|Interview with Dr. Gunnar Kullenberg
Dear colleagues, as you will recall, the IOC Assembly decided to invite the departing Executive Secretary to attend this session as the invited speaker for the Roger Revelle Lecture. I hardly need to introduce him to you because he is so well-known to the participants. He is of Nordic descent and this probably accounts for his ability to inject fire and energy into the debates and discussions. He has an enviable academic record with a B.Sc., Ph.D. and D.Sc. in marine sciences and was professor of oceanography at the universities of Göteborg and Copenhagen. Somehow he found time to publish over 80 papers, including five books, and was visiting Fulbright Professor to the USA and visiting professor to the World Maritime University in Malmø, Sweden. All these visits gave him the urge for international work and he became Senior Assistant Secretary to our Commission in 1986, dealing with marine pollution research and monitoring. This work included cooperation with a large number of other United Nations and international organizations.
In 1989, he became Executive Secretary and for nearly 10 years served the IOC with boundless energy, fierce dedication and a farsightedness that directly contributed to the emergence of the Commission in its present central role in many ocean issues.
A person with these qualifications and background could not be anybody but Gunnar Kullenberg. Since, in this interview, Kullenberg gives a complete and interesting account of his personal and professional life, I thought it would be useful to devote the remainder of my introductory remarks to describing IOC, an international organization and scientific institution with an excellent coordinating machinery for ocean affairs.
IOC was set up by UNESCO in 1960 to develop, recommend and coordinate international programmes for the scientific investigation of the oceans and to provide related ocean services to Member States (126, at the time of writing). Membership is open to any Member State of any organization of the United Nations system. The IOC Assembly is the governing body. Within the United Nations, IOC has the responsibility for basic oceanic research. As an autonomous body, IOC-UNESCO, collaborates with other organizations such as UNEP, IMO, IAEA, FAO and WMO. Through UNESCO, IOC has activities with other programmes such as the International Hydrological Programme, Man and the Biosphere Programme, the International Geological Correlation Programme and the Management of Social Transformations Programme.
Today, IOC focuses on four major themes: research aimed at improving our understanding of critical global and regional ocean processes; coordination of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), to provide a comprehensive, operational ocean monitoring and data-management system in support of the full range of user and programme requirements for ocean data, and as a contribution to existing systems such as the Global Observing System of the WWW, the Global Earth Monitoring System and Earthwatch; education and training programmes and technical assistance; and the efficient and widespread sharing of ocean data obtained either through observations or research. From the start, it was realized at IOC that there was a need for a formal basis of collaboration among UN agencies in order to ensure coordination and avoid duplication of efforts. In 1969, with this in mind, the Director-General of UNESCO consulted all concerned. Together, they established the Inter-secretariat Committee on Scientific Programmes Relating to Oceanography (ICSPRO), which became a forum for contributing to the development of effective cooperation among organizations of the UN family. ICSPRO Members provide support to IOC’s activities in the form of cooperation in technical work, provision of staff to the Secretariat of IOC, and other services. Likewise, the Commission may request ICSPRO Members to undertake the planning and implementation of those parts of IOC’s programmes which are of interest to their Member States. Under this agreement, WMO has, for many years seconded a professional officer to the IOC Secretariat to work on joint programmes and projects.
In the field of scientific research related to oceans, IOC has an impressive list of activities. During its first decade, 1960–1970, the Commission launched at least 10 major projects in collaboration with other organizations. These included the International Indian Ocean Expedition, the International Cooperative Investigations of the Tropical Atlantic, the Cooperative Study of the Kuroshio and Adjacent Regions; the Cooperative Investigations of the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions; the International Decade of Ocean Exploration, etc.
In 1993, IOC became a co-sponsor of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), which started in 1980 as the research component of the World Climate Programme, a joint effort between WMO and the International Council for Science (ICSU). The success of the WCRP is owed largely to this unique structure, i.e. two intergovernmental and one non-governmental organizations as sponsors.
At the present time, the major programme of IOC is probably GOOS, for which the Commission is the lead agency, and which is also co-sponsored by WMO, UNEP and ICSU. GOOS has overlapping interests with the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) in the common ocean climate module, and has common interests with the Global Terrestrial Observing System, in particular in the coastal zone. GOOS represents a major advance for IOC into the area of operational oceanography. This advance which will be further strengthened with the proposed merger of the existing WMO Commission for Marine Meteorology and the joint IOC/WMO Integrated Global Ocean Services System into a new, joint WMO/IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology, which is planned to become the implementation arm of GOOS.
