Oeschger News (December 2014)

The OCCR puts climate science in the limelight 

More than 8’000 people attended the Science Night at the University of Bern on 6 September 2014. The Oeschger Centre was part of this major outreach event with a Climate and weather exhibition. 8 OCCR groups teamed up for this common effort and some 45 researchers actively participated.

Among many other activities, a special show was dedicated to 50 years of polar ice core drilling at the University of Bern. Part of this celebration was a documentary on Hans Oeschger’s Greenland expedition 1967. The short film called Camp 3 is on youtube now.

Bicentenary of the great Tambora eruption

Two hundred years after the eruption of the Tambora volcano in April 1815, an event that changed global climate, the University of Bern and the OCCR organize the international conference ‘Volcanoes, Climate, and Society’. It takes place from 7 – 11 April 2015 in Bern revisiting the event from different scientific perspectives and exploring how the economic and societal crisis was managed that followed the eruption. The outbreak of Tambora caused a “Year Without a Summer” which changed science. Two hundred years later, the conference looks back at this event and raises questions such as: What is the state of knowledge on the 1815 eruption and its aftermath? What has science learned from the event, and what more can we learn from it?

Looking back at the July 2014 flood events

How exceptional were the flood events in Switzerland of this summer? This was one of the questions discussed at a public event organized by the Mobiliar Lab for Natural Risks on 13 November 2014. The topic proved very timely, as the lecture hall at the Institute of Geography could hardly seat the crowd. The event included talks on a possible rise of extreme flood events due to climate change as well as a presentation of lessons learned from the July 2014 events for the regulation of lake levels.

Wanted: politically acceptable adaptation strategies

Researchers from various disciplines gather at the OCCR to consider adaptation strategies for Switzerland with regard to climate change. In a large Sinergia project (see Oeschger News No. 16. August 2014), they are looking for economically and politically viable concepts which will promise protection from the impact of climate change. With this project, the Bernese climate economists bid farewell to interdisciplinary research that leads them down a one-way street. “For the first time we’re doing science in a dialogue,” promises Gunter Stephan, PI of the OCCR’s Environmental and Climate Economics group. “This is possible because the questioning in this project is very focused.” Read the full interview with the initiator and director of the CCAdapt project, which stands for Climate Change Extremes and Adaptation Strategies.

Thawing glaciers release pollutants

The OCCR’s Analytical Chemistry Research group (PI Margit Schwikowski) was part of a team that has measured the concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in the ice of an Alpine glacier accurately for the first time. The measurements reveal that the PCB levels in the atmosphere have decreased since the 1970s thanks to the meanwhile global ban on PCBs. Through the progressive melting of the glaciers, however, this residual waste risks being released back into the atmosphere.

Bold steps into uncharted territory

Two doctoral and one post-doctoral researcher at the OCCR have launched an interdisciplinary conference on the Spörer Minimum on 4–5 December 2014. So much scientific zest at a young age is rare. When Kathrin Keller (Earth System Modeling – Bio-Geo-Chemical Cycles group), Melanie Salvisberg and Chantal Camenisch (Environmental History and Historical Climatology group) started developing their workshop idea, they got some questioning looks. “Some people thought that we were being pushed into it by our professors,” says Kathrin Keller. “Apparently, it’s rare that the initiative for an international conference comes from the lower end of the academic hierarchy.” Read the full story on how to learn some things that are not a part of the academic curriculum.

Cost Action VALUE Workshop

Within the Cost action VALUE which aims at comparing and transparently validating different statistical downscaling methods for stakeholder needs, a workshop took place at the Oeschger Centre on 1 and 2 December 2014. It was organized by Ole Rössler from the OCCR’s Hydrology group and aimed at defining the current limitations and possibilities of state-of-the-art downscaling methods to meet the stakeholders’ demands and structuring them to methodological approaches. Furthermore, new combinations of downscaling methods were discussed.

Karin Ingold promoted to Associate Professor

As of 1 October 2014, Karin Ingold, PI of the OCCR’s Environmental Policy Analysis group is promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor (ausserordentlicher Professor aoP). Congratulations!

