Junior Professional Officers (JPOs) contribute to all areas of WMO’s work while gaining hands-on experience in the international arena working with experts from around the world. The United Nations has hundreds of JPOs working in its offices around the world. These young professional have high academic qualifications but only a few years’ professional experience. The conditions of employment are stipulated in agreements signed between the UN agency in question and the donor countries concerned. The cost of employing a JPO is entirely covered by the donor country.
At WMO, the Director of the department wishing to recruit a JPO must seek the prior authorization of the Secretary-General. If it is agreed that the services of a JPO are needed, the Department prepares a job description for Human Resources to transmit to interested donor countries. Each donor country defines its own rigorous selection process for candidates. The Donor countries then submit the curriculum vitae of successful candidates to WMO for consideration. Where several candidates are presented for the same position by the different donor countries, the Staff Selection Board screens the candidatures and makes a recommendation to the Secretary-General who decides on the appointment.
Currently, WMO has six JPOs at its headquarters in Geneva. In this issue of the Bulletin, dedicated to youth, the WMO JPOs tell their stories in order to encourage others to follow their path.
Meteorology – A passion, but not at first sight
By Karolin Eichler
When I was still in high school, I liked geography, physics and math, but wasn’t passionate about any specific field. I chose to study meteorology because it combines the three subjects I liked at a level I thought I could manage – pure math or physics would have been too tough for me.
My core course started nicely with lessons on the formation of clouds, hail, etc. – it was easy to understand, we had already learnt it in school. But I soon realized that meteorology could be extremely theoretic. Nevertheless, there are a lot of options, such as synoptics (forecasting the weather) and climate, so one does not need to excell in all areas. I wrote my diploma thesis in collaboration with the German Research Centre for Geosciences in the field of GPS-Meteorology.
Afterwards, I decided to take a position at the German Weather Service, which gave me the chance to do research without doing a PhD. I enjoyed the challenge of research, solving problems and bugs in the numerical model. Sometimes it took minutes, sometimes days. I introduced new variables into the numerical weather prediction model and discussed the results with colleagues and at conferences. I learnt a lot during that time and the exchange with my colleagues boosted my motivation. The job was a great experience for me. Weather is a chaotic system, I was always surprised that small elements could completely modify a forecast.
Data assimilation became a passion for me. There was a lot of programming, which was not what I had in mind when I chose to study meteorology – I thought a meteorologist was someone who spent the day outside measuring wind and temperature. Field work was one of the reasons I chose meteorology. You do need to be outside from time to time (during field studies, etc), but most of the time you’re inside in front of your computer.
After two years, I decided to change my area of expertise completely. From research I went to WMO, from weather forecasting (looking into the future) to climate change (looking into the past). The learning curve was steep: climate, climate change, data rescues and the communication of critical climate change issues to the public. I also organize meetings and coordinate publications. I espcecially like traveling and attending international conferences and meetings. Working in the UN family and collaborating with experts from all over the world is an extaordinary privilege.
It is hard to say what will be next for me. My work experiences have given me the passion that I did not initially have for meteorology, especially for climate and data assimilation. There are a lot of job openings around the world for scientists but I do worry that most contracts are only for two to three years. Since I began studying, I have moved eight times and I hope that there will be a chance to settle somewhere in a job I like and about which I can be enthusiastic.
The Flores Creek Project
By Tamara Avellan
Christian and Letitia, 7 and 9 at the time this photograph was taken, live in rural Uruguay. They were privileged in that they enjoyed clean running tap water, a ﬂush toilet and an effective sewage treatment system. But that did not promise to be the case for much longer. In 2003/2004, as part of my Masters degree in biology, I had researched the water quality of Flores Creek, their local water source, its impact on the area’s aquatic and riverine ecosystems, and the interplay between agriculture and biodiversity. The quality of the children’s fresh water was jeopardized by the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and the water level in their region was dropping due to irrigation.
Uruguay is my mother’s homeland, so I resolved to return after conducting further research on ecosystem responses to pollutants and climate change in the United States of America. I wanted to ﬁnd viable solutions for controlling the agricultural pollution of Flores Creek. When I went back with support from local and national government and international institutions, we – the farmers, villagers and I – created Uraguay’s ﬁrst constructed wetland as a sewage treatment facility for waste water from dairies.
During several participatory meetings, we explained the water cycle and the importance of aquatic and riverine ecosystems to water quality and quantity. Christian and Laetitia were shown how to take measurements of river height and ﬂow velocity on their way to and from school,which they did daily for roughly a year. Their father was trained to manage the endogenous low-growing trees of the ﬂood plains so that cattle could pass through without the need to clear-cut and burn the area, as had traditionally been done. Maintaining water quality and quantity is a challenge in this watershed as well as in many other creeks in Uruguay, but this project opened up avenues for change. I managed the Flores Creek project for three years while working on a PhD at the University of Munich on the current and future state of agricultural land use.