Cooperation between WMO and IOC has far-reaching possibilities. Only recently, the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change urged Parties “to actively support national oceanographic observing systems to ensure that the elements of the Global Climate Observing System and Global Ocean Observing System networks are fully implemented in order to provide an increased number of ocean observations”. These points will be discussed by Thirteenth World Meteorological Congress in May 1999.
To return to our interview in this issue; unlike nearly all my previous interviewees, I had not known Gunnar Kullenberg personally, although I had seen him during sessions of the WMO Executive Council in Geneva. This interview, which took place in Paris in November 1998, allowed me to get to know him. I must say that I agree with what I had heard about him: Gunnar Kullenberg is a charming, intelligent person, albeit rather restless.
H.T. — Tell us about the date and place of your birth in Sweden and your formative years.
G.K. — I was born in Göteborg, Sweden, on 1 July 1938. Hardly three weeks old, I made my first sea-trip to my grandparents’ summer house on the island of Orust in Bohuslän. During World War II, my father was often away, because he was in the army and I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents. Although Sweden was not involved directly in the War, life was not easy.
My primary school years were reasonably uneventful. After four years, I managed to earn enough points to enter Middle School, where I spent the next 11 years. At first, I found school uninteresting but my hobbies—sailing, stamp collecting, chess and building model airplanes— compensated for my lack of effort. The next stage was the gymnasium, where I found the programme of studies more interesting. I consequently gave it high priority and finished with good results. During the summer with my grandparents, I continued sailing, at times working as a mess boy at sea. I debated with myself as to whether I should choose the sea or join the Air Force. My father convinced me, however, that the oceans were more interesting, and perhaps safer, than the air.
H.T. — Your father was a well-known oceanographer. Please tell us about him.
G.K. — He was a great man—a physicist and a mathematician, with a formidable memory. He spoke four foreign languages and could read one or two more. He read a great deal and always had an answer for everything. Prof. Hans Peterson, his long-time boss, said to him while on the Albatross expedition: “The problem with you, Kullenberg, is that you are always right!”. He spent much of his life at sea on various expeditions, such as the Swedish Albatross, the Danish Galathea and the United Kingdom’s Discovery. He was invited to lecture at various institutions abroad. He developed the Kullenberg piston corer and made numerous contributions to physical oceanography, the chemistry of sea-water and atomic physics. He was awarded the famous Heymanska Prize and many other honours. My father had a great sense of humour and could handle many problems simultaneously; his students liked and respected him.
H.T. — To what extent did your father influence your life?
G.K. — He was a demanding man and I was inevitably influenced by him. My respect for his personality and belief in his great knowledge and ability unconsciously moulded my behaviour to his and I inherited his love for the sea. My father was always ready to help and although occasionally I had the feeling that he was too exacting, I knew in the end he was right. He was not happy when I decided to go to Copenhagen, but he did not object openly.
H.T. — After secondary school, you joined the Swedish Naval Academy. What did you do there?
H.T. — You studied for your B.Sc and Fil.Lic. in Sweden. What did your work comprise?
G.K. — I began at the University of Göteborg in 1961. Mathematics and physics were prerequisites for studying oceanography. Having obtained my B.Sc., I started working towards the next degree, which required in-depth study of oceanography, some work at sea and the preparation of a thesis. I was assigned to work with Prof. Nils Jerlov, who was the international leader in ocean optics and optical oceanography. He, my father and I developed new equipment with sensitive electronics, which had to be tested under water and the data analysed, a task which required a great deal of interest, stamina and determination. During the work at sea, my training in the Navy proved invaluable time and time again. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity of being guided by Prof. Pierre Welander, a great Swedish oceanographer, who generated contacts with the global theoretical oceanography community, as well as with meteorologists. The outcome of this work provided material for my Fil.Lic. thesis, which I presented at a conference in Bern in 1967. At the same conference, I met Prof. John Woods, who presented his famous paper on in situ observations of dye spreading.
H.T. — When and why did you move to Denmark ?
G.K. — In 1964, Prof. Jerlov moved to Copenhagen and became first Professor of Oceanography in the Physics Department. He was looking for an assistant and I accepted his offer without hesitation. This event marked a new phase of my life. In the meantime, I continued my studies in Göteborg and obtained my Fil.Lic. in 1967. This was after the third Dana expedition to the Sargasso Sea, searching for eels. In Göteborg, I had already developed and tested an in situ light-scattering meter, using a laser beam as the light source, with which we were able to measure light scattering at very small angles. It was extremely interesting to perform these measurements in the clear water of the Sargasso Sea.
H.T. — Your first position was research assistant at the Oceanographic Institute, Göteborg University, and then at the University of Copenhagen, where you also became Lecturer. Tell us about it.
