Climate models help to assess how the changing climate will affect us in the future
Harri Kokkola is a newly appointed professor at the Department of Technical Physics of the University of Eastern Finland, and he divides his working time between the university and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Both workplaces are in the same building on the Kuopio Campus, so switching between the two roles is easy.
The university’s Aerosol Physics Research Group has a long history of collaboration with the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
“Our collaboration is very smooth as it is, but I intend to intensify it even further,” Kokkola says.
“We could also better include other research groups and units from the university. In the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence, we’re already collaborating with the Computational Physics and Inverse Problems research group.”
Kokkola’s research addresses aerosol-cloud interactions on a global scale, in the changing climate. He is a graduate of the environmental physics programme of the former University of Kuopio, and his career is diverse.
“The environmental physics programme was led, remotely, by Professor Markku Kulmala at the University of Helsinki. I even wrote my Master’s thesis under remote supervision,” Kokkola says.
“After graduation, I worked at the North Savo Environmental Centre for a while, analysing soil samples. After that, I accepted a position at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Kuopio, doing noise, vibration and radiation measurements.”
Later on, Kokkola switched to the Aerosol Physics Research Group, defended his doctoral dissertation in 2003, and worked at the university until moving over to the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Ever since his Master’s thesis, he has conducted research on fine particles and their processes in both organisations.
“Since 2006, I have been the main developer of the SALSA model that describes air quality. SALSA is a fine particle model developed for climate models, which can be used to assess the impact of fine particles on solar radiation arriving in the atmosphere and on atmospheric clouds, and, consequently, on the Earth’s climate.”
The pace of climate change hasn’t taken researchers by surprise
Over the years, Kokkola’s research focus has expanded to climate research in the field of natural sciences. Atmospheric research has evolved tremendously fast, thanks to greatly improved supercomputing technology that has surmounted the early technical challenge of low computing capacity.
Kokkola recalls that in the early days of his research career, the goal was to make climate models computationally light. Nowadays, the amount of data contained in climate models is huge, and this is starting to make data storage capacity a bigger challenge than computing speed.
“The recent introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning has made things very interesting, and requires me, too, to learn lots of new things. Quantum computing will cause another leap forward, but that still takes time,” Kokkola says.
Faster atmospheric calculations enable increasingly accurate calculations of what is happening in the atmosphere.