August 17th 2018

Morten Smelror: “We have delivered”

Toward North: The first year after completing his term as NGU director, Morten Smelror (shown above near Svarbard) will be finalizing a project on the Arctic and Barents Sea. Photo: Berit Løkken
“Never have I seen NGU stronger than it is today. We have delivered!” says Morten Smelror during his farewell interview. In August, he finished his term as director, leaving May Britt Myhr to take over the NGU director's office in Trondheim.

Morten Smelror (60) has been the NGU director since 2006. In addition to leaving the director position, he says he will also be giving up committee tasks and appointments.

The period has been very productive," said Smelror. This “Malviker” with a wife and two adult children will transfer to a pure researcher position and has been granted a one-year research sabbatical.

Look towards the North

 “Completing a project on Barents Sea and the Arctic will help the first year go by.  I am a guest editor for a special issue on the Artic for the ‘Journal of Geodynamics’, and co-editor of the Russian Tectonostratigraphic atlas informs Smelror. Neither tasks suggest he will have too little to do:

 “I have also accepted the role of editor for the book: ‘The Changing Role of Geological Surveys". On the research front, I will conduct a biostratigraphic analysis of Tor crater, which is a newly discovered meteorite crater in the Barents Sea.  I also want to continue work on some drilling cores from Andøya.

Morten Smelror is also a skilful communicator and is engaged in science outreach. He has several popular science works behind him, and faithfully posts nature photos on both Instagram and Facebook.

The palaeontologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Oslo has had various managerial jobs the last 27 years. At the same time, Morten Smelror is committed to outreach. Here he is in action with his camera. The images are often posted on Instagram and Facebook. Photo: Berit Løkken

Increased activity

“How do you feel leaving a directorial position after so many years?”

“It feels just fine. It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to lead NGU the last 12 years, and a leadership change now is good. A new leader brings new thoughts, ideas and experiences to NGU that will help it evolve further. NGU is a solid organization, with many talented staff and competent leaders. We have an important societal mission, and I am confident that NGU will evolve further as a central agency, with sought-after expertise”

“What is the most important item that NGU has achieved during your management term?”

The substantial increase in regional geophysical, geochemical and marine geological mapping. At the very beginning of my term, we received an increased budget for landslide hazard mapping. The projects on minerals resources in northern Norway (MINN) and Mineral Resources in southern Norway (MINS) provided a necessary boost for geophysical and geochemical mapping, and the mapping of mineral resources. Unfortunately, the MINN and MINS programs were cut before they were completed.

Morten also believes that the strong focus on research has elevated NGU and has helped it perform its geo-management tasks with a high level of expertise.

Glowing testimonials

Norwegian Research Council (NRC) gave NGU a good evaluation in 2011. It was very nice to read in the NRC geo-evaluation report that "NGU is widely recognized as one of the leading geological surveys in the world, along with the USGS and the British Geological Survey (BGS)". Three years ago, the Swedish Academy of Sciences conducted a citation analysis of literature produced by all the Nordic geological surveys, who represent ten per cent of the most sited surveys in the world. NGU was on the top, and well ahead the average for all research institutions. “I'm proud of that,” says Morten.

 “At the same time, our primary tasks set out by the ministry are performed in a professional manner” he points out.

 "NGU has become a leading research institution, but it is equally important that NGU has established sound cooperation with a number of institutions, including the Norwegian Waterways and Energy Directorate, the Norwegian Mapping Authority, Marine Research Institute, Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, Environmental Directorate, Norwegian Space Centre, NORUT and numerous universities. A good example of this, is the cooperation with the NVE and the Norwegian Space Centre to establish a satellite-supported earth observation centre at NGU.  I receive a lot of positive feedback from external actors indicating that NGU has is a good and solid partner, both nationally and internationally.

Difficult layoffs

“What is the most you regret not having accomplished in your 12 years?”

 “A whole lot. It is very unfortunate that we did not make our voice heard regarding MINN and MINS. Although we have increased our budget significantly, the basic allocations were reduced. We did not receive more funding for basic bedrock and quaternary geology mapping, and we have not managed to replace the marine research vessel FF «Seisma».”

“What's your greatest defeat as NGU director?”

“It was a grim task to terminate employees, which was the result of a completely unexpected budget cut in 2016.  The 15% cut in the basic grant from the Ministry of Industry and Fisheries and that work in MINN and MINS were stopped, was a great blow.”

He points out that as the layoff measures stretched for long periods of time. Those colleagues who were immediately effected had to face uncertainty for too long, and it was a long difficult time for him personally.

Geological mapping

” Compare the status of the Norwegian Geological Survey today to when you began your directorship”

“NGU has evolved in many ways. We have expanded our activities into several fields, particularly into marine mapping and research, but we became more vulnerable in other areas. Although NGU has never had bigger budget, we lack personnel for key activities, like geological mapping. There is an increase in specific purpose allocations and externally funded research projects. At the same time, we should be proud of the outstanding basic research that has been conducted in the fields of bedrock geology, quaternary geology, geophysics and geochemistry.”

No guiding hands

May Britt Myhr

“How will you interact with NGU’s new boss, May Britt Myhr?”

“She now has responsibility for over 200 skilled and enthusiastic employees. I don’t feel she needs an attendant or guiding hands from yours truly. But I would like to contribute, like all other NGU staff, with thoughts, ideas and advice when I am asked to come with input,” says Morten Smelror.