G.K. — My first assignment was as temporary research assistantship in Göteborg in 1964/1965. The project required the development of an in situ fluorometer to detect the dye tracer Rhodanime B, which was much in use for studying small-scale mixing in the sea. With several other colleagues, we developed other in situ tracking equipment and conducted numerous experiments in coastal waters off the west Swedish coast in the Baltic and North Seas and elsewhere.
In Copenhagen, we were developing an institute with a new training curriculum for the university. This was a great challenge, much work and very stimulating. I liked the University and my Danish colleagues very much. I married Kristina in 1967 and we settled in Copenhagen. In 1968, I had the opportunity to work at Prof. Walter Munk’s institute in La Jolla, California. This was a great and proud event in my life but, at the same time, I was apprehensive. My stay, unfortunately, was a short one, since, at the same time, I received a fellowship to attend the Geophysics and Fluid Dynamics summer course at Woods Hole. I finished this memorable and challenging period as a volunteer student by participating in a cruise to the Sargasso Sea on Atlantis II, with Prof. Henry Stommel1 as leader: what a time!
On my return to Copenhagen in late 1968, I was appointed lecturer—very honourable indeed. The Institute in Copenhagen, under the leadership of Prof. Jerlov, developed into a well-recognized leading international institute. We had visitors from abroad and enjoyed close links with other institutions in Denmark as well as other Scandinavian countries, in particular Norway. We often sailed on the R/V Helland Hansen from the University of Bergen.
H.T. — In 1977, you became Professor of Oceanography; first at the Oceanographic Institute in Göteborg University and then at the University of Copenhagen. Tell us about this period.
When Prof. Jerlov retired, I saw a new opportunity to return to Copenhagen, of which I had excellent memories. We had many discussions and consultations at the family level; the final decision was taken. I applied and was offered the post. Upon my return to Denmark, I became a Danish citizen. Furthermore, I was elected a member of the Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.
H.T. — What about your scientific activities and research?
G.K. — It is difficult to do basic research work: you have to keep abreast of new developments and maintain the necessary stamina. My research work covered a wide range of topics: turbulence and mixing, air–sea interactions, coupling of physical and biological processes, coastal currents and water exchange and marine pollution. I was an experimentalist with some theoretical insight and interests, a combination which had many advantages, provided that it combined the experiments with the development of equipment. In the early days, the arsenal of oceanographic equipment was limited and we built our own equipment. We participated in the testing of the first Aanderaa current meters and conductivity-temperature depth instruments. I was particularly interested in the turbulent mixing in the upper layer of the sea and worked on the use of optical techniques such as light scattering, fluorescence to study various dynamical features, such as coastal upwelling, bottom and slope boundary layers, as well as particle distributions and characteristics. On the other hand, interdisciplinary research, such as the interaction of physical and biological processes and marine pollution problems, brought us into contact with many interdisciplinary people. It was through my research work that I discovered the international community. When I joined IOC-UNESCO, I already had experience of a wide range of research and international activities.
H.T. — You have organized and taken part in numerous international expeditions. Please tell us about some of them.
G.K. — My first research cruise was as a boy with my father on board the R/V Skagerak of the Swedish Board of Fisheries. We sailed from Copenhagen to take sediment cores in the Baltic. I returned to the Baltic in 1963 on the Helland-Hansen to take cores, and current, hydrography and optical measurements. In the autumn we were to sail to Greenland from the Denmark Strait but had to heave to behind an iceberg, in streaks of ice with no protection for the propeller. This lasted for a week in full storm. I measured wind speeds up to 35 m s-1 for quite some time. We made the return trip to Reykjavik in Iceland, only to get back into the Denmark Strait again. The leader of the cruise was Prof. H.G. Gade and we have remained friends ever since.
In 1966, I was on board the R/V Dana in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. It was a happy occasion, despite a tragedy in the early days of the cruise, when the fishing master died and we had to return to Bermuda. After that, we had several weeks at sea making all sorts of measurements. Other memorable cruises were with the Helland-Hansen in the Mediterranean in 1971 and with the Meteor of Germany. The first was a joint expedition with the Nordic Institutes. On board the Meteor we studied the West African upwelling. The cruise was interdisciplinary with much interaction of various groups. This work later led to our participation in the upwelling studies off Peru on the US research vessels Melville in 1977 and Wecoma in 1985. In the 1970s, I participated in cruises organized on the occasion of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration. The one I remember particularly was in 1976 on board R/V Thompson from Seattle across Drake Passage. We sailed from Punta Arenas in Chile through the Beagle channel and the Strait of Magellan. An important consequence of my experiences at sea was that I gradually became involved in organizing joint expeditions. The Baltic Ocean Sea Experiment in 1977 was thrilling, because of the exceptionally bad weather. As you see, the life of an oceanographer can be most interesting.