I was then offered a Junior Professional Officer position at the WMO to work on the implementation of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). I was interested in global policies and intergovernmental negotiation processes and how they are steered to make things happen on the ground. It was a great opportunity.
My work in both the local and global arenas of water, climate and agriculture has raised my consciousness of the challenges of raising awareness of environmental issues in everyday surroundings and of the slow changes that take place almost unnoticed. It has taught me to respect the knowledge that people have acquired through experience and how to explain the unseen impacts that their activities can have on parts of the environment. I have also learned to sound out options and to improvise, and to make the best of everyone’s capabilities, from the Minister of Agriculture to the local NGOs or the everyday person.
As for Christian and Laetitia, he has ﬁnished school and now goes wood chopping with his father, and she is now in high school. She wants to become a veterinarian. They have learned that they live in a world in transition that is in need of further protection.
By Moritz Krüger
I brooded for weeks before I finally decided what to do after high school. Geography sparked my interest the most – specifically the study of how people move, settle and behave in urban environments and how, as a result, cities grow and develop over time. This was surprising, as I had failed high school geography. When I started geography studies, I quickly realized it involved much more than what I had thought: geography bridges analyses of human and natural phenomena and explores the interaction between them. So I took courses on urban development, hydrology, development research and climatology. I studied in Germany and Iceland and focused on physical geography, mainly on landscape evolution and hydrology.
An essential – and most enthralling – part of these subjects consisted of the field trips that put theory into practice. On such trips, students and researchers would take soil and water samples, map landscape features, and conduct topographical surveys and runoff measurements. For example, in order to quickly determine a soil’s grain size, we would taste it – a crunchy soil contained a considerable amount of sand. It sounds trivial, but for me it was fascinating. What started with tasting soil would lead to highly sophisticated computations such as real-time simulations of past floods in large river basins or the reconstruction of the climate over the past 12 000 years.
I broadened my knowledge of the topics that interested me most. I took an internship at a German State Office, working in the field of soil monitoring and mapping, followed by a stint at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, assisting in a project on past environmental and climatic conditions on the Tibetan Plateau. After completing my Masters, I worked as a consultant for the University of Berlin on research and e-learning projects and as a lecturer.
In parallel, I started looking into related fields, such as geology and informatics. I focused mainly on water resources, flood management and modeling to investigate how mankind interacts with, and changes, the environment. Hydrology is both a challenging and an evolving field. Scholarships, field trips and workshops provided opportunities to study and work in Asia, Europe and South America. Each rewarded me with a new environment and new challenges – both personally and professionally.
Working at WMO in the Associated Programme on Flood Management is providing me another perspective on the diversity of water management. Everyday work is focused on project planning and management. I do miss field trips, surveys and technical issues to resolve. Nevertheless, I appreciate applying what I have learned: our team supports countries worldwide in their flood management initiatives. We help answer questions like: how do we establish a flood forecasting system? What is an integrated approach to flood management? How can flood management be integrated with economic and environmental issues? How can communities develop a flood warning system with very limited resources?
When organizing workshops for hydrological services, we cooperate with other UN agencies, private companies, universities and research centres. On such occasions, it is inspiring to learn from professionals who have been engaged in flood management for years. The people, regions, climates and political and cultural settings with which I work provide an environment that poses new challenges and clearly shows that there is no single “right” solution.
By Lina Sjaavik
As a social scientist, I was originally interested in development and security policy. I started working on livelihood and environmental issues at a Norwegian nongovernmental organization (NGO) after I graduated with a Masters degree in Global Studies and a Bachelors degree in Latin American studies. At first my work addressed the social and environmental impacts of the mining industry, and then I moved to climate change adaptation. Upon discovering how weather events and climate change affect people who are already marginalized, I became passionate about climate change issues.
I got to know WMO only a few months before I applied for the position I now hold, when the WMO Secretary General gave a presentation on the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) at a climate change seminar in Oslo. I found the Framework interesting and decided to read and learn more about it. When the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the availability of a JPO position at WMO, I knew I had to apply. I was really looking forward to learning more about the technical side of weather, climate, and water.
I am currently working on two projects, the Norwayfunded “GFCS – Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction in Africa” and the Swiss-funded “CLIMANDES – Andes- Based Climate Services for Decision-Makers” in Peru. I also coordinate the Voluntary Cooperation Programme focused on meeting the needs of WMO Members through direct financing or transfer of expertise and technology between Members.
As a social scientist, my future career path is open, but I definitely want to work in climate-related areas, either in the UN system, an NGO or the Norwegian public administration. It is interesting to be a social scientist working with colleagues who have strong technical backgrounds from the natural sciences. Were I to remake the choice of what to study today, I would add natural sciences to the composition. However, I believe that a lot of interesting work happens at the crossroad.
Protecting the oceans
By Jessica Holterhof
I have always been fascinated by oceans and marine ecosystems, which cover more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface and make up 95 per cent of all the space available to life, and by how they affect people’s lives every day. Climate variability, human-induced global changes and a range of other drivers are causing the degradation or loss of marine ecosystems. The oceans are facing threats from many sides: marine pollution, ocean acidification, marine habitat destruction, rising sea levels and temperatures, and overfishing. These forces are driving the need for improved monitoring of, and research into, marine physical, biological and chemical variables, as there is still considerable uncertainty about the details of how climate variability is affecting the oceans.
