After years of schooling and work in Gothenburg, Olof Liungman and his family wanted to move closer to family further south in Sweden. Instead, they ended up in Australia.
Situated along the Australian west coast, Perth is the economic and cultural centre of Western Australia. The state is six times the size of Sweden, but only two million people live there. Oceanographer Olof Liungman and his family are four of them.
‘People here perceive distances a bit differently. When the say that something is right around the corner, you can expect a 15 minute drive,’ he says.
Oil and gas production has generated a lot of income for the region in recent decades, and this is one of the reasons Liungman ended up here. One year ago, he left the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI) Sweden temporarily to assist his DHI colleagues in Australia. His work tasks down under include modelling of oil spills.
‘All major oil companies are represented in Perth. They pay well, but also demand a lot from their workers. The other day somebody told me, ”Not to stress you, but this billion dollar project hinges on you finishing the report in three weeks”.’
OLOF LIUNGMAN IS NO STRANGER to moving. Both of his parents worked in healthcare and as a child he lived not only in different parts of Sweden but also in Austria and the Seychelles. He has always enjoyed the marine environment and picked up scuba diving early. When it was time to choose an education, a career in oceanography seemed more thrilling than becoming a pilot or an astronaut. In 1988, he enrolled at the University of Gothenburg.
‘As a child, my heroes were underwater photographers such as Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass. I graduated in 1993 and since I’ve always been a good student, it seemed obvious to become a researcher.’
DOCTORAL STUDENTSHIPS were hard to come by. Instead he ended up at SMHI in Gothenburg working with computer simulations of environmental impacts of the planned bridge between Sweden and Denmark, Öresundsbron. His future colleagues at DHI were doing the exact same thing on the other side of the strait.
More than ten years later, in late 2006 – after having finished his PhD and managing the oceanography group at SMHI – a job ad in the newspaper caught his attention. It was for a position at DHI.
‘Since SMHI doesn’t have a marine office in Malmö, I started job hunting. I had just begun when I saw the ad. The only problem was that the job would be in Gothenburg or Stockholm.’
THE ADVERTISED POSITION entailed building a marine department within DHI Sweden. Although the location was wrong, he applied for the job and was invited to an interview. He accepted the invitation, thinking that ‘it wasn’t going to happen anyway’. During the interview, he became more and more nervous.
‘I started to realise that I really wanted the job!’
Liungman was offered the position, and since 2006 he has been working at DHI’s office in Lund outside Malmö. DHI is a Danish consulting and research company that sprung from the Technical University of Denmark in the 1970s. The institute focuses on water issues and is represented across the world. Its list of clients includes the Danish environmental ministry.
‘The DHI staff are tech nerds doing business,’ says Liungman and smiles. ‘It’s a commercial enterprise, but all our profits go right back to research and development. We also package our knowledge in our own software, which we sell to other experts and engineers, including our competitors.’
AFTER MORE THAN a year in Australia, the Liungmans will return to Sweden in June. Olof describes the year away as an exciting learning experience.
‘There’s a lot going on in the oil and gas industry in Perth. It resembles the dot-com era in California in many ways. There is a great need for major environmental impact assessments, and that’s where my expertise is. But I have actually become more of a manager than an expert, which is even more exciting in many ways.’
Lives: Perth, Australia
Family: Wife and two children, 9 and 7 years old
Background: Oceanographer, PhD from 2000.
Job: At the moment Head of Marine Department and Business Area Manager Oil Spill, DHI Australia
Interests: Family, rock climbing, science fiction, basketball (‘not always a great hobby for a 45 year old, I do get injured occasionally, but still love it’)