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by Jonas Schøsler February 11, 2019 4 min read

“When you work with climate research you’re exploring the world in time and space” 

With a PhD. and a doctoral degree in climate change, glaciology and hydrology, Sebastian Mernild, CEO of The Nansen Center, is in the vanguard of climate research. Equipped with curiosity and the mindset of an explorer, he has left undying footprints in our understanding of the melting ice in the Arctic’s northern hemisphere and the Andean Mountains.

“If we are to understand the future, we must study the present”

Sebastian Mernild believes that in order to foresee the climatic future and minimize uncertainty, we need to understand the present state of affairs and its dynamics. As a researcher of heart, he hopes to leave behind a legacy that will help us understand the processes, correlations and tendencies of our current climate. Only then can we begin to make assumptions about the future.

“Science is not worth much, if it doesn’t serve a useful and applicable purpose“

Mernild would like to be remembered as a passionate researcher who brought science to the agora. He hopes to be recalled as a credible scientist and trustworthy communicator. In 2018 he received the highly esteemed Rosenkjærprisen by Danmarks Radio for his ability to disseminate complex research in an intelligible way.   

Is there any hope for human life?

“The climate is changing fast and dramatically”

In the last 140 years the temperature has changed 20 times faster than in the last 100.000 years, according to Sebastian Mernild. And the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than in the past 3-6 million years.

 “Is there any hope for the future?”(JS)

“That depends on what you’re hoping for”(SM)

With a steady voice, Sebastian Mernild tells me that if our politicians continue to believe we can stop the global mean temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees, then hope is futile. We should rather prepare ourselves to deal with an increase of 3-4 degrees. When considering the latest COP24 meeting in Poland, Mernild feels that hope is dwindling; “there is a long way to go”. Survival depends on the political will to not just reduce CO2 emission, but also to extract it from the atmosphere.

A call for action towards a greener future

“Becoming a parent changed my perspective”

Imagine knowing precisely how grievous the future looks like and have kids that are heading into it. That is indeed the case of Sebastian Mernild. Perhaps that is also why he dreams of a world where we start to see a global decline in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The concentration has been increasing exponentially since the sixties.

“Citizens need to put a lot more pressure on our politicians”

Many may feel powerless in the fight against climate change. However, according to Mernild the real change is a bottom-up process. He don’t believe that political initiatives will be good enough as long as citizens don’t put the necessary pressure on politicians. We are seeing climate marches and demonstrations, which is a good sign, but we need exercise our democratic rights and demand more of our politicians, he tells.

Into The Wild

”I arrived in January. It was -40 degrees and only 5 hours of daylight”

As with most of the people we interview about their original footprints, their success didn’t come easy. Sebastian Mernild left his family, friends and Copenhagen behind, when he decided to venture into the merciless terrain of Alaska. He lived there for three years to conduct his research. It ultimately led to a position at the world-renowned Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico – the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

“Maintain your focus on the opportunities and don’t be afraid to seize them”

It wasn’t easy leaving home. You miss birthdays, funerals and people get older, Mernild explains. However, when he weighs cons and pros there is no doubt. When you get back home, you realize that after all things haven’t changed much. Therefore, Mernild encourages everyone to embark on the adventure when it presents itself. It’s not going to be easy. You need to prepare yourself properly and have a goal. You should map out your strategy, but leave it open-ended, because as he learned in the military: “you can only plan so far ahead as the first encounter with the enemy”.

If you don’t have faith in yourself and your abilities, Mernild would want you to know that “if you can’t outspeed them, then outdance them”. There is always more than one way to get there. And as he told me, if everything goes wrong, you will find an airplane home sooner or later.

Sebastian Mernild -> Robert Zola Christensen

“Together we built a bridge between the cold Natural Sciences and the warm Humanities”

Sebastian would like to invite Robert Zola Christensen to speak about his dreams and original footprints. Together they wrote a book about climate changes. Robert is a writer and a researcher within language and works at Lund University.

See if you can spot what footwear Sebastian is wearing next time he appears on TV! Thanks to Sebastian Mernild for telling us about his hardship, dreams and visions.

Sebastian Mernild


Profession:CEO of The Nansen Center, Researcher & Professor  

Education:Ph.D. and Dr. Scient. in climate change, glaciology and hydrology


Jonas Schøsler
Jonas Schøsler


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