Interview with the next President of the EMS: Bert Holtslag, The Netherlands

Bert Holtslag will become  EMS President on 11 September 2020 (photo private).
Bert Holtslag will become  EMS President on 11 September 2020 (photo private).

EMS: Hello Bert, congratulations to being elected as the next EMS President. Your term will start on 11 September this year. How will you prepare for your term until then?

Bert Holtslag: Thanks for selecting me as the next EMS President! To prepare, I am already digging into what EMS is actually doing and I have found that is more than I initially expected. It was interesting to learn that cooperation has been set up already with the American Meteorological Society, the International Forum of Meteorological Societies and other bodies. I was not so much aware of that, and perhaps this is also true for other individuals within EMS. I guess we have to think about making these relationships more visible, and in particular emphasize the relevance for our Members. In addition, I will take part in the upcoming online Council meeting in May which deals with the important decision about how to proceed with the organisation and set-up of the next EMS conference in these Corona times.

EMS: Are you excited about becoming the next President? What made you to agree to be nominated as the candidate for EMS Presidency?

Bert: Yes, I am quite excited to become the new President. In fact, for me this is a nice way to serve the meteorological community and to keep in touch with our exciting field on a different level after my retirement in October 2019 as a Professor and Chair of Meteorology at Wageningen University. I have been active in meteorology for 42 years, almost half of that time I was affiliated with the Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and half at Wageningen University (besides of some other part-time affiliations). My focus was not just on research, but also on (operational) applications of insights and outreach of research findings to other fields. Within EMS all these aspects come nicely together. I particularly liked to work with graduate students and to bring people together to work on challenging topics, such as the formulation of fine-scale atmospheric processes in weather and climate models. As an example, the GEWEX Atmospheric Boundary Layer Study (GABLS) brought people together from operational centres and academia to tackle the ongoing difficulty of representing the stable boundary layer and to improve the diurnal cycle.  It would be nice if the EMS can somehow further enhance this type of cooperations on various topics to benefit all.

EMS: You have spent the last 20 years of your career at a university, i.e. the academic sector. Would you see any incentives for university departments to become part of the EMS and to support its activities? Or to put it differently, what does the EMS need to do to become attractive to the academic sector?

Bert: That is a good question. I noticed that so-far only one University department is an EMS Associate Member, which is indeed quite surprising at first sight. On the other hand, I know that in the Netherlands, the universities with a Meteorology and Atmospheric Science Programme do support the Dutch Meteorology Association (NVBM), but not the EMS directly. So indirectly there is support, but we are not counting it as such. I have to find out if this is also true for the other countries. Anyhow, it would be nice if more university departments became EMS Associate Members. Perhaps we have to advertise this possibility much more, and for instance create opportunities for students to meet with employers under the umbrella of EMS. Any other ideas on this are much appreciated!

EMS: You have been a convenor of the boundary layer and fine-scale modelling sessions at the EMS Annual Meetings essentially from the first conference that was organised with an open call for abstracts. So, you are among the “longest-serving” convenors. What do you think about the development of the Annual Meeting from its infancy to its, maybe say juvenile phase now? And what made you volunteer as a convenor in the first place back in the noughties?

Bert: Well I think that the Annual Meeting has become quite mature with its nice range of topics and nowadays attracting around 700 persons every year from various fields. I find this size quite attractive. I also noticed that the scheduling of the meeting has become more appealing in recent years by starting in the morning with more general lectures by prominent speakers on the conference themes. The Annual Meeting also gives a nice opportunity for graduate students and Post-Docs to present their work. My motivation for being a convenor on fine-scale and boundary layer processes was to highlight the importance of the subject and to create a larger platform for people working together rather than in isolation (similar as in GABLS).

EMS: With respect to this year’s Annual Meeting (EMS2020), it is currently open whether we’ll be able to hold it as an onsite conference. Do you have experience with any sort of online events, and could you imagine an experiment to hold the meeting online?

Bert: My experience with online events is mostly with smaller working groups and meetings, not yet with a full online conference. Fortunately, we can learn from the experiences of the upcoming EGU2020 online conference before we have to decide on the format of EMS2020.

EMS: What are your ideas about how the EMS should further develop? And where do you see the biggest challenges?

Bert: I think it is very important to increase the role and exposure of EMS for staff and students in our field, and involve members in EMS’s activities and increase the benefits of membership. This will indeed be a great challenge given all the other activities and meetings in our field. To limit intercontinental travels, it is also very important that EMS acts more than before as the European platform for weather, climate and society. This also connects well with the newly established GWE Forum, a platform for consultation and facilitation between the public, private and academic sectors. As such we can learn much from the American Meteorological Society, although we do have a different type of organisation.

EMS: Can you tell us what made you go into meteorology in your youth?

Bert: Yes, certainly. I grew up in the small city of Borculo, in the Eastern part of the Netherlands near the German border. That city is still known for the severe weather which occurred in the early evening of August 10, 1925. Locally this is known as the ‘cyclone of Borculo’, which is actually not a good name since a cyclone is active on much larger scales. In fact, from the damage on the buildings it would have been a tornado or a down burst connected to the severe weather. Because of this, I think my interest in meteorology already started as a young school boy. Later I came into meteorology starting at KNMI with a background in applied physics.

Were your expectations fulfilled? Would you decide the same way again?

Bert: To be honest, at the start of my career I did not have many expectations and certainly did not anticipate to do a PhD or to become a university professor. But I was very curious and interested in weather and climate. My first work experiences were on air quality modelling and estimation of surface heat fluxes by using routine weather data. Gradually I focussed on more fundamental topics in boundary layer meteorology, but not forgetting the applications such as those associated with agriculture, weather and climate, wind energy and urban topics. And this still motivates me today, and as such I have never regretted to be in this field. I also liked the interactions with many interesting people around, and I realize that I was quite fortunate working in beneficial circumstances, with good advisors and co-workers during the years. So yes, if I could decide again I would certainly have a career in meteorology!

Thank you very much for the Interview!


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