Since the beginning of my geo-scientific studies, I have been passionate about the environment and sustainable development, linked to marine environmental protection and adaptation to climate change. This is increasingly becoming a key part of international climate policy. Therefore, I mainly focused my academic and professional attention on the monitoring of physical and biogeochemical processes in the oceans. These processes are integrated into a fascinating framework of oceanography, which includes the study of ocean currents and how they interact with the atmosphere, the weather and the climate.
My Masters studies in marine geosciences, followed by my post-graduate work for several international organizations and research institutes, have not only allowed me to collaborate with great scientific minds, but also to visit parts of the world that I never imagined I would see. I love working in the sector of marine geosciences, and it has provided many opportunities for me. For example, I was able to conduct a rapid response study on ecosystem behaviour after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, carry out research on particular opportunities for oil and gas exploration companies and their potential effects on the marine ecosystem, and draft recommendations on features of the list of threatened species and habitats in the North East Atlantic that were presented to the European Union. This summer, I will join a team of scientific experts on board a research vessel to undertake a study on maritime meteorological and biogeochemical processes in the waters around Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean.
Working at WMO has given me the opportunity to make use of and further develop my scientific understanding of oceanographic and climate dynamics, while allowing me to engage with a broad range of experts from different cultures and backgrounds. I learned to collaborate with several partners, including other UN organizations, governments and civil society, and it has shown me that there is a pressing need for more informed environmental decision-making that is supported by effective monitoring of the climate system, and its variability and change. I can only recommend working in the field of marine geosciences, as it is a compelling subject. It is considered one of the most all-encompassing fields of geosciences, including aspects of geology, chemistry, biology, physical oceanography and engineering.
Environmental preservation, travel and history
By Jochen Luther
Since childhood, I have had a strong interest in biology, geology and, more generally, in spending time outdoors satisfying my curiosity about the Earth’s natural and human history. These interests developed into environmental and cultural awareness, a will for preservation, and a desire to travel the world. The latter seemed impossible growing up in East Germany, where travel opportunities were limited. In view of my interest, science and international relations/cooperation studies provided some hope to overcome this situation, which fortunately changed when the Wall came down.
In 2004, I obtained my Diploma in Geography (this was just before the system changed to Bachelors and Masters) from the Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany. My thesis dealt with historic landscape changes along the Greek coast, involving mainly geomorphologic and sedimentologic field and laboratory work. My studies had already taken me to Houston, USA, Quebec, Canada, and to Greece.
In 2002 and 2005, large river floods occurred in Germany and Central Europe, which led to the launch of a number of research projects on innovative flood risk management approaches. I accepted a job offer from the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER) in Dresden to work in projects dealing with the analysis of future flood risks along the Elbe River. After four years, I moved to the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig. There I worked in particular on hazard and risk mapping and social capacity development. My last project focused on capacity development for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Africa cities.
While on those projects, I worked with, or came across, various UN organizations. I decided to widen the scope of my job applications to the public and intergovernmental sector, which brought me to the WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme. The Programme’s aim is to strengthen the institutional capacities of Members with respect to the provision of meteorological, hydrological and climate services and to cooperation in disaster risk management for the protection of lives and property. The activities include establishing and fostering partnerships and developing standards, guidelines and service delivery in areas such as risk analysis, multi-hazard early warning systems, sectoral risk management and disaster risk financing/transfer. These activities are based on the WMO Service Delivery and Capacity Development Strategies and consistent with its Quality Management System principles.
The projects I work on are not explicitly scientific, although they demand a good understanding of both natural and social sciences. However, should I return to academia, I am convinced that this work will be an asset for understanding the applications and the practitioners’ views of scientific projects, their findings, and the bases for their decisions – hazard (and damage/risk) data. In addition, I am learning how to work in an international
environment that addresses problems on different scales, and I am improving my writing and project management skills. From hydrology to urban planning or health and logistics – disaster risk reduction and management is a cross-cutting area of practice and research, ideal for geographers like me. Through this work, I hope to contribute to the implementation of integrated and holistic disaster risk management concepts in which national meteorological and hydrological services have a prominent role and are well connected within and beyond various countries and regions. Another inestimable benefit of this experience is the unique access WMO provides to a wide range of experts in very different fields and sectors.
For students and graduates wanting to go into disaster studies, I believe it is important to have a thorough understanding of the basic natural processes underlying weather, climate and hydrologic phenomena. However, disaster risk management requires knowledge and experience in the social sciences – quantitative and qualitative social research methods, political and sociological theories and processes, etc. – augmented by good writing and language skills, experience with Geographic Information Systems and maybe even with modelling and programming. Vocational training on these topics must continue after graduation in order to keep up with new developments.