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New generation of Arctic scientists flourish at Stockholm University

New generation of Arctic scientists flourish at Stockholm University

Published: 20 Jul 2011 15:28 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 Jul 2011 15:28 GMT+02:00

The wild and mysterious polar regions - planet Earth's last relatively unexplored areas - have long struck a cord with the adventurous side within many of us.

These ice-covered regions, shrouded in darkness for much of the year, are blessed with unique environments boasting both flora and fauna unknown to the rest of the planet.

Extreme, yet delicate, this polar environment is also an area of great interest for science.

One who has long been drawn to these intriguing areas is Professor Martin Jakobsson of Stockholm University, who received his PhD in 2000 and has emerged as one of the world's leading polar researchers.

"Right from the very start I knew I wanted to work with the sea,” he told The Local.

“Then several things coincided when I was about to choose my specialization, not least the fact that my father, an artist, brought me along to the Swedish Polar Club (Polarklubben) which proved very interesting.”

As Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics, Jakobsson has devoted himself to research within glacial history and paleoceanography, and has worked a great deal in the field of "bathymetry’" – the measurement of the underwater depth of lake or ocean floors.

His models have been highly commended by the scientific world, particularly the International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO), which has seen publication in thousands of journals.

Renowned paleoceanographer Jan Backman's presence at Stockholm University was another key to Professor Jakobsson’s choice of specialization – as was the fact that paleoceanography provides vital understanding of climate change.

"Paleoceanography studies how the sea has evolved, which can be connected with climate research over a longer time span," he explained.

The field involves study of the history of oceans in the geological past, and so is intimately tied with the study of changes in the climate on the scale of the entire history of planet Earth.

Polar science as a whole is an important area which helps us to understand both climate change and our planet's eco-systems better.

"In the polar regions there are many sensitive environments that are convenient to study for climate research," says Martin Jakobsson.

The uniquely delicate environments, whose balance is easily tipped by the slightest disturbance, make the polar regions exceptionally susceptible to climate change – and exceptionally useful for scientists.

The effects are much more rapidly visible on the poles, which according to recent figures are warming twice as fast as elsewhere.

Professor Martin Jakobsson is in good company at Stockholm University, which is today one of the world's leading institutions for polar research.

The Swedish Research Council recently classed as many as three current polar projects at the university as "outstanding", meaning that they hold world-leading standards. Their work has had broad international media coverage.

But the accolades are not just domestic; Stockholm University's outstanding researchers in this field are receiving international recognition too.

Perhaps most significant was the award of this year's International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) medal – a kind of frozen Fields Medal – for Professor Jakobsson’s work.

Explaining its decision, the IASC jury wrote, "Jakobsson represents a new generation of Arctic scientist for which multinational and cross-disciplinary science comes naturally."

While the modest Jakobsson was taken by surprise by the award, there is a sense of satisfaction over a job well done.

"It feels great; it's truly an acknowledgment of all the work we've put in here at Stockholm University," he told The Local.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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