Dr. Stefan Thiele tries to live his ethos surrounding sustainability. He eats mostly vegan and limits the amount of plastic he uses in daily life. As a microbial ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Bergen, in Norway, he’s tried to make changes in the lab, where plastic is intrinsic to many kits and instruments, and the ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers are colder than they need to be. Raising a freezer’s temperature from –80 to –70°C, he says, can reduce a freezer’s energy use by as much energy as an average American household consumes in a year without harming any samples. And though he already has a master’s degree in microbial ecology and a Ph.D., he’s studying for a second master’s degree in sustainability in the little free time he has.
Thiele’s love of nature drives him to explore it. Bergen has 238 rainy days a year, but that doesn’t stop him from hiking the trails winding through the country’s stunning landscape. In this way, Thiele, a native of northern Germany, has adopted one of Norway’s most cherished traditions. “Everybody is on the trail on Sundays,” he says.
That love of nature also drives him to want to protect it. “I always felt we should do something for the world,” he says. “Nature is so beautiful. Why would we destroy it?”
Climate change is the most profound threat to nature. Perhaps no region has seen its impact as much as the Arctic – a region that is still in many ways mysterious. It’s there that Thiele is studying the microbial communities of the Arctic’s sea water, sea ice and sediments to understand how climate change is affecting the smallest organisms of the polar region. His challenge is fourfold: find the organisms, identify them, reveal their behavior and reveal how they change over time. And all this in some of the harshest working conditions in the world.