On the climate’s service

Taking the step from researcher to consultant may be viewed as a long one, but for Signild Nerheim the choice was not hard.
“My work involves exciting fluctuations between the subject matter and the needs of society.”

The view from her office at SMHI is spectacular. If you lean out a bit, you can see the entire inlet to Gothenburg Harbour, with the Älvsborgsbron bridge as its focal point. “It is a fantastic environment to work in,” Signild Nerheim says about her workplace at Nya Varvet.

She has held different posts at SMHI since 2006, and today she heads a consultancy group whose tasks include carrying out assignments on the flood risks and environmental hazards resulting from industrial emissions. The clients can range from other public authorities to businesses, and what has become more common is assignments on climate adaptation, such as architects or town planners wanting help with discussing the minimum height of ground on which to build bearing in mind rising water levels in the future.
“This type of assignment requires an understanding of not just scientific events but also the potential consequences. It’s exciting to have studied science and then go on to work on social issues.

In other kinds of assignments, such as when they were going to find out if wind farming in the Kattegat would affect the sea mix and, say, result in less oxygen-rich water, a high degree of theoretical understanding is needed regarding marine processes.

Signild Nerheim comes originally from Norway, but ended up taking her degree in oceanography in the middle of the oil crisis. There were no jobs in science in Norway, and the doctoral studentship she had been aiming for in her home university in Bergen was withdrawn. She believed the choice was between applying to Tromsö or leaving Norway.

“I wasn’t that keen to move north, so when a number of doctoral studentships cropped up in Gothenburg it sounded exciting.”

Right from the time she attended her interview for the doctoral studentship she felt she was made welcome, so in 2000 she left Norway and moved to Gothenburg. Five years later, she defended a thesis on ocean currents which addressed issues such as the way plankton, pollutants and salt are dispersed over the  surface of the sea. After six months of being unemployed, when the Swedish Public Employment Agency felt she should change career and instead undergo teacher training, she secured a temporary position at SMHI in Norrköping. Just over a year later, the much discussed ketchup effect happened.

“A permanent position came up in Norrköping, at the same time that I learned that I’d been granted Swedish Research Council funding for a postdoctoral position in Norway. On top of that, they rang me from SMHI in Gothenburg and said there was a vacancy they wanted me to apply for.”

She decided on the job in Gothenburg, which suited her better than the one in Norrköping. She decided to postpone taking the postdoctoral position, and in fact it never happened. Today she has been working for just over a year as head of group, with half of the group stationed in Norrköping and the other half in Gothenburg.

“It’s important to establish personal contacts, and a lot of video conferencing takes place,” she says.

What about her future plans in that case? So far she feels her job as head of group is not complete, and she likes working both on a strategic basis and on issues closely related to the activities.

“I would really like to stay put until I’ve learned everything there is to know in this role. And I haven’t got there yet.”

Signild Nerheim

Age: 40 years
Education: Third-cycle course in Oceanography from the University of Gothenburg
Occupation: Head of Group, Produktion Vattenmiljö at SMHI
Family: Husband and two children
When not working, she enjoys “cutting the grass. And singing in a choir.”