The temporary climate scientist

Luc Hächler graduated second best in his class among the students of the Graduate School of Climate Sciences and was awarded a “2021 Oeschger Young Scientist’s Prize”. He sees his professional future as a geoinformation analyst.

Luc Hächler is a map man. “They have great potential for communicating information and in political decision-making,” he says, “especially in the climate and environmental fields.” He sees geospatial data as an important support for helping people in need and addressing challenges such as coping with climate change. What fascinates him most: Analyzing geodata, questioning it and presenting it in the form of maps. At the moment, he is doing this in his civil service at the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), where he is using GIS analyses to produce land use maps to support water protection.

Luc Hächler recently earned a master’s degree in climate science. Now he wants to combine the knowledge he gained there with geoinformation, because that’s where his background lies. At an engineering firm, he did an apprenticeship as a topographer. That involved capturing and processing spatial data, but today Luc Hächler is more interested in analyzing it. For example, for his bachelor’s thesis at the University of Bern, he studied geography and sustainable development. As part of his thesis, he linked and analyzed satellite data of forest cover in Myanmar. Title: “Big data as a chance for multiple evidences in decision-making”.

A curious student

For his master’s degree, Luc Hächler took some time off from working with geoinformation. Because what he was looking for in the Climate Master was the chance to broaden his horizons: “I chose this field out of pure interest and because I wanted to understand how the climate system works and interacts with humans and the environment.” What he particularly liked was the wide range of subjects as well as studying topics from different perspectives. The courses in climate economics or environmental law, for example, were a “huge challenge” for him, he said. “It made me feel like a tourist in a foreign country.”

But Luc Hächler didn’t just want to learn about new things; he also wanted to experience how cutting-edge research works. That’s why he chose a master’s thesis topic that falls under “fancy science”, as he puts it. He used sophisticated methods to analyze how past climate fluctuations and land-use changes affected the productivity and mixing of lakes. Specifically, he used the spectral fingerprint of specific pigments to measure their concentration in lake sediments. Among other things, he determined the concentration of chlorophyll, which are an indicator of lake productivity because algae use chlorophyll for photosynthesis. He was able to demonstrate that over the past 18,000 years, warmer conditions led to higher productivity as well as more anoxic conditions in the lake he studied. Less oxygen reached deeper layers, which potentially affected the living conditions of flora and fauna. He also found that land use had a large influence on the processes in the lake.

Stepping into the workforce

As exciting as this detour into research was, Luc Hächler did not want to prolong it. Writing a dissertation didn’t appeal to him. “Sooner or later, you have to immerse yourself in the workforce,” he says. That’s why he would have seen a PhD project as merely delaying that moment. And he is convinced that he can make more of a difference in practice. He has known for some time where he wants to go professionally: He is currently looking for a job that involves analyzing geodata in order to develop a fact-based foundation for decisions in the environmental and climate field.

Nonetheless, the temporary climate scientist is pleased with his master’s degree. “I totally got my money’s worth,” he says, “it was mega cool to be able to look into all these subjects and learn about all the facets of climate change.” And what’s more, he says, he gained skills in his studies that will definitely benefit him in his professional life – like scientific writing and working with statistics. However, Luc Hächler was particularly excited about exploring all the new subjects. He took as many courses as he could – and earned far more ECTS points [credits] than he actually needed for his degree.

(February 2022)