euro1   71

PAGE21 Researcher Profile:Thomas Schöngaßner

Last but not least of PAGE21 young researchers' profile is the profile of Thomas Schöngaßner from Max - Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. Thomas specializes in implementation of thermokarst processes into JSBACH, the land surface component of the global climate model MPI – ESM.
Thomas Schöngaßner at his office in Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg
Thomas Schöngaßner
Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg
Research Field:
Implementation of thermokarst processes into JSBACH, the land surface component of the global climate model MPI-ESM.
How are you affiliated with the PAGE21 project / what parts of your research will be a direct input to PAGE21?
Permafrost related processes are still rudimentary represented in global climate models (GCM) and Earth system models (ESM). New process need to be included to improve the climate model performance in high latitudes. Since permafrost areas inherit a high amount of deposited soil organic carbon, a destabilization would lead to a global-scale feedback mechanism comprising interactions between snow, permafrost, hydrology, and ecosystems.

Therefore I try to include thermokarst processes into JSBACH, the land-surface component of MPI-ESM. Initially, a 1-D scheme of thermal dynamics will be implemented into JSBACH, which fits into very recent developments with regards to permafrost melting and freezing and a dynamical wetland scheme. Structural improvements and new parametrizations of the model are required with regard to heat and water flow (physical processes) and carbon and nitrogen dynamics (bio-geochemical processes). The implementation of a thermokarst module is one task within WP6 of PAGE21 and is a joint activity between MPI-M Hamburg and MPI-BGC Jena.
Thomas presenting his work What is the current challenge within this topic?
Thermokarst changes are coupled thermal-hydrological processes, which lead to an enhanced thawing of ice-rich permafrost on local-to-regional scales, where the soil structure is characterized by segregated ice and large ice-wedges. Thermokarst affected surfaces are characterized by a pattern of lakes, hummocks, and marshy hollows. The physical and geological evolution of single thermokarst lakes is well understood and can be applied on thermokarst affected terrain. The main challenge will be to describe the small scale process with a spatial extend of 10-1000m for GCM applications on ESM grid scale. Therefore parametrizations are required and thresholds of climate and soil parameters have to be found, which trigger new thermokarst events.
How did it happen that you became a researcher?
I always liked the nature around us and wanted to understand the processes which are going on there. For me, it is fascinating to see snow coming in late autumn and melting away again in early spring. It was actually very natural to be interested since I always looked forward to go skiing and wondered how long the ski-season may last this time. Also how climate is influencing the everyday life and which differences can arise due to that has inspired me.
Why do you like being a researcher?
I like to think about how to solve new problems and questions. For that you can learn a lot about the processes and mechanisms, which are standing behind them. Then it is always interesting to play around with models and to see how new methods work out and if they can solve the questions.
What do you like most in being a researcher?
Playing around with data and making nice pictures of the results. Running models with many different and also extreme values of input parameters and investigate the range of results, which they can serve.
How a typical working day looks like?
Usually I am sitting in front of the computer in my office, looking out of the window, and going for lunch to the canteen nearby. In between I derive concepts, write scripts, test models, and discuss the results with colleagues.
Funniest response ever when you told somebody that you are a "polar researcher"?
Actually, I am not seeing myself as a polar researcher, because I usually stay in my office and calculate data, which in our case are from the Arctic. But to become a polar researcher, I think you need to research on site, investigate the processes directly, and experience living there.
What are your plans for the upcoming three / five years?
To write a thermokarst module, which is hopefully not too far away from reality. It should should also satisfy researchers from other disciplines like from geology and geochemistry and also the field people, who know the heterogeneity on site. I would also like to visit field sites in the Arctic one time to experience the real physical world and what is going on there.

Most interesting experience / occurrence so far in your career? What are the challenges in the cooperation with the field people? Usual response when you tell somebody that you are researcher in the field of modeling?
Usually people ask me, if I am going to go there. But as a modeler this is not so easy. I hope that I can visit one site one time to investigate the ongoing processes in the Arctic and to experience the real world.

