She is coming off a year in which climate change has been thoroughly set on the agenda, with the IPCC and Al Gore jointly winning the Nobel Peace Prize:
"I believe the Nobel Prize recognition has yielded enormous extra attention to the problem of climate change. But probably the most important happening last year was nevertheless the presentation of the 2007 IPCC report, in which the understanding of the relationship between human activities and climate was lifted to an unprecedented level that’s impossible to ignore."
International Polar Year
As part of the IPCC and as project leader of several arctic research projects, Mauritzen is involved in the International Polar Year, which runs from March 1 2007 through March 1 2009. Norway is involved in more than half of all the projects during the Polar Year which also focuses on physical and biological processes, such as how pollution is affecting polar animals, as well as a new "Human Dimension" project, which among other things will study the conditions of indigenous people in Polar Regions.
"Polar Regions are extremely important to climate, for a number of reasons: for instance: the white ice-covered surfaces reflect enormous amounts of sunlight back to space and thereby play an important role in Earth's radiation budget. The interactions between ocean, ice and atmosphere in these regions are nevertheless poorly understood, making the Polar Regions weak aspects of most global climate models."
Frozen In Ice
Mauritzen is no stranger to the Arctic herself. In the spring of 2007, she was aboard the Norwegian Coastguard ice breaker Svalbard frozen into the sea ice in the East Greenland Current.
"We will do this again this spring. The work includes sea ice mass and radiation balance studies as well as oceanographic studies of the currents beneath the sea ice. The fresh water flowing from the Arctic has an effect on the density of sea water, and therefore on systems like the Gulf Stream. And since this is a "winter" cruise as far as the arctic is concerned we have a biology group which obtains, quite exclusively, data of biological activities under the ice during winter conditions."
A Fine Balance
One of the most important abilities of the sea, explains Mauritzen, is that it absorbs and stores heat. Nevertheless, a few degrees of change in ocean temperatures would be extremely serious.
"On average, the oceans have only increased in temperature by less than 0.1 degrees Celsius during the last 50 years, yet this constitutes about 80% of the accumulated heat on earth during the same period. In the northern North Atlantic the oceans have warmed substantially more, but not in a steady manner - these regions also exhibit large swings in ocean climate. This has significant impact on the ecosystems in the ocean and also on the position of the polar sea ice edge."
"The changing ice cover is very important for climate on land" she continues, explaining how an ice-covered ocean in the direction from which the wind blows makes the climate much colder downwind that if the ocean upwind is ice-free. "An enormous amount of heat is lost from an ocean that is not frozen, especially in Northern Europe where the prevailing ocean currents are from south and therefore warmer. If those regions were frozen instead, the climate would be very different."
"There is a very fine balance between ice and sea. The presence of sea ice prevents gaseous exchanges between the atmosphere and the ocean, and it also dampens the atmospheric forcing of the ocean." Mauritzen says, noting that one of the objectives of the Polar Year is to shed light on the relative impact the atmosphere and ocean has on the sea ice.
Reduce Your Footprint
"We can stop climate change" she says "because we know the source of the problem: the greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from fossil fuels. We need to reduce our emissions severely, and that requires a change in the way we live" she explains.
But Mauritzen’s main focus is that nothing will change unless there are structural changes in society and encourages everyone to vote and exert consumer power to show that you want to minimize climate change.
"On a personal level, my suggestion to each one would be to familiarize yourself with the topic of climate change. There are many lies and many incorrect myths out there and it is important not to become confused. Also, figure out your own greenhouse gas "footprint" and do something to reduce. Start with the BIG numbers" she says.
"I am hopeful that the general public is beginning to grasp the seriousness of the problem of climate change. Climate has always changed, but now mankind is changing it; we are changing it very fast, and towards a climate regime we do not know."