A chat with Bart van den Hurk

By Andreia Ribeiro (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, UFZ) and Cristina Deidda (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB)

Are you ready for an inspiring journey through the minds of leading scientists? In this interview, we introduce Bart van den Hurk. With roles including scientific director at Deltares, Professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, lead author of the IPCC 6th Assessment Report and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II, Bart brings unique expertise in weather, climate, and societal impacts. Join us into Bart’s career journey, advice for young researchers, and surprising personal interests. Let’s go? :)

This chat takes place during the ISIMIP workshop 2024 in Potsdam, where during the social dinner, we had the opportunity for a unique conversation with Bart…

 

“My main advice  [to early-careers] is to always stay curious” 

"If I were granted one superpower to help science and the world, it would be to make people feel science."

 

Andreia and Cristina: Hi Bart! Can you walk us through your career journey, highlighting key milestones and experiences? 

"My career was always curiosity-driven.”

Bart: "My career was always curiosity-driven. Since high school, I wanted to do something with biology and physics, so I chose Wageningen University to study environmental sciences and got interested in meteorology. I had a special interest in air quality because there weren’t many students in that field, and I wanted to avoid competition.

During my master’s and PhD, I started to develop land-surface models that could be used for weather prediction. After completing my PhD, I joined KNMI as a postdoc, where I continued to work on land surface modeling and regional climate simulations. At the same time, I was introduced to a vibrant international community passionate about land surface modeling. This gave me the opportunity to collaborate with exciting researchers and feel at home in a supportive and friendly community.

Bart and his self-made furniture. "I have an active life in my work, but also in my private life. One thing people might not know is that I make furniture." Photo credits: Desiré van den Berg, from https://www.vn.nl/ipcc-voorman-bart-van-den-hurk/

In the early 2000s, there was a growing demand for climate scenarios in the Netherlands, particularly for water management. At the time, this was done by a couple of statisticians who looked at the relationship between temperature and rainfall and extrapolated it to a two-degree warming. However, unlike the statistical models, the KNMI regional climate models showed that higher temperatures would increase not only extreme precipitation but also dry spells. This led me to work with water authorities, showcasing the capabilities of regional climate models in predicting changes in precipitation patterns and circulation dynamics.

In 2006, a new version of the climate scenarios based on regional climate modeling was released. These scenarios became a routine product synchronized with IPCC reports. Soon, I became the science director of the climate scenarios and was in charge of the modeling group at KNMI. While developing climate scenarios at KNMI, I continued to explore land-atmosphere interactions and the statistics of extremes in the international arena."

Andreia and Cristina: Could you share a crucial moment in your career that significantly altered your trajectory?

Bart and his self-made table. Photo credits: Desiré van den Berg, from https://www.vn.nl/ipcc-voorman-bart-van-den-hurk/

Bart: "Yes, I have a couple of them. The first crucial moment was my introduction to a very special ECMWF researcher. It gave me confidence and played a significant role in my early career development.

The second key moment was becoming the scientific leader of a KNMI project. I took on the responsibility of interacting with stakeholders and laid the groundwork for my future endeavors in this area.

Another key moment was being part of the preparation team for the new organizational structure of KNMI. I was involved in selecting the new director, which significantly impacted the organization. Additionally, I applied for and became a manager in the new structure, overseeing research on climate and water models. This role taught me the importance of leadership while maintaining content expertise and strategic planning.

 

"I decided not to retire at [where I spent most years of my career] KNMI, and looked for new opportunities.”

 

Finally, I decided not to retire at KNMI and looked for new opportunities. A friend informed me of a fitting role, leading to a new job where I started immediately. This move was driven by a desire to lead and my curiosity for new challenges."

Bart and his self-made table! Photo credits: Desiré van den Berg, from https://www.vn.nl/ipcc-voorman-bart-van-den-hurk/

Andreia and Cristina: What advice would you offer to young and early-career researchers based on your own experiences?

“My main advice  [to early-careers] is to always stay curious” 

Bart: "Nice question. My main advice is to always stay curious. Always try to find out, 'How does this work?' and 'Why does this work?' This curiosity should apply not only to your science but also to your career. Ask yourself, 'Why am I here?'

It's also important to think about the uptake of your research. Ask, 'Why would anyone care?' Don't rush to make judgments. Stay curious and try to understand before forming an opinion. Understanding why someone behaves a certain way puts you in a better position than judging them.

So, stay curious, and take the time to understand both your science and your career path. This will help you connect with others and make your work more impactful."

Andreia and Cristina: Please share a hobby or interest of yours that most people wouldn't expect.

 

"I have an active life in my work, but also in my private life. One thing people might not know is that I make furniture."

 

Bart: "I have an active life in my work, but also in my private life. Maybe that's not unexpected, but one thing people might not know is that I make furniture. I even have a website showcasing my work, and it’s been very nice. I don't have a blog, but I do keep a list of all the music I like and many of the projects I've done at home.

On a more personal note, I have some habits that might be surprising. I get up one hour before I need to leave, for breakfast and read the newspaper. I need this kind of routine; otherwise, I get a bit unsettled. I’m quite 'homey' in that sense."

 

Andreia and Cristina: If you were granted one superpower to help science and the world, what would it be and why?

Bart: “If I were granted one superpower to help science and the world, it would be to make people feel science. Not just to be informed or aware, but to have an emotional connection with what the science shows. As climate scientists, it's not enough to show how the world will look because that feels too distant for many people. I would want science to make people feel how the world is going to be. It's about creating an emotional touch so people can truly grasp the impact. I believe that it's crucial for inspiring real change.”

 

Post edited by Andreia Ribeiro and Pauline Rivoire. Photos credits: Desiré van den Berg, from https://www.vn.nl/ipcc-voorman-bart-van-den-hurk/