H.T. — In 1985, you left the academic life to take up a position in a United Nations organization, UNESCO. What made you do so?
G.K. — During my work at the University of Copenhagen, I became involved in the activities of several international organizations. From 1971 to 1974, I convened various seminars and symposia and chaired various working groups and special committees. I also participated in the work of several national committees in Denmark and Sweden—all this solely because I was personally interested. I was convinced that, in a field such as oceanography, international cooperation was of vital importance. Indeed, nothing can be more international than the oceans. I became chairman of the UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP) and of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Advisory Committee on Marine Pollution and, perhaps most importantly, of the ICES Consultative Committee. Eventually, I became chairman of the new Geophysical Institute of the University of Copenhagen, which fused the smaller existing institutes such as those of meteorology, oceanography, solid Earth physics and isotope geophysics. In view of these activities, my desire to work in an international organization was, I suppose, understandable. When a post in marine pollution and related matters was announced in IOC of UNESCO, therefore, I applied. This was in early 1983. Finally, in December 1984, I was informed that I had been selected. The announcement was made by the Secretary of IOC, Dr Mario Ruivo. As usual, the family was consulted and we decided to move to Paris. I could not take up my new post immediately, however, since I was to participate in early 1985 in the Peru upwelling expedition. I joined the UNESCO Secretariat towards the end of May 1985.
H.T. — How did your career in IOC evolve?
G.K. — My initial assignment in IOC was to manage the substantive Global Investigation of Marine Pollution in the Marine Environment (GIPME). This programme had started after the Stockholm Conference and was run by Dr Neil Andersen (USA) for a long time. Together with several other scientists from the Netherlands and the USA, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, we managed to expand GIPME into a significant programme covering all aspects of marine pollution. We cooperated closely with the UNEP Regional Seas Programme and I became more and more familiar with the work of IOC and UNESCO. Dr Ruivo was a demanding but stimulating person and I enjoyed working with him. When his retirement was announced, I applied for his position. The Executive Council of IOC met in March 1988 and I was recommended. The final decision was taken by the Director-General of UNESCO. Incidentally, the post of the General Secretary of ICES was announced at the same time. I applied and was also offered that.
H.T. — Could you describe some of your activities in IOC?
G.K. — My work in IOC had two major components. The first included organizing meetings, writing papers and reports, preparing the budget; organizing the overall work of the Secretariat. The second involved keeping in touch and cooperating with Member States and other organizations, in particular WMO, UNEP, IMO, FAO and IAEA, as well as ICES, ICSU and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR). I was, of course, already familiar with this latter part of the job, although it had to be extended to cover a much larger area. I had to make sure that IOC was adequately developed and recognized as an organization with its own governing and many subsidiary bodies. One should bear in mind that the United Kingdom and USA were Member States of IOC, although not of UNESCO. I had to prepare an adequate input and ensure proper liaison with the UNESCO governing bodies. The Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Federico Mayor, was an extremely stimulating and supportive leader.
H.T. — What about collaboration between WMO and IOC?
G.K. — I was convinced that collaboration between WMO and IOC was essential. After all, the atmosphere and the oceans are in constant interaction and one cannot investigate one without considering the other. There is, however, a basic difference between meteorology and oceanography: oceanography covers a wider range of disciplines and subjects and this is reflected in national structures. In virtually all nations, meteorology has a well-defined and distinctive structure. In almost all countries there is one Meteorological Service with its own observations and telecommunication systems. Oceanography, on the other hand, is spread over many subjects and institutions, often without a leading institution. Meteorology in an international body has a history of well over 100 years and WMO enjoys a high place among international organizations. I was fortunate to meet Prof. G.O.P. Obasi, who accepted IOC and myself as partners. Equally, I was happy to find a valuable partner in ICSU in the person of the Executive Director, Mrs Julia Marton-Lefèvre. The breakthrough in our joint efforts came with the Second World Climate Conference in 1990, of which IOC was a co-sponsor. Thanks to the joint SCOR/IOC Committee on Climate Change and the Ocean, two of the major components of the wcrp were substantially or wholly oceanographic. IOC is a major partner of WCRP and of GCOS, where UNEP has also a presence. I wish to thank my friends and colleagues in WMO, who spared no efforts to ensure utmost collaboration between WMO and IOC.
H.T. — How would you describe your work for IOC and your contacts with Member States?
