Freedom & Responsibility
Was bewegt Klimaforscherin Dr. Daniela Jacob?
Credit: istock/Nicole Keller
The Wasserkuppe is the highest peak in the Rhön Mountains. A sort of amusement park for anything you could desire in the sky: paragliders, gliders, kites. It is here that Daniela Jacob begins her ascent.
She is fourteen years old, too young for a moped licence – but she can already steer the glider on her own. “There was this man from the Deutschen Wetterdienst (German Weather Service). He worked at the weather station in the mornings – and in the afternoons he could ﬂy,” she says.
“I knew then: that’s the right job for me. When I grow up, I want to study meteorology!”
When the IPCC World Climate Report was published on April 5, 2014, only one German scientist's name was listed among the authors - that name was Daniela Jacob. She appears on Reinhold Beckmann's talk show to explain climate change. Since June, she has been provisionally heading the Climate Service Center Germany, an independent scientific organisational unit. A professional calling at a young age, a successful carrier - looking back at both phases of her life, you realize it's the stuff movies are made of: from the excited girl counting the hours of rainfall in her garden's weather station, diligently transferring the data in the evenings to a notebook. "No, no," Daniela Jacob says, laughing. "I wasn't involved with all that as a teenager. That was a plan for after I finished secondary school." Well, anyway: she chose math and physics as her main courses of study. Numbers are her friends. She begins her university coursework in Darmstadt. "In the beginning, though, I was more concerned with politics than meteorology," she confesses. Instead of sitting in the library, she serves as Student Parliament President and, in 1983, founds a national student meteorology conference, Bundesfachtagung für Meteorologie. This conference still exists today and is commonly known by its shortened name: "StuMeTa".
"According to the philosopher Socrates, we can only find happiness when we follow our inner voice."
But what are the motivating factors driving Daniela Jacob? University studies instead of apprenticeship; student council work instead of bookish endeavours; research instead of a secure job at the Deutschen Wetterdienst – Daniel Jacob explains: “Those were all decisions in favour of freedom.” She founded a wind energy consulting ﬁrm with a colleague in 1990. She was still a doctoral candidate at the GKSS in Geesthacht then. She has since handed over direction of the ﬁrm to her husband. Wouldn’t there have been more freedom in the industry than in research? Her reply is quick: “Well, that was the only time I’ve ever changed my mind about that and the topic was a decisive factor.” The GERICS is located in central Hamburg. From the window of the Chilehaus building you can see Burchardplatz down below, where passers-by queue up for bananas and salmonfilets. You can spot flashes of sunlight from between the clouds. "The weather actually doesn't interest me at all," Jacob explains, raising her left eyebrow as she always does when mixing humour into the conversation. "Climate, on the other hand, interests me immensely. I want to think ahead, about what might happen, then ask myself how we can best deal with the situation." To shape something, leave something behind - that's her second motivation. That is why she decided in favour of research and against a life as a business woman:
"Science can more easily create the stimulus for concepts that alter society than can the private sector."
Some of these impulses have already come up in real life: when the dykes are updated today on the North Sea or in Bavaria, a “climate supplement” is automatically ordered: the dam will be built a bit higher. “This only occurs because we, the climate researchers, demanded it.” Her third motivation, which is shared amongst nearly all other scientists: you want to have a ‘baby’. A discovery which is bound up in your own work. Daniela Jacob calls this baby REMO. This is the name of the regional climate model she developed. Using her model, you can predict how the climate is likely to change in the coming decades – and why this development could somehow be different for Hamburg than for Geesthacht.
“REMO is operational today and is used by forty institutions worldwide. It is actually one of the best regional climate models, both stable and usable. I’m proud of that.”
Follow your own path – for Jacob that always meant paying attention to your own freedom. Use science for the future. Develop models and institutions that can then be passed on to others. It is with this in mind that she leads the GERICS, not coincidentally the institute that was founded so that scientiﬁc knowledge could be passed on to society. And there’s something else, something important to her as a boss: do not schedule meetings before 9:30 a.m. if possible. Plan as few workshops as possible on weekends. Daniela Jacob is mother of a 16-year-old daughter.
"Family and research - I find taht having both should be possible."
Author: Jochen Metzger
Portrait from in2science #1 (December 2014)