December 2018

Albert Hafner (Prehistoric Archeology group) and Willy Tinner (Paleoecolgy group) are the leading figures of an interdisciplinary team including the Universities of Oxford and Thessaloniki which was awarded a grant of €6.4 million from the European Research Council (ERC). Aided by studies conducted in lakes in Greece and in the south of the Balkans, the EXPLO project wants to show how the climate, environment and agriculture have developed over the last 10’000 years and what influences these factors have had on each other. EXPLO is one of 27 European projects that has been awarded an “ERC Synergy Grant”. This grant is the highest level of the Excellence Funding of the European Commission. The generously equipped funding instrument supports interdisciplinary projects, which must satisfy the highest scientific criteria, and is highly coveted among researchers. Less than 10 percent of the applications submitted are approved.
Read the full story of this outstanding success as well as an interview (in German) with Albert and Willy.

ERC Consolidator Grants for OCCR members

OCCR members Sam Jaccard (Paleoceanography and marine biogeochemistry group) and Michael Sigl (Analytical Chemistry Research group) have been awarded an “ERC Consolidator Grant”. They are part of 291 top scientists across Europe. “Funding for these researchers, part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, is worth in total €573 million and will give them a chance to build up their teams and have far reaching impact”, the European Research Council wrote when it announced the recipients of its Consolidator Grant competition. With a value of approximately €2 million, the “ERC Consolidator Grant” is exceptionally generous, and is awarded for a time frame of five years.
The ERC received 2’389 research proposals, out of which 12 % were accepted. Sam Jaccard receives funding for his project SCrIPT (Stable Chromium Isotopes as a Productivity Tracer) and Michael Sigl for THERA (Timing of Holocene volcanic eruptions and their radiative aerosol forcing). The two OCCR members are among 105 funded scientists in the domain of Physical Sciences and Engineering, only 13 of them are environmental or climate scientists. This makes the OCCR highly successful in securing prestigious ERC funding.

Read the University of Bern’s press release on the EU research prizes.

New research group on climate change and health 

The OCCR and the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM) of the University of Bern jointly establish a new interdisciplinary junior research group entitled “Climate Change and Health (C2H): Our Planet - Our Health”. The proposal for this new venture has been accepted by all involved parties. The objectives of this junior research group are:

  • Assessing and projecting health effects of climate change in Switzerland, Europe and globally
  • Understanding pathways and biological mechanisms
  • Carrying out targeted regional model simulations using the new climate change scenarios CH2018
  • Building the nucleus of a possible Centre of Excellence "Climate and Health" at the University of Bern

Specific research topics are:

  • Heat waves and mortality (overall and cause specific) in Switzerland
  • Temperature-related hospitalisation for respiratory diseases (e.g. respiratory infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and gastrointestinal infections
  • Metabolic, epigenetic effects of environmental factors (e.g. temperature, humidity)
  • Temperature changes and incidence of vector-borne diseases (e.g. tick-borne infections)

The OCCR and the ISPM are now jointly opening an interfaculty career position for a research group leader (2019 to 2021).

Research initiative on flood risks launched

The Mobiliar Lab for Natural Risks aims to better inform and raise awareness among authorities and the public about the risks associated with flooding. For this reason, it has created an interactive online database of images illustrating floods: the “Collective Flood Memory”. On 14 November, the Mobilar Lab organized an event for researchers and practitioners on different ways to take advantage of this online-tool. On the same occasion, a new research initiative called “Flood-risk research initiative – from theory to practice” was launched. It encompasses a range of projects, will last three years and wants to provide an improved basis for the management of flood risks. See a video (in German) on the new research initiative and read a story on the Collective Flood Memory.

On tour with “1868 - a flood that changed Switzerland”

The OCCR brochure “1868 - a flood that changed Switzerland” is proving a success with audiences all over Switzerland and in Northern Italy. Stefan Brönnimann (Climatology group) and former OCCR members Stephanie Summermatter and Luca Panziera are currently presenting the in-depth analysis of the flood that affected large parts of the Alpine region in Switzerland in autumn 1868. The new perspectives on a long-past extreme event is the fruit of the collaboration of researchers from all fields of the OCCR. The tour of lectures takes the authors of the “1868” publication to twelve different places – mostly in Alpine areas that were particularly affected by the historical flood, including the town of Brig in Valais and the mountain village of Acquarossa in Ticino.
The lectures have lead to a vivid exchange with members of the public who remember the disastrous flood from stories told by their grandparents. Local media as well are interested in the event that changed Switzerland and report extensively on the lectures and the brochure. It can be downloaded  in German, English, French and Italian.

