Physicist Dr Ed Gryspeerdt is the latest expert lecturer to join the Grantham Institute, Imperial's hub for climate change and the environment.
Cyclist, sailor and self-confessed cloud fanatic, he joins the Institute from Imperial's Department of Physics where he has been a Research Fellow since 2016. Before that, he worked at the University of Leipzig in Germany and studied for his PhD in Physics at the University of Oxford.
Dr Gryspeerdt has a passion for engaging the public with climate science, including at the Great Exhibition Road Festival, and he maintains the website www.cloudsandclimate.com and tweets under @CloudsClimate.
We interviewed him about his life and work.
Tell us about your surname?
It's from the Flemish, probably meaning grey horse. My great great grandfather came to UK from Belgium where it's a much more common name. People sometimes spell it wrong, perhaps with two 'p's or three ‘e’s, but I luckily still know it's me.
What do you do with your weekends?
I like just cycling around London visiting the great green spaces, and I often go out to see friends who live on the edge of the city. Cycling makes London seem a lot smaller, and there's always a joy in finding your way around or exploring a new area.
What's your favourite cycling memory?
I remember coming back from a holiday late one night and cycling home from the train station through totally deserted streets in central London. I suddenly heard a 'click click click' noise that was a fox running across the road ahead. It stopped to look at me for a while, then went on its own way into the dark.
Tell us about your competitive sailing past?
I did a bit of dingy sailing when I was little, but really got into it during my PhD when I started sailing larger boats. I sailed for the university team a few times and we beat Cambridge once or twice, but that's the closest we came to winning anything.
Did this have anything to do with your interest in weather and climate change?
I wanted to study physics for the quarks and galaxies I'd read about in New Scientist, but I found these things felt very far away. Clouds, weather and climate are very present and immediate, and you see a lot when you're outdoors. Studying clouds also involves a lot of different branches of physics as well as some chemistry, engineering and even biology!
Tell us a great cloud fact?
Cloud droplets and ice crystals usually form on aerosols, little ‘seeds’ around which water droplets accumulate. These aerosols can come from burning fossil fuels, but there are many natural aerosols that are good at helping droplets and crystals form, such as desert dust, chemicals emitted by trees and even some types of bacteria.
Where is the cloudiest place on Earth? Where are you most likely to see a cloud?
Google says the cloudiest city is Tórshavn, in the Faroe Islands, but there could be many different answers depending what you mean. On the western coast of Colombia there's a strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes where there is almost completely 100% cloud coverage pretty much every day.
What would be your dream holiday destination and how would you get there?
I really like the Lake District and we try to come here often - pandemics allowing! A train leaves London at 6am on Saturday and you can be in Windemere at 9.30am, so it's almost possible to come for the weekend. I love being outdoors and seeing the amazing landscape. It's easy to walk the valleys carrying a tent and there are loads of great places to camp. Hardknott, which is particularly cool, is built on the side of the mountain (because that's just what Romans did!). It's remarkably intact.
What would be your 'desert island' book, music and object?
Music is difficult, there is so much great music out there. Perhaps Unheilig – a band I first heard whilst in Germany. As for a book, I have to pick Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Where else can you learn the answer to the ultimate question? Although I would have a hard time without a kettle, this also means that the choice of object is clear – a towel.
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