The 2013 PAGE21 General Assembly

Abisko station small cropped

Date and Venue

The 2nd PAGE21 General Assembly will take place 23 - 24 September 2013 at the Abisko Scientific Research Station in Sweden. 
A WP4 workshop as well as a Young Researcher workshop for PAGE21 and ADAPT PhD students and Post Doctorates are planned on 21 and 22 September respectively.


Consortium members who wish to attend the General Assembly are requested to fill in the registration form (scroll down for the registration form). There is no registration fee. All costs (such as travel, accommodation) need to be covered from each partner's project budget.
The number of a maximum of 3 participants per partner shall not be exceeded due to limited space at the station (In case you plan to participate with more participants, please contact the Project Management Team at AWI). To encourage participation in the young researcher meeting, the night of accommodation prior to the meeting will be covered by the project.
In addition to the registration form, please send email to Leena or Heike with following information:
  • Your flight details - dates and exact times both to and from Kiruna (If you have not yet booked your flights, please do so asap!)
  • Whether you wish to participate in the Kärkevagge excursion on Sunday Sept 22 (full day excursion)
  • Whether you wish to participate in the mire excursion on Tuesday Sept 24 (half day excursion)
  • Those who registered early, please let us also know via email with whom you wish to share a room
Deadline for registration was Thursday, 15 August, 2013. If you haven´t registered yet, please do so asap!

Confirmation of registration

When the registration form has been submitted, the registrant will receive written confirmation by e-mail. This confirmation letter should be presented at the GA registration desk upon arrival in order to receive General Assembly materials.


  • Saturday 21 September 2013
  • WP4 workshop – Greenhouse gas and carbon balance of the PAGE21 research sites
  • Sunday 22 September 2013
  • Young Researcher Workshop (for PhD students and Post Doctorates from PAGE21 and ADAPT). Please note that the costs for one extra night to participate in the workshop will be covered from the PAGE21-Budget.
    - Half day indoors activities, including remote sensing/modeling exercises and discussions
    - Half day excursion, including fieldwork exercises
  • Full day Excursion to Kärkevagge, a unique stone valley with many ongoing Periglacial processes (for the whole consortium apart from the young researchers that can do the excursion on Wednesday instead). More specific details and an excursion guide will be provided closer to the event
  • Monday 23 September 2013
  • PAGE21 General Assembly, Day I,  Meeting Starting Time: 9:00
  • Tuesday 24 September 2013
  • PAGE21 General Assembly, Day II (3 hours excursion to the mire)
  • Wednesday 25 September 2013
  • Full day excursion to Kärkevagge for the young researchers / Departure
  • Thursday 26 September 2013
  • INTERACT Station Managers' Forum
  • Friday 27 September
  • INTERACT Station Managers´Forum
Further information on the meeting will be provided to all participants in late summer. A detailed agenda and the final lists of participants will be provided to all participants via mail at the beginning of September.

Blog Kytalyk 2013: Travelogue from Luca Belelli Marchesini

A comprehensive travelogue from the Kytalyk field site, written by the research team from the VU-Amsterdam represented by Ko van Huissteden (PI), Ron Lootens (technician) and Luca Belelli Marchesini (post doctoral researcher) is now available at our website. To read through all the postings, please follow this link
Picture 9 small

PAGE21 Researcher Profiles: Niels Weiss

One of the last ones to introduce in our PAGE21 reseracher series is Niels Weiss from the University of Stockholm.

Never alone on a warm day in the tundra smallerName

Niels Weiss


Stockholm University



Research Focus

I quantify the permafrost soil organic carbon (SOC) pool and I'm also looking at the quality. That is how labile SOC is, or how fast it might decompose after thawing out. My assessment is supposed to be relatively simple, cheap and applicable to (a) large (variety of) areas.

How is your research affiliated with the PAGE21 project?

Maps on size, distribution and lability of the carbon are used as direct input for modelers in WP4. Researching decomposition trajectories in for example thermokarst features will also improve understanding of permafrost landforms and processes (WP2).

Photo by Elin HögströmWhat is the current challenge within this topic?