PAGES receives funding from ScNat

The Swiss Academy of Sciences ScNat has decided to fund PAGES, a global research platform closely linked to the OCCR - among many other ties, Willy Tinner (Paleoecolgy group) is the current PAGES co-chair. ScNat will finance the platform for the 2019 – 2022 period with 1’680'000 CHF. Founded in 1991, PAGES is a core project of the global sustainability science program Future Earth, and was previously a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) until its closure at the end of 2015. PAGES also has a scientific partnership with the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

New project on glacial climate conditions over the Alps

The Earth System Modelling - Atmospheric Dynamics group (PI Christoph Raible) has received funding from Nagra (National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste), the Swiss technical competence centre in the field of deep geological disposal of radioactive waste. The project is entitled “High resolution glacial climate conditions over the Alps (HicAp)”. It aims to model and understand climate conditions and changes on time scales up to 1 million years, including potential future glacial times. Switzerland was mainly covered by an ice sheet during glacial periods, leading to overdeepenings of the valleys. With the HicAp project, precise knowledge of the driving mechanisms of the Alpine ice sheet will form the basis for the design of such overdeepening scenarios. The project will use a unique model chain of comprehensive global Earth system and regional climate models. The Earth System Modeling - Atmospheric Dynamics group will assess glacial climate states using high-resolution models for Switzerland. This will allow to include very localized meteorological data, in particular temperature and precipitation.

European COST Action on compound climate events

OCCR member Jakob Zscheischler (Earth System Modelling – Biogeochemical Cycles group)  chairs the recently launched  European COST Action DAMOCLES (Understanding and modelling compound climate and weather events) that will bring together climate and impact scientists, statisticians, engineers, and stakeholders. Compound weather and climate events refer to high-impact events with multiple climate drivers. COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a funding organization for research and innovation networks. COST Actions offer an open space for collaboration among scientists across Europe; they fund meetings, training schools and short-term scientific missions. If you are interested in DAMOCLES don’t hesitate to contact Jakob Zscheischler. In a recent blog post, he has advocated various research areas should collaborate more closely to assess the risk of simultaneous climate extremes such as heatwaves and drought.

Prehistoric vegetational and agricultural dynamics

Willy Tinner (Paleoecolgy group) has gained funding by the SNSF for a project called "Exploring prehistoric vegetational and agricultural dynamics using annually laminated sediment records from Central and Southern Europe". The project was granted CHF 760’000, it will start in February 2019 and create two PhD and one Postdoc positions. details about your career as easily as possible, don’t you?


OCCR Plenary Meeting on 14 February 2019

The next OCCR Plenary Meeting will take place on Thursday, 14 February 2019 (14 – 17 h), at UniS (Room A 003), Schanzeneckstrasse 1. Detailed information on the program will follow shortly.

On the Top - SCS Symposium on Environmental Sciences 

On 25 April 2019, the Swiss Chemical Society SCS, the International Foundation High Altitude Research Stations Jungfraujoch & Gornergrat and the Swiss Crystallographic Society organize a one-day symposium with national and international experts. The Symposium addresses the Jungfraujoch Station’s international scientific role and its remarkable historic background. It will take place at the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry of the University of Bern.
Program and registration

Symposium on research at Jungfraujoch

The research station Jungfraujoch has received the “Historic Sites Award 2019” from the European Physical Society. The EPS Historic Sites Award commemorates places in Europe that are important for the development and the history of physics. In order to celebrate this award, High Altitude Research stations Jungfraujoch & Gornergrat organize a half-day symposium on 7 February 2019 at the University of Bern.
Detailed information


Sandra Brügger and Margit Schwikowski make it into the NYT

In an article with the headline “Europe’s Triumphs and Troubles Are Written in Swiss Ice“ the New York Times has featured the work of Sandra Brügger (Paleoecolgy group) and Margit Schwikowski (Analytical Chemistry Research group). The in-depth story describes how “pollen frozen in ice in the Alps traces Europe’s calamities, since the time Macbeth ruled Scotland”. The article highlights a technique developed by Sandra to study the pollen, fungal spores, charcoal and soot locked in ice cores. It then carries on relating Margit’s drilling expedition to the Colle Gnifetti glacier in 2015. The pollen analysis of the Colle Gnifetti ice core presented at the Polar 2018 meeting in Davos in June the article states “may be the first continuous study of pollen and fungal spores in a European ice core to be captured at intervals of once every decade”. The story ends on a pessimistic note: “It is becoming more and more difficult to find a glacier that is not melting and that can still be used for research,” said Dr. Schwikowski. “The object for our research is melting away.”

Veronika Röthlisberger receives EGU Poster Award

Veronika Röthlisberger (MobiliarLab for Natural Risks) has received the 2018 Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) Award for her poster entitled Quantifying exposure: the influence of value estimation schemes at EGU 2018 in Vienna. Veronika presented awarded poster together with Andreas Zischg and Margreth Keiler (both (MobiliarLab for Natural Risks), it compares different building values estimation schemes within flood exposure analyses on regional to national scales. It illustrates a paper of Veronika’s PhD thesis on “Spatial and temporal aspects of flood exposure: Analyses and models based on public and insurance data in Switzerland”. Click here to download the poster.

Tobias Schneider and Martina Messmer are awarded Early Postdoc Mobility Fellowship

Tobias Schneider who is a Postdoc with the Lake Sediments and Paleolimnology group was awarded a SNF Early Postdoc Mobility Fellowship. He will be joining the group of Ray Bradley at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for 18 months starting in spring 2019. With the same grant, Martina Messmer, who finished her PhD with the Earth System Modelling - Atmospheric Dynamics group, has moved to the group of Ian Simmonds at the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

Climate scientists and climate farmers

Three former master students of the OCCR’s Graduate School of Climate Sciences, Danielle Huser, Noemi Imfeld and Armin Komposch have co-founded TaPatate!, a project of sustainable agriculture. The start-up company grows organic vegetables and sells them to active stakeholders. Read more in an article (in German) on the climate scientists turned farmers recently published in the University of Bern’s magazine Unipress.

