Q&A with Professor Terry V Callaghan

In the final segment of the Wicked Weather Watch Q&A series, we had the privilege of interviewing Professor Terry V. Callaghan, a distinguished Arctic scientist and patron of Wicked Weather Watch.

Professor Terry Callaghan is an accomplished Arctic scientist whose work has ranged from plant ecology to environmental change, with involvement in various Arctic initiatives, assessments and organisations.  Professor Callaghan holds the title of ‘Most Cited and Influential’ Researcher on the Web of Science in addition to a joint Nobel Peace Prize and the International Arctic Science Committee Medal for ‘outstanding contributions to International Arctic science collaboration’. Professor Callaghan is currently a distinguished research professor at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Professor of Arctic Ecology at the University of Sheffield, and Professor of Botany at Tomsk State University. Additionally, he serves as an Arctic advisor to the British Government.

You have had an extensive career which has included jointly winning a Nobel Peace Prize and publishing over 460 scientific papers, what are you most proud of and what do you consider to be the defining moment of your career?

I am included in the joint Nobel Peace Prize award to IPCC and Al Gore in 2007 for “contributing substantially to the work of IPCC over the years since the inception of the organization”. I have worked in the Arctic for 56 years, missing only about 3 field seasons. I have worked in all Arctic countries and was last there in 2022 as well as in Mongolia. I have published over 460 scientific works, collaborating with over 500 researchers from around 40 countries.

 There have been many proud moments with Royalty of Denmark, Sweden and UK but I am most proud of hosting 27 Ministers of the Environment and many Ambassadors from around the world (climate negotiators) at the Abisko Research Station in Swedish Lapland. We made a programme for them showing measurements and experiments on climate change impacts and I invited members of the Indigenous Sámi community to talk to the group about their concerns. I also talked with the group informally and had dinner with them.

The defining moment of my career was during my PhD when it was recognised that I had developed a new way of looking at Arctic plant growth within a long-term context. This led to me being invited to apply for a Royal Society Fellowship to travel around the Arctic to introduce and apply my method. I made many friends and this later enabled me to create the INTERACT network of Arctic research stations.

You have spent 56 years working in every Arctic country, what inspired you and keeps inspiring you to devote your career to studying the Arctic?

I was inspired as a toddler of 2 or 3 during the cold and snowy winters of the late 1940’s. Everything was suddenly clean, simple, bright and surreal and I loved it. At 4 years old, we moved to Manchester in a densely populated area with few green spaces. In the 1950’s we had the killer smog and I knew I wanted to work in open landscapes, in clean areas, and with nature. Even at 6 years old, I would walk for miles to find a green space. When I was 15, I joined the Scouts and my parents bought a small place in the countryside of Derbyshire. I worked on the local farm and knew then I would study science so I could work on the natural environment.

13 years after most people retire, I still work. The problems of climate change and the Arctic’s role in amplifying that is important to us all, including my grandkids. In my long career, I have experienced and monitored changes so I can pass my information and experience down to new generations. Importantly, many Indigenous people and many scientists are my friends and I greatly value working with them. Of course, the beauty of Arctic landscapes and their nature are staggering.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and your experience as a patron for WWW?

One role has been to give visibility to WWW’s important work to institutions and in national and international meetings where WWW would not normally be known. A particularly important role has been to bring science knowledge to WWW and this has been extremely successful in the joint work between Rhianna and I in which we produced educational materials and activities and then published them on-line as an interactive e-book (Stories of Arctic Science II). This book is freely available in over 60 countries!  All my experiences with WWW have been great and I love working with Rhianna, a really great asset to WWW. I am also grateful to Sir David Hempleman Adams for inviting me to be Patron. 

Do you have a specific moment or experience that you’ve had while working with Wicked Weather Watch that stands out to you?

There is no single moment. It is always very rewarding to experience the thirst for knowledge that young people have and I am often surprised at how well informed and clever some students are.  One experience that will always stay with me however, is when I asked a class a rhetorical question: “How can we find out about past environments?”. I was about to explain with a simple demonstration but I was interrupted by a young boy who said he knew: “You Google it, Sir”, he said!  Of course, this was an excellent answer and showed a very bright mind and innovation. But it showed me another aspect. How do we teach children to be critical of what they read and can access on the Internet? Perhaps a future challenge for WWW is to teach children to be constructively critical of the material that is available to them – don’t believe everything you read! Check the sources with your teacher!

 What impact do you think Wicked Weather Watch will have on the young people who participate in its programs?

I would not be part of WWW if I was not absolutely convinced that it was doing an excellent job in telling school children about the future world that they will live in and need to adapt to, and about the wonderful Arctic that they need to understand and enjoy now before it changes. The most difficult challenge is to inform them about the future realistically, so they can be prepared, but without leaving them depressed, pessimistic and disillusioned. Their futures are extremely precious and we need to prepare them so they can enjoy their future world and protect it better than my generation has done! They can influence their parents much better than scientists like me!

Want to read some of Professor Callaghan’s work? Check out the Stories of Arctic Science II E-Book and INTERACT website for more information about the research, monitoring and assessment of environmental change in the Arctic and its impacts. 

Written by Climate Change Communicator, Catrin Lewis. 

1 thought on “Q&A with Professor Terry V Callaghan”

Comments are closed.