I have a lot of work to do. Its relatively easy to investigate SOC quality but it's a lot harder to find a way to do it cheap, easy and fast.

How did it happen that you became a researcher?

After my MSc I was certain of one thing: that I never wanted to do a PhD. One year later, after teaching geography in a high school in Amsterdam, I realized how much I missed studying and the 'academic challenge'. I still miss the kids though.

Why do you like being the researcher?

I once had a conversation with friends about what we would do if we would have all the time and money in the world. The general opinion was to travel and study. That's what I do.

What do you like most in being a researcher?

It's the best job in the world. I get payed to go to amazing places, study interesting things and share this with others. I'm relatively free in thinking about what I want to do, why I want to do it and how. Every day, with very few exceptions, I feel extremely lucky to be paid to do so. (Although I am aware that in two years I might regret saying this..)

Sampling at a windy exposure in Yedoma deposits smallerHow a typical working day looks like?

Of course I don't travel to amazing places every day. In Stockholm I'm usually in the lab or behind my computer. At the moment I'm on Svalbard taking a very nice permafrost fieldcourse at UNIS.

Funniest response ever when you told somebody that you are a "polar researcher"?

I usually don't introduce myself as a 'polar researcher' but I met several people that were under the imperssion that a 'physical geographer' is involved in coming up with dance moves.

What are your plans for the upcoming three / five years?

Lots of fieldwork in summer and courses, labwork and writing papers the rest of the year.

Which expeditions do you participate this year?

I'll be heading to Svalbard for fieldwork in June/July and in August I will be doing more work in Zackenberg, Greenland. I'll come home with a lot of (hopefully) frozen mud. Last summer I did fieldwork in NE Russia which was an amazing experience. Those are the places that you'll never see if you're not in research.

PAGE21 Researcher Profiles: Altug Ekici

Next in our researcher profile series is Altug Ekici from Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.

893186 10200167229362249 116480885 o croppedName

Altug Ekici


Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Jena/Germany)




Research Field

Developing a global soil model by incorporating key processes specific to cold soils to better represent permafrost dynamics in order to achieve more accurate future estimates for these regions


How is your research affiliated with the PAGE21 project / what parts of your research will be a direct input to PAGE21?

The model I develop will be used to quantify future effects of permafrost climate interactions

ga 10 20121124 1797887772

What is the current challenge within this topic?

The kind of models we are working with include substantial amounts of code and highly complex interactions within different modules. Trying to put finer and finer scale processes into the model require long time and high concentration in order to keep the overall model consistency. Then the other challenge is how to evaluate the model performance with the existing permafrost observations, which is very sparse and mostly low quality due to harsh and remote conditions at the field.


How did it happen that you became a researcher?

Being a computer scientist was boring. I needed to use my knowledge for something more useful for the environment.

Why do you like being the researcher?

I can see how my work actually integrates with others. These scientific collaborations – working with smart people all around the world – create a unique way to get loads of experience. And of course the chance of travelling to many interesting places for meetings/conferences is a big plus!


What do you like the most in being a researcher?

Keep learning new stuff, meeting interesting people in surprising places, using human technology for the sake of Earth and the flexible working hours...

photo small


How a typical working day looks like?

Techno-social part: answering e-mails, establishing/maintaining collaborations, or checking relevant meetings and publications
Self work part: coding to include new stuff or improve the current model, debugging for tiny errors, writing scripts to carry on simulations in clusters or to prepare model data evaluations

Funniest response ever when you told somebody that you are a "polar researcher"?

Someone tried to relate to the topic as: "so its like working for the air conditioning systems, right?" or the more common response (concern) is: "its way too cold there, don't you get

Future plans

Finish my PhD and then pursue a scientific career with a researcher position in an exciting place.

Most interesting experience so far in your career?  

Most interesting (depressing) thing in modeling works is to spend several months to include some natural processes and then going to a field trip and seeing how diverse and almost impossible to make a single rule of the reality... 

Usual response when you tell somebody that you are researcher in the field of modeling?

The response from non-modellers is either "you must be very smart" or "so you don't know anything about the real life".