Researchers who have recently joined the OCCR:

Syed Mubashshir Ali is a new PhD with the Mobiliar Group for Climate Impact Research. He gained a MSc in Environmental Physics from the University of Bremen with a thesis entitled "Lagrangian Observations of Arctic Air Mass Transformation." His PhD project is on recurrent synoptic-scale Rossby wave episodes and temporal clustering of precipitation extremes.
Jonathan Buzan will start his Postdoc position with the Earth System Modeling - Atmospheric Dynamics group in the project “High resolution glacial climate conditions over the Alps (HicAp)”. Being an expert in global modeling, he will be responsible to adjust and run CESM (Community Earth System Model) for different glacial periods. Together with his partner Postdoc, he will develop a statistical approach to estimate climate conditions for other glacial times in order to deliver statistical dynamically downscaled forcing data for ice sheet modeling over the Alps. Jonathan did his PhD at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.  
Martin Hinz is a new Postdoc with the Prehistoric Archaeology group. He will investigate the climate forcing on neolithic societies, especially at the circumalpine lakeshore settlements. In particular, he is interested in combining traditional archaeological research and quantitative methods, paleoeconomic data, and climate proxies for a better understanding of human-environmental relationships and resilience of early farming communities.
Gunnar Jansen is a new technical staff member with the Earth System Modeling - Climate Dynamics group. He did a PhD in geothermal energy at the University of Neuchâtel where he was also responsible for IT system administration.
Stefanie Musy is a new PhD with the Environmental Isotopes and Gases group. In her PhD project, she will characterize the production and release of radioactive noble gases for the purpose of groundwater dating on different timescales.
Santos José Gonzalez Roji is a new Postdoc with the Earth System Modelling - Atmospheric Dynamics group. He did his PhD at the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of the Basque Country. There, he focused on the water balance over the Iberian Peninsula in observations and regional climate simulations. He came to Bern to strengthen regional modelling at the OCCR. His research interests are on data assimilation. He will first work in a project focusing on the future response of the hydrological cycle around Mount Kenia modelled in very high resolution.
Emmanuele Russo is a new Postdoc with the Earth System Modelling - Atmospheric Dynamics group. He finished his PhD at the Institute of Meteorology, Freie Universität Berlin. He is now part of the project “High resolution glacial climate conditions over the Alps (HicAp)”. As an expert in regional modelling, he will be responsible for adjusting and running WRF using input data from the CESM simulations. Together with his partner Postdoc, he will develop a statistical approach to estimate climate.
Elisabeth Tschumi is a new PhD with the Earth System Modeing – Biogeochemical Cycles group. Her PhD project is on extreme climate events and the global carbon cycle, the main focus lies on drought heat compound events and their influence on the carbon cycle using a dynamical vegetation model. For this, different climate scenarios with focus on either drought, heat or both will be constructed from GCMs and used as forcings for the LPX vegetation model. The output will be analysed with respect to the annual carbon budgets, inter-annual variability of carbon fluxes and cumulative carbon. Other non-climatic factors such as different climate zones and vegetation types will be investigated as well. Elisabeth holds a master degree in Atmospheric and Climate Science from ETH Zurich. During her master thesis on climate extremes, she investigated temperature and precipitation disasters recorded in EM-DAT and linked them with climate variables.
Wang Yuqiao is a new PhD with the Climate and Agriculture group. She studied Agronomy at the China Agricultural University. During her PhD project, she will study N2O-emissions from organic soil and organic soil covered by mineral soil using chamber measurements. Furthermore, she will use radiocarbon 14C to explore the carbon source of the CO2 emission in peatland.
Jakob Zscheischler is an Ambizione fellow with the Earth System Modelling – Biogeochemical Cycles group. He has done a joint PhD at two Max Planck Institutes in Germany (MPI for Intelligent Systems and MPI for Biogeochemistry) before working as a Postdoc at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH. In his Ambizione project (see the particular item on DAMOCLES in the general news section above), Jakob will develop new metrics to study and evaluate compound events, for instance compound drought and heat or compound precipitation and wind extremes. This will contribute to a better assessment of climate risks associated with compound events.

A warm welcome to all of you!

Researchers who have recently left the OCCR:

René Bleisch was a technical staff member with the Earth System Modelling - Climate Dynamics group. He now works for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (DCB) of the University of Bern.

Christoph Nehrbass-Ahles, who finished his PhD with the Earth System Modelling - Climate Dynamics group, is now a Research Associate at University of Cambridge, Department of Earth Sciences, Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems.

Ole Rössler, who was a Postdoc with the Hydrology group, has joined the Bundesanstalt für Gewässerkunde, Koblenz, Germany.

All the best for your future career!

Recent journal publications by OCCR members

See all the publications by OCCR members.