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History of Climate Research

„Ice Cores, Small States and Global Climate Change: The rise of a new scientific discipline”

„Ice core research“explores glacial ice in order to re-construct climatic conditions of the past. Today, it is one of the supporting pillars of modern climate research. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, studies of ice and climate research have not interacted at all. Studying ice and snow was a small field of research of local interest only until then. Only in the 1950s it became one of the most important disciplines of climate sciences. The physicists Willi Dansgaard (1922-2011) from the University of Copenhagen and Hans Oeschger (1927-1998) from the University of Bern played a central role in this development. Their work on old glacial ice fundamentally changed our understanding of climate and its global change. Thanks to them, a new field of research was born: ice core research. Our project explores the development of ice core research as a discipline of climate sciences from the 1950s to the 1980s for one. And second, it tries to find out which scientific co-operations and networks as well as diplomatic moves or political strategies were necessary to enable the research of Dansgaard and Oeschger and thus allow for the establishment of an internationally strong discipline. As a third aim, we want to analyse the scientific, political and cultural conditions that enabled two scientists from small European States to establish their locations as international centres of ice core research.

Using an approach of history of science and technology, our project explores the fundamental change of climate research in the 20th century, which role ice core research played and what consequences its results had on the understanding of global climate change. Furthermore, we want to show the conditions that enable the establishment of a new scientific field of research.

This project is funded by the Schweizerischen Nationalfonds (SNF) [national fond of Switzerland] and a collaborative work of the IZWT, the Institute of History of the University of Bern as well as the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research.

Read the project description in English here.

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