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Department of Geography

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  • Rock glaciers, like here in Val Muragl in the Engadin, are mixtures of debris and ice and typical forms of Alpine permafrost that slowly creep downhill. Photo: Alessandro Cicoira

    Rock glaciers in synchrony

    Rock glaciers are a mixture of debris and ice that are permanently frozen on the inside all year round. They slowly creep downhill, and since the 1990s they have been creeping faster and faster. This makes them a reliable climate indicator, as a recent international study involving the GIUZ has shown.

  • The Aletsch glacier in 2009. Credit: Guillaume Jouvet

    Alpine glaciers will lose at least a third of their volume by 2050, whatever happens

    Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to cease altogether, the volume of ice in the European Alps would fall by 34% by 2050. If the trend observed over the last 20 years continues at the same rate, however, almost half the volume of ice will be lost as has been demonstrated by a new international study, co-authored by GIUZ scientists.

  • Heatwave in a city (DALL-E-2)

    Heat research and policy: integrated approaches are urgently needed

    2023 was the hottest year on record worldwide. The past few years have also been marked by several extreme heatwaves, leading to massive health risks and increased mortality. Adaptation is now at the top of the global political climate agenda, on a par with mitigation. To make forward-looking, evidence-based decisions, we need to adopt an integrative perspective in research, argues a recent paper published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The authors outline six building blocks needed as part of a more integrated research framework.

  • Drainage network of Stony Creek near Orland, California. Photo by James Kirchner.

    The fingerprint of groundwater shapes the Earth's landscape

    River networks are striking features engraved into the surface of the Earth, shaped by uplift and erosion. It is still unclear which erosional mechanisms created these distinctive geometric signatures on Earth. A new paper shows the contribution of groundwater to shaping river network branching angles.

  • Park Beverin

    Which Swiss Park is your favourite recreation destination?

    You don’t know? That’s maybe because you have not visited all twenty of them (yet)? Fortunately, you might not need to use your precious free time to empirically determine your favourite park. A recent publication might offer a more efficient way, by providing you with some guidance from the crowd: A team of researchers from the Department of Geography created profiles of Swiss parks with user generated content for you to find the one you like. 

  • A simulation to visualize the evolution of Alpine ice cover over the last 120,000 years

    A simulation to visualize the evolution of Alpine ice cover over the last 120,000 years

    Scientists from the universities of Zurich, Lausanne and