Preface by Thomas Stocker to the interview with Christian Pfister

My colleague Christian Pfister is a pioneer: through the ground-breaking work he has done in connecting climate history with quantitative climate science. Not by merely telling stories (he can do that too!), what lay people would expect from historians, but by means of indices, time series, geographical location, stored in the electronic medium. This is how interdisciplinarity emerges, and Christian Pfister laid the foundations for it at the University of Bern. Climate research is not limited to physics, biology and geography, but today it obviously includes the historical and social sciences. It is thanks to Christian Pfister that we in Bern were able to benefit from this expansion at an early stage.

Christian's research gives degrees Celsius, meters, kilograms, and millimeters per year a face, because he painstakingly, year after year, often even season after season, traces the conditions under which people experienced weather and climate, how they dealt with it, and what conclusions they drew from extreme events. In the form of climate history, this approach can provide an additional -- and as we know from today's perspective -- indispensable context for the development of society. Climate history also provides key data for "palaeometeorology", i.e. the reconstruction of weather conditions during extreme events. This research is of the highest topicality, because even today, in climate research looking to the future, it is not only degrees Celsius of warming, meters of sea-level rise, kilograms of melting ice in the Alps and polar regions, and millimeters per year of precipitation change that are of interest, but also the face of climate heating: its impact on man, society, and nature. Christian Pfister's research broadens our perspective, highlights the vulnerabilities of the past and teaches us how even the smallest fluctuations, such as the Little Ice Age, have the greatest social effects. The results obtained from Climate History, especially those concerning extreme events, contribute to improving risk assessment by broadening the basis of statistics.

Christian is an endurance runner, both in science and in sport. He has the finish in front of him, is fast on his way, and already talks about the next race at the finish. Especially in recent years, when a climate record is soon overtaken by the next one -- in Switzerland we have just experienced the driest summer since 1864 -- Christian reminds us with a short, precise remark "But in the year 15xy was ..." that extreme events occur today with alarming frequency and with increasing intensity, but do not "create unprecedented suffering", but also had serious consequences for man and society in the past. The multifaceted sources of information about climate change and its effects form the fertile substrate on which the Oeschger Centre for Climate Research at the University of Berne, to which Christian Pfister has contributed a great deal, blossoms and grows.


Prof. Thomas Stocker
Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute University of Bern. President of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research