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24 Jun 16 15:06

"It's not that there's a weather window every week over the Atlantic. It's more like there's one window in a year you have to take and you should not miss that." Michael
Anger, Flight Director, Solar Impulse

Once in a while in your life you encounter people who do jobs where you think – wow, what a great job that is! Watching Solar Impulse weather specialist plotting a plan to fly with this solar plane across the Atlantic is one of such moments.

I know how tricky it is, because I spend a lot of my working life doing just that – building models to predict the very unlikely. Only I have to deal with the flip side of Solar Impulse's problem: not finding the perfect weather window, but rather calculating how likely it is that earthquakes, wildfires, floods and storms hit where we work and live.

Still, I like my work too because it's not so much about predicting the doom but about using this information from our models to avoid it or in other words make our society is resilient against catastrophic events. When we calculate how likely it is that a house on the Atlantic coast will be hit by a storm, flood, or hurricane, it's also the first stepping stone in dealing with the potential outcome of such an unfortunate event.

If I look at my private house, I can decide, for example if I want to carry risk of floods or move somewhere else. If the likelihood of floods is low, I can build or adapt my house accordingly – maybe not having a basement or putting it on stilts.

It's however a bit trickier for our clients: big businesses. They often must be close to the coast because deliveries for their plants come by ship, or because they must be close to the harbor to move their products quickly to the markets for sale. Here also: having solid modelling is of paramount importance to asses the risk of an earthquake, storm, flood, wildfire, or of an ice storm and to prepare accordingly.

The last four on my list above are all extreme weather related risks. The climate change we are all now experiencing will influence how often they will happen and where they will hit us. So myself and my colleagues are updating our models on a regular basis, to give this information to our clients worldwide. Based on our models many people and businesses can adapt and prepare.

I must say though that this preparation becomes a never-ending exercise, because continuously changing climate does not allow us to reach a steady state we can adapt to. On top, some climate changes will be irreversible as evidenced already by the first islands slowly disappearing in the South Pacific.

The key to ensure our brighter future therefore is in changing our energy supplies to renewables. Solar Impulse is a great symbol, proving that the technology to fulfill our future energy needs is already here.

As Bertrand Picard says: "It's not ecological – it's logical".


Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change


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