University of Helsinki: Alf Norkko to continue in the professorship in Baltic Sea research

The Walter and Andrée de Nottbeck Foundation and the University of Helsinki have agreed on extending, until the end of 2026, the professorship in Baltic Sea research that they are jointly funding. Alf Norkko will continue serving in the position to which he was originally appointed in 2012. The professorship in Baltic Sea research is located in Hanko, at the Tvärminne Zoological Station operating under the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

The Walter and Andrée de Nottbeck Foundation and the University of Helsinki have collaborated throughout the foundation’s over 50-year history.

“Our mission is to support environmental research, and Tvärminne was selected as a partner due to the very long-term and successful research conducted there. Naturally, our support was modest in the early years, but as our funds have accumulated, we have been able to increase this support to around €600,000 a year in recent years. Some of the funds have been allocated to the professorship for 20 years already – to begin with, our share was smaller, but from 2017 onwards the foundation has been covering half of the professor’s salary,” says Ole Johansson, chair of foundation’s board.

Alf Norkko emphasises the importance of the Walter and Andrée de Nottbeck Foundation to all research conducted at Tvärminne.

“The foundation’s long-standing commitment has been vital for Baltic Sea research at the University of Helsinki, and it has played a crucial role in the existence of Tvärminne. The selfless efforts of the people involved in the foundation demonstrate genuine concern for the Baltic Sea and its ecosystems, as well as a commitment to solving the problems that are troubling our marine ecosystems. And, most importantly, the foundation’s strategic support explicitly for basic research is extremely rare,” Norkko notes.

Leading the way in tackling challenges associated with biodiversity and the climate
“In terms of producing essential research and knowledge needed by society to understand how our world is currently changing, the Tvärminne Zoological Station is ideally located on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Valuable follow-up data on changes in the marine environment have been collected over the course of the station’s long history, culminating in its 120th anniversary next year. By utilising these extensive time series and thanks to the solid support of the Nottbeck Foundation, we have the opportunity to really sink our teeth into problems and start tackling them,” says Norkko.

As an example of the collaboration carried out at Tvärminne, Norkko highlights the Baltic Bridge spearhead project. As its name suggests, the project bridges the gap between Baltic Sea research conducted at the University of Helsinki and the Baltic Sea Centre in Stockholm.

Baltic Bridge serves as the foundation for the Centre for Coastal Ecosystem and Climate Change Research (CoastClim) currently being established, where marine research is supplemented by atmospheric sciences.

“The goal of the CoastClim centre is to break down barriers between different fields of science. It will conduct new kinds of research needed to clarify the role that the health and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems have in relation to climate change,” Alf Norkko says.

The Walter and Andrée de Nottbeck Foundation also has a substantial stake in the establishment of CoastClim.

“Our close and long-term collaboration has made it possible for the foundation to have frequent opportunities to support topical research projects and, consequently, promote their launch. For instance, the foundation supported the establishment of the CoastClim centre right from the start, enabling the hiring of five doctoral researchers. Subsequently, the project has gained other significant backers,” Ole Johansson says.