth, 13,000 years ago, with the prevailing theory that a catastrophic freshwater flood from the melting North American ice sheets plunged the planet into a sudden and final cold snap, just before entering the present warm interglacial.

Now, an international team of scientists, led by Swedish researchers from Stockholm University and in partnership with UK researchers from the Natural History Museum (NHM) London, and Plymouth University, has found evidence in the sediments of an ancient Swedish lake that it was the melting of the Scandinavian ice sheet that provides the missing link to what occurred at the end of the last Ice Age. The study, published in Nature Communications, today, examined moisture and temperature records for the region and compared these with climate model simulations.

Francesco Muschitiello, a PhD researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the study, said: “Moisture-sensitive molecules extracted from the lake’s sediments show that climate conditions in Northern Europe became much drier around 13,000 years ago.”

Steve Brooks, Researcher at the NHM, added: “The remains of midges, contained in the lake sediments, reveal a great deal about the past climate. The assemblage of species, when compared with modern records, enable us to track how, after an initial warming of up to 4° Centigrade at the end of the last Ice Age, summer temperatures plummeted by 5°C over the next 400 years.”

Dr Nicola Whitehouse, Associate Professor in Physical Geography at Plymouth University, explained: “The onset of much drier, cooler summer temperatures, was probably a consequence of drier air masses driven by more persistent summer sea-ice in the Nordic Seas.”

According to Francesco Muschitiello the observed colder and drier climate conditions were likely driven by increasingly stronger melting of the Scandinavian ice sheet in response to warming at the end of the last Ice Age; this led to an expansion of summer sea ice and to changes in sea-ice distribution in the eastern region of the North Atlantic, causing abrupt climate change. Francesco Muschitiello added: “The melting of the Scandinavian ice sheet is the missing link to understanding current inconsistencies between climate models and reconstructions, and our understanding of the response of the North Atlantic system to climate change.”

Dr Francesco Pausata, postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm University, explained: “When forcing climate models with freshwater from the Scandinavian Ice Sheet, the associated climate shifts are consistent with our climate reconstructions.”

The project leader, Professor Barbara Wohlfarth from Stockholm University, concluded: “The Scandinavian ice sheet definitely played a much more significant role in the onset of this final cold period than previously thought. Our teamwork highlights the importance of paleoclimate studies, not least in respect to the ongoing global warming debate.”

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Creativity, innovation and isolation

When I was teaching our evening course on human evolution some years ago, the issue of creativity and innovation came up. How come that small and isolated communities still use their stone tools, bows and arrows, while large and connected populations managed an industrial and cyber revolution and developed advanced tools (good and bad ones)? It obviously needs a critical mass of minds to push things forward, to think innovative and to become creative.

Being in Southeast Asia, and especially here in Singapore, I am every day surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people, I see all the many students, and I get a strong feeling of dynamics and innovation. I could write a blog every other minute, because of all the new impressions I get, the many people I meet, the discussions I am having, and the thoughts that pop up in my mind. So yes, being surrounded by many does make me creative!

But – this renewed creativity partly resides in my different background as I see things from a different angle, judge with different eyes and look at things from the outside. So probably to being creative it is important to sit on the fence having one foot on one side and the other on the other side; see both sides, learn from both sides, meet different cultures, opinions, and ways of doing and merge this into something new. My creativity (and probably that of many others) clearly declines or turns into something very different when I draw myself back, isolate myself and become overly self-centered for a longer time period.

There is however also another angle to creativity and that is being able to think free, to grow up in an open-minded and equal society, where everyone has the possibility to develop and to learn, and where bottom-up is more important than top-down.

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I am angry

I know that I should not be angry and upset! Life is just good.

One of my PhD students will soon see his Nature Communications paper online. I am in Singapore, enjoying the tropical warmth and I am on a sabbatical and guest professor at the Earth Observatory. Yesterday I spent an interesting day at the Singapore – Sweden Excellence Seminar, which is co-organized by several major universities in Sweden and Singapore to promote joint research; I listened to inspiring talks; enjoyed a good dinner at the same table as the famous Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang; and I got the good news that our research application to the Swedish Research Council was granted for the next four years.

Why am I then angry? Because I did not get all the money I had applied for? Because I am only second on the list of 358 persons within Natural and Engineering Sciences in terms of how much money I got for the next four years?

I am angry because so many other (and especially young) researchers, who had put weeks into writing their proposals did not get funding. I am angry because I am the only person in my department who got funding. I am angry because less and less money goes to basic (fundamental) research. I am angry about how research money is distributed.

I am deeply worried about the future of basic research in geosciences. I am deeply worried about the scientific career prospects of our young faculty, who can of course not compete with senior scientists who have been able to publish more than hundred papers, who have an high H-index, supervise many students and postdocs and through this get their minimum of five papers a year (usually many more).

The present situation, where the rich get richer, where the government and the funding agencies dictate what type of research is relevant (by creating strategic research topics), where scientific super excellence (who defines what is excellent!?) and H-index (I need another blog to comment on this!) rule, and where the science careers of many are at stake, is not sustainable. Not for science, not for the universities, not for society and not for Sweden.

This is why I am angry.

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Talking about exchange

The people here at the Earth Observatory, who are responsible for the undergraduate education in the Asian School of the Environment, would like to start a regular exchange of students. This week we continued our discussions and I explained a bit more about our university structure, the academic year, course credits, and the different courses that are available within our section of Earth and Environmental Sciences (web page unfortunately only in Swedish). And of course I mentioned the field stations in Tarfala, Askö and Navarino, where some of our field courses are given and which would be really exotic places for Singapore students.

This week I will also meet undergraduate students and will tell them about the different departments, which form part of Earth and Environmental Sciences at SU, about our BSc and MSc courses and our education system, and what it might be like to be an exchange student in Stockholm. And next week I will tell a similar story to the people here at the Earth Observatory and the Asian School of the Environment, however this time with a focus on the science that is carried out at our departments in Stockholm and at the Bolin Centre for Climate Research.

Maybe in the future we will be able to exchange students, and maybe some researchers will find common interests. For sure, among the overarching themes of natural hazards, climate change, and pollution, several topics of joint interest may be found.

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Grey versus black hair

When in Asia I always feel really really old. Why? Because there is almost no one with grey hair, except maybe some really really old people. I am often basically the only one who has (pretty many) streaks of grey hair and yet some of the people with completely black hair must be so much older than I am.

The other day, when I walked around in several huge shopping centers I encountered maybe two or three persons with grey hair. Yet I must have passed hundreds of people, children, women, men, young, middle-aged and old. And today I saw an interview with a 86 year old man on TV and even he had black hair (although the tint was slightly towards reddish).

How do all the millions of people here manage to keep their black hair? Is it the healthy food and/or the good living conditions? Or, is the secret behind all the black hair maybe hidden in the tons of black hair color that are sold everywhere? Pretty likely it is the hair color, why otherwise would a 86 year old have black (reddish) hair?

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