G.K. — The contact with Member States was perhaps the most important element of my work. I had continuous contacts with institutions in Australia, India, Japan, the USA and numerous other countries. Strangely enough, our contacts with European national institutions were relatively limited, confirming the saying that “love increases with distance” or that “you do not want to be too friendly with your neighbours”. As regards the UN system, of course, we had contacts with most UN specialized agencies and our strongest link was through ICSPRO. Travelling and maintaining good public relations had to be given high priority. My good friend Dr Vagn H. Hansen arranged for me and the Director-General to visit the research institute in Hirtshals in Jötland, Denmark. My visits to Russia were equally memorable. I would like to express here my gratitude to friends and colleagues in Denmark, Norway and Sweden; their constant support and encouragement to IOC were invaluable. My first visit to the USA was as Secretary designate for IOC. I went to Woods Hole and saw some friends, in particular Dr and Mrs John Steele, a great couple with extensive scientific ability and generosity. NOAA and its then administrator, Dr John Knauss, were highly supportive of IOC.
H.T. — In 1995 you were appointed Assistant Director-General of UNESCO. How did this come about and what did it involve?
The position gave me more responsibility and work. I became a member of the General Directorate of UNESCO and had to attend the Executive Board sessions. At the same time, the Director-General delegated new responsibilities to the Secretary of IOC, whose title was changed to Executive Secretary. The main consequence was that I was faced with an increasing amount of work and became tired to the extent that I was looking forward to my retirement. I wanted to leave in 1996/1997, but this proved difficult. It seems that, although it is difficult to get into a UN organization, it might be even more difficult to get out! I finally retired in 1998.
H.T. — When you were Professor at the University of Copenhagen, who gave you the necessary financial support for your research work?
G.K. — When you wish to obtain financial contributions for research work, the first step is to convince people that your research projects will produce some valuable results. In other words, you must be able to deliver. Of course, we had the normal basic support from the university but this was far from adequate for extended research work and we had to look elsewhere. We needed funds for our experiments at sea, development of equipment and international participation. Fortunately, we received much support from the Danish Research Council and some external sources such as the Nordic Council, the NATO Research Fund, joint Danish/Swedish committees, Canada, the USA and SCOR. We also obtained travel grants and the Danish Navy provided us with free ship time. With such external support, you may safely assume that we delivered good results.
H.T. — You have published over 100 articles in various journals and several books. What were the main foci of your publications?
The optical work, in particular the study of the light scattering in the ocean, was also significant, generating great interest and an exchange of ideas. One outcome was the laser Doppler current-meter, which was developed with a leading Danish engineering company. A comparison with current-measuring devices was made as an experiment in 1974 in collaboration with Prof. Woods and proved that the instrument worked.
H.T. — Do you see any immediate threat from human beings to the world’s oceans
G.K. — The coastal zones are under serious threat as a result of increasing population and human activity. Coastal pollution, the destruction of marine life and over-fishing, have endangered the health of the oceans. We are the victims of these changes and their impacts are already visible; poor food produce, bad water quality, poor sanitation, etc. Climate change might have a serious effect on the ocean. Will the North Atlantic circulation and the so-called conveyor-belt change? When would the change take place and what would be its effects? The 1998 International Year of the Ocean was created because there is an urgent need to promote public awareness, to demonstrate that the world’s oceans are in danger. Unless the nations of the world and their governments commit themselves to taking concerted action to protect the oceans, we will be heading for disaster. The efforts generated by the meetings and decisions of 1998 should be extended to the next millennium. It is a great pity that not all the important results obtained from ocean research studies have been better applied to serve society. To what extent have the results of TOGA leading to forecasting the occurrence and the effects of El Niño been used? GOOS must be kept in force and expanded, in order to better serve society. There is perhaps a need to create an international organization to deal with ocean research and observations.
H.T. — At present, you are at the International Ocean Institute in Malta. What do your duties consist of?
G.K. — When the news spread that I was leaving IOC, I received a number of enquiries as to whether I was interested to work in various positions. One was from Prof. E. Mann Borgese, concerning possible involvement in the activities of the International Ocean Institute (IOI). We agreed that this assignment would be on a temporary basis. My main duties consist of coordinating and stimulating the work of the Institute and its 10 operational centres situated in various countries and regions. I try to generate support for the Institute, writing proposals and reports, giving lectures and preparing for IOI’s worldwide meetings.
H.T. — Would you like to tell us about the most significant event of your life, professional or otherwise?
G.K. — I consider my whole life to have been significant! I have been lucky to have survi
1 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 40 (2) [back]
2 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 37 (4) [back]