Asking too much? Postwar climate research in Norway, 1947-1961


  • Magnus Vollset University of Bergen


Following the extremely dry summer of 1947, the head of the Norwegian Water Resources and Electricity Works, Fredrik Vogt, wrote a concerned letter to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters asking if the climate was changing, and if this would be possible to predict. Vogt was worried about the future stability of Norwegian hydropower: “If you can develop fairly reliable prognosis for climate variations in the coming years or decades, this would be of great practical importance for how we manage the power supply.” In response, the Academy established a multidisciplinary taskforce, which gave birth to an Institute for Weather and Climate Research. Parallel to this, the Meteorological Office had its own section for climate. However, by the time the Institute closed in 1960, the question of climate prediction was long forgotten. This paper investigates Norwegian postwar climate research through studying the institution that was set up, its mandate, how the research was funded, which researchers were involved, and how they were recruited. I examine the findings, the concurrent debates on what meteorological research to conduct, and show how ‘climate’ held different meanings for the different actors. The goal of the paper is to explain why Vogt’s request for climate prognosis was not pursued. By focusing on the overlooked period 1947-61, which was when the Institute for Weather and Climate Research operated, and before the computer at the Meteorological Office transformed the capacities of the climatologists, I demonstrate that history is not a linear affair, and that research projects that did not lead to a breakthrough are also part of it. By exploring efforts that were seen as important at the time, but did not necessarily lead to the present, we can gain better insights into how science actually works.