Investing in climate research

The University of Bern conducts climate research over a broad front – and it started long before climate change was on everyone’s lips. For many years it has been one of the world leaders in this field. For example, Al Gore’s documentary film «An Inconvenient Truth» was backed by data obtained by Bernese climate researchers. The University of Bern has learned that in order to meet the challenges of climate change all fields of expertise need to be involved: What does climate change mean for the Alpine area, for agriculture and for international trade? Those are questions which Bernese climate researchers are asking themselves. In order to continue strengthening its already strong position in climate research, in 2007 the university established the Oeschger Centre for Climate Research. «We are investing in the expansion of climate research because as a university we wanted to assume our social responsibility,» rector Urs Würgler explains. «As concern about climate change has grown, so have the expectations made of climate research. It is required to explain why the climate is changing; it has to show what impact climate change will have on society, politics and the economy, and to say how Switzerland can best tackle the consequences of this change.»

History of glaciers

If we want to know what the climate will be like in the future, we need to look at the climate of the past. That is why various research groups at the University of Bern have specialised in reconstructing the climate. The geographer and art historian Heinz Zumbühl, for example, reconstructs the advances and retreats of glaciers, using historical paintings to help him. The paintings of Caspar Wolf, an 18th century artist, are particularly helpful here. By chance Wolf happened to be painting at exactly one of the glaciologically most relevant periods. «The glacier advance of 1768 to 1778 is fantastically well recorded in Wolf’s oil sketches and oil paintings», Zumbühl explains. Wolf’s pictures played no small part in Grindelwald’s rise to fame: even in the very early years of tourism it was already calling itself the «glacier village». The Lower Grindelwald glacier reached a high point around 1850. Since then glaciers have generally retreated. An advance and retreat that Heinz Zumbühl has documented in the Lower Grindelwald glacier over the course of more than 500 years – the longest period for which the length of any glacier in the world has been reconstructed on the basis of illustrations.



© Privatbesitz Zürich; Foto: H.J. Zumbühl

© Privatbesitz Zürich; Foto: H.J. Zumbühl


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Five years after launching the Jungfrau Climate Guide in 2009 on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the University of Bern, the initiators of the project have now developed an updated version: From 1 July 2014, it can be downloaded as an app for iPhones and Android devices.

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