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Meet our Experts: Erik Kolstad

Erik Kolstad (@erikwk)

A large project like CONFER often becomes “opaque”, with a focus on deliverables, milestones and other bureaucratic metrics. But really we’re just a bunch of people who are passionate about our research. To get to know us a bit more, I’ve invited all our researchers and other staff to answer a few questions about themselves. I’ll go first:

Tell me a bit about your role at NORCE and the Bjerknes Centre.

Back in 2003, I was one of the first PhD students to be hired at the newly established Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. From its humble beginnings, this has now grown into one of the largest climate research groups in the world, with about 250 researchers from many disciplines. My focus was on extreme weather in the Arctic, and my way into African climate research was through seasonal forecasting and climate dynamics studies. I’m fascinated by how we can predict the weather, and even more by the potential for predicting weather and climate beyond a few days ahead. In addition to leading CONFER, I’m also the director of a centre for climate risk prediction and management called Climate Futures.

Why are you excited about the CONFER project and what do you think it could achieve?

We’re building on great efforts and progress that have established ICPAC as the foremost regional centre for climate prediction in East Africa. Recently, there has been a push for more objective seasonal forecasts, and this is one of the areas that I think our expertise can be useful. As mentioned, I also lead Climate Futures, and in that centre many of the CONFER climate scientists also work together on climate prediction. Although the geographical context there is Northern Europe, there are a lot of methodological issues that are relevant for East Africa as well. For example, one problem I’ve been working on myself is to try and understand why predictions fail. Learning more about the limitations of the tools that we use is the only way to improve them.

I’m also very excited by the work we’re doing in co-production, communication, training and capacity development. This was very much in focus from the start when we started formulating the CONFER proposal, and I’m proud that a full quarter of the resources in the project are dedicated to co-production.

What is your specific role in CONFER?

As the PI, I’m involved in most of our initiatives, from co-production to seasonal prediction. It’s incredibly satisfying to see and take part in the great research being done in all of our work packages. I’ve been involved in many other projects, and CONFER is exceptional in that it has a very nice team spirit. I feel that the cliché of “working across silos” is really happening, and that kind of successful inter- and trans-disciplinarity is extremely rewarding. My role of PI has also allowed me to work closely with our “sister projects” (funded under the same Horizon 2020 call), DOWN2EARTH and FOCUS-Africa. By interacting closely with Michael and Roberta, who lead these projects, I think we’re in the process of mutually enhancing the effectiveness and quality of our projects.