Claus Beisbart becomes adjunct researcher at the OCCR

The OCCR scientific committee has appointed Prof. Dr. Dr. Claus Beisbart Adjunct Researcher. This status is conferred to scientists who closely collaborate with OCCR research groups, but are external to the OCCR. Claus Beisbart is a professor at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Bern. His research interests are in epistemology of modelling and computer simulation (e.g. in climate science), public choice theory, epistemology and epistemology of ethics (with applications in climate ethics). He gained doctoral degrees in both physics and philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and was made professor for philosophy of science (Extraordinarius) at the University of Bern in 2012.

Synthesis of NRP 61 Sustainable water management

The OCCR’s Hydrology group was strongly involved in MontanAqua, one of the 16 research projects of the National Research Programme “Sustainable Water Management” (NRP 61). The programme developed scientific foundations and methods for sustainable management of Switzerland’s water resources. The output of the MontanAuqua project has led to several scientific publications. The synthesis reports of NRP 61 are now available.

New PhD thesis funded by Bretscher-Fonds

The OCCR’s Alfred Bretscher Fund for Climate and air pollution research is funding a new PhD thesis. The fellowship will allow research on methane sources in Switzerland. The aim is to classify methane from freshwater, wetlands and the atmosphere on the basis of its 14C concentration. The research project will last from 2015–2017 and is jointly supervised by the Laboratory for the Analysis of Radiocarbon with AMS (LARA) (PI Sönke Szidat), and the OCCR groups for Environmental Isotopes and Gases (PI Markus Leuenberger), Aquatic Paleoecology (PI Oliver Heiri) and Earth System Modeling – Atmosphere Ocean Dynamics (PI Thomas Stocker).

The methane project is the 4th thesis financed by the Bretscher Fund. Christoph Schwörer, the first fellowship holder has finished his thesis on Drivers of Holocene Vegetation Dynamics in the Northwestern Swiss Alp earlier this year. His work on the Lake Iffigen was awarded with several prizes. He now works on a SNSF Early Mobility PostDoc position at the University of Oregon in Eugene (USA).

Guest researcher at the Hydrology group

Brian G. Mark from the Department of Geography at Ohio State University (USA) will stay as a guest researcher with the Hydrology group (PI Rolf Weingartner) from April to August 2015. He is an assistant professor and his research interests are in climate-glacier-hydrologic dynamics over different time scales, with a particular focus on the coupled human-natural systems of water resources of the tropical Andes. Brian Mark’s group collaborates with researchers in different institutions internationally, and uses multiple methods from paleoclimatology, geomorphology, embedded instrumentation, hydrology, GIS, remote sensing, and biogeochemistry.

New name for Economics and Environmental Management Laboratory at EPFL

As of 1 September 2014, the Research group on the Economics and Management of the Environment (REME) of Philippe Thalmann who is an Adjunct Researcher of the OCCR is called Laboratory of Environmental and Urban Economics (LEURE). This new name has been chosen because it better describes the group’s activities.

New research projects at LEURE

The Laboratory of Environmental and Urban Economics LEURE led by OCCR Adjunct Researcher Philippe Thalmann is involved in three new projects funded by the Federal office of the environment (FOEN).

In the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project the LEURE prepares the Swiss contribution to an initiative initiated by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). The objectives of the DDPP are among others to prepare practical national deep decarbonisation pathways to 2050, consistent with the 2°C target, for each participating country and to help it identify its own cost-effective transition path to a low carbon future.

The main task of the project Assessing the effects of the Swiss CO2 tax is to assess ex-post the effects of the Swiss CO2 tax, introduced in 2008. LEURE’s approach, combines a highly aggregated econometric estimation of the direct impact of the CO2 tax on the consumption of fossil fuels by households and firms, with a disaggregated general equilibrium simulation of the direct and indirect impacts of the CO2 tax on the consumption of fossil fuels by households and different economic sectors.

The main goal of the new research programme The costs of climate change effects is to bundle, update and complete earlier assessments with a view to producing a full picture of the economic consequences of climate change impacts in Switzerland by 2050. The results of this research should be useful for FOEN in developing the federal adaptation strategy and in preparing the consultation documents for the next revision of the CO2 Act.

Ambizione Grant for Raphael Neukom

Raphael Neukom from the OCCR’s Lake Sediments and Paleolimnology group (PI Martin Grosjean) has been awarded a grant of the Ambizione programme from the Swiss National Science Foundation. His project is called Detection of human and natural influences on the climate system: regional insights from the past Millennium. It has started in September 2014, will last for four years and comprises a PhD position to be created.

