"I love restoration projects."
The new director of the Bjerknes Centre, Kikki Kleiven, points at an old stool she found at a web site for secondhand sales. Water had left discolored patches, but after being polished and treated with her special mix of wood stain, the piece has regained its original luster.
Is that how she sees the Bjerknes Centre? As a restoration project?
"No, the Bjerknes Centre needs no restoration, neither weeding. But I am fond of colors and getting things to grow, thrive and develop in new places. I do intend to mix a little bit of new wood stain. The shoes I am supposed to fill are large, but I have different shoes. Higher heals.”
The new director is a marine geologist, a paleoclimatologist, an expert on science communication and the happy owner of a garden of 4000 square meters. Her full name is Kikki Helga Flesche Kleiven. When asked what she prefers to be called, she replies promptly.
At the center of climate knowledge
"The Bjerknes Centre should be the national center for the understanding of climate”, Kikki says.
Oceanographers, geologists, meteorologists, biologists, chemists, mathematicians and computer scientists all work at the center. Their research spans the distant past, the present and the future. Some concentrate on local conditions, while others consider the entire globe.
Kikki believes the breadth is entirely positive. Climate problems span all fields. That is why she wants scientists with different backgrounds to know each other’s work.
"Knowledge builds confidence and safety", she says.
Everybody has to contribute
Everyone who has met Kikki, will know her enthusiasm for science outreach. In the last decade she has given 20–30 popular science talks every year. She has organized debates, initiated a children’s university, a geoscience high school competition, teacher training and schooling for young climate communicators. In January this year she presented a 200 minutes’ long lecture on the history of climate, at the University of Bergen.
In the coming years, she would like to see even more climate researchers join her in such activities.
“When people are asked to pay a CO2 tax, the have a right to know why CO2 has become a problem”, she says.
“Everyone at the Bjerknes Centre must contribute to fulfilling that".
She invites the Bjerknes Centre’s researchers to bring her their opinions and ideas, whether they would like to be on stage or have thoughts about how researchers and others can learn more about climate.
A natural science for society
"We know that the sea will rise to higher levels, though not how much. There are changes we do know when will occur, and those we do not. In either case, we have to look into the consequences. The Bjerknes Centre shall concentrate on the climate itself – the natural climate science – but in collaboration with others”, Kikki says.
The 230 researchers at the Bjerknes Centre are involved in language projects and art projects and have also been part of a concert series together with the philharmonic orchestra Harmonien. Researchers in the fields of law, economics and archeology have become important partners.
“We live near an ocean current that is getting warmer, and that affects life at the coast and in our fjords. Bjerknes Centre scientists work both on long-term changes in the climate and on scales such as seasons and decades. Predictions of anomalous weather a year or two ahead are important for private enterprises, agriculture and tourism."
Cheering for international diversity
Refreshing. Renewing. These are words Kikki use to describe life as a researcher, constantly meeting new people and being exposed to new ideas. Rejuvenating.
“Seeing new students, fresh from high school, turn up at the natural science building of the university – I love that world.”
The Bjerknes Centre is a highly international environment. Only one third of the researchers are Norwegians. Among postdocs – the step after finishing a PhD – 33 out of 34 are foreign citizens. Kikki snorts at anyone suggesting that this might be a problem.
“It is an honor to see foreign researchers come to us. We need diversity, not only in the sense of gender equality, but as in different cultures and expressions”.
She is delighted to see her own researchers go abroad, whether for stays at other research institutions or on international expeditions. Such field work is not only needed to collect data, but also a good way to get to know researchers who work on related questions.
Off to sea and up into the mountains
As a child, Kikki wandered between the tanks at the marine biological stations at Espeland in Bergen, where her mother worked. She imagined that it must be exciting to go to sea.
When she started her university studies, she first chose computer science. When a student counselor advertised a course that involved hiking in the mountains, she changed her plan. She had to become a geologist. As a master student in marine geology, she finally got the chance to go out on a ship.
“It was during a field cruise in the North Atlantic, I realized that researcher was a profession”, Kikki says.
Onboard she met foreign researchers who invited her to come and visit, and she understood that they actually meant what they said. She went to England and Florida, and after completing her PhD, spent two years at the Lamont Doherty Observatory in New York.
In 2002 she brought her American husband with her back home to Bergen and the newly started Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. Home to Bergen and to Espeland in Fana, in rural conditions close to the airport, south of the city center.
Roses and Rammstein
Today she lives with her husband and their son in her great-aunts’ old house. She grew up next door, a natural garden assistant for her great-aunts.
“Historical roses”, she says and looks out through the window with a dreaming expression.
From her chair at the dining-table she can see green lawns and flowerbeds. Her garden has a collection of more than seventy different kinds of roses.
Cheerful. Engaged. Enthusiastic. These are characteristics she imagines people might use of her. She emphasizes that she also needs quiet hours by herself, in the mountains, in her great-grandfather’s woodworking workshop in the basement or just reading. Her favorite books are about medieval English kings and queens, or Norwegian settlers in Greenland.
Before getting on the stage for talks with hundreds of people in the audience, Kikki likes to put on her headphones. Ten minutes are all she needs, but it has to be heavy metal. Preferably Iron Maiden or Rammstein.
“Not to get higher. To calm down.”