A harbinger of global warming

Profile picture of Hans Oeschger

The Oeschger Centre is named after the world-renowned physicist Hans Oeschger (1927 – 1998), who was a professor and researcher at the University of Bern. In 1963, he founded the department of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern. Through his pioneering work, Hans Oeschger provided fundamental knowledge for the understanding of the Earth system. He was able to demonstrate, among other things, that the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are a result of the burning of fossil fuels. 

These findings have become cornerstones of today's climate research. Together with the Danish geophysicist Willi Dansgaard, Hans Oeschger was able to show that climate changes were taking place at an alarmingly rapid pace. A series of climatic swings, termed the Dansgaard-Oeschger events, are evidence of the risks that climate change brings about.

Hans Oeschger in a field lab

One of Oeschger's major achievements was to apply methods of modern physics to the study of the Earth system. In 1962, he began to study firn (unconsolidated snow) and ice, which contain physical and chemical information about the environment. His participation in international expeditions to Greenland and Antarctic gave his research team direct access to polar ice cores.

Hans Oeschger doing field work in Greenland

The insight into global climate prompted Hans Oeschger to become actively involved. Consequently, he announced the results from his fundamental research to the general public and warned early of the consequences of changes of the greenhouse effect. In 1992, he was one of the authors of the First Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and he was a founding director of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) programme of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

In 1967 Hans Oeschger led a small ice core drilling expedition to Greenland. The short documentary Camp 3 provides an insight into these adventurous pioneering days of polar research at the University of Bern (in German).