Aerosol pollution during haze events in China

Within an international collaboration led by the Laboratory of Atmospheric Chemistry of PSI, two OCCR groups - the Laboratory for the Analysis of Radiocarbon with AMS (LARA) (PI Sönke Szidat) and the Analytical Chemistry Research group (PI Margit Schwikowski) - have recently contributed to the identification of sources of air-borne fine particulate matter in China during severe pollution episodes in January 2013. Such events are driven to a large extent by secondary aerosols, which are formed in the atmosphere by oxidation of gaseous precursors, rather than by direct aerosol emissions. The details of this investigation are published in Nature 2014, 514, 218–222.

New HORIZON2020 project funded

The OCCR’s Climatology group (PI Stefan Brönnimann) participates in the HORIZON2020 project “EUSTACE”, led by the UK Met Office. The project, which starts in January 2015 and lasts for 3.5 years, aims at producing global gridded data products of daily surface air temperatures from combining satellite-derived skin temperatures with conventional meteorological stations. At the Climatology group, the research will be carried out by Yuri Brugnara (PhD) and Renate Auchmann (PostDoc).

New Project HydroGem3

In January 2015, a new project called HydroGem3 will be launched at the OCCR’s Hydrology group. The interdisciplinary project in close collaboration with the Institute of Geography and the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Austria is funded by the ÖAW (Austrian Academy of Science) and will try to enhance the current understanding of snow- and glacier-melting processes. HydroGem3 wants to establish how these processes will develop in a changing climate and to simulate robust future water supply, as well as to elaborate future scenarios of water demand. The project follows the new concept of “socio-hydrology”, aiming at a sustainable co-evolution of the mutually interacting human and hydrological system. The project will take place at the Ötztal, Tirol, Austria and in the Lütschine catchment, Switzerland. The total funding volume for this 3 years project is approximately 600’000 CHF of which the Hydrology group will receive about 20 %.

Young Researchers Meeting 2015 – save the date!

The OCCR's Young Researchers Meeting 2015 will take place on 11 and 12 June 2015 at the Hotel Aeschi Park located above the Lake of Thun under the title of Soft skills for hard-working researchers. The Young Researchers Meeting is open to PhD students and PostDocs.

Researchers who have recently joined the OCCR:

Raphael Neukom is a new scientific staff member in the Lake Sediments and Paleolimnology group. His project Detection of human and natural influences on the climate system: regional insights from the past Millennium is funded through an Ambizione grant (see above).

Simon Schick is a new PhD student at the Hydrology group. He finished his master degree in Geography at the University of Bern in 2014. His PhD project is on the evaluation of seasonal runoff predictability in Swiss catchments.

Walter Thut is a new scientific staff member in the Hydrology group. He is a civil engineer and works for the WaterStorage.ch project, which analysis the possibilities and limits of multifunctional water storage in Switzerland to face the future challenges due to climate change. Walter has worked for 18 years developing a water treatment technology mainly for agriculture, which today is used in over 20 countries. His experiences include engineering, design, water remediation and research on the natural frequencies of chemical elements.

Daniel Tuttenuj is a new PhD student in the Environmental History and Historical Climatology group. He studied Geography, History, and English at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany. His PhD project is on the reconstruction of flood events in the pre-instrumental period („Hochwasserereignisse der vorinstrumentellen Messperiode in der Westschweiz und im Bodenseeraum. Rekonstruktion und Untersuchung der Einflüsse durch und auf den Menschen“). Daniel’s research is part of the SNSF project Reconstruction of the Genesis, Process and Impact of Major Pre-instrumental Flood Events of Major Swiss Rivers Including a Peak Discharge Quantification.

Andrei Zamosteanu is a new PhD student at the Quaternary Geology and Paleoclimatology group. He studies at the Ștefan cel Mare University in Suceava, Romania and has won a SCIEX fellowship to spend one year of this PhD in Bern. He works on geomorphology, paleoglaciology and paleoclimatology of the Eastern Carapathians.

A warm welcome to all of you!

Researchers who have recently moved within the OCCR:

Martin Jacques-Coper who was a PhD student at the Mobiliar Group for Climate Change Impact Research is now a PostDoc with the Climatology group.

Paul Froidevaux who was a PhD student at the Mobiliar Group for Climate Change Impact Research is now a PostDoc with the same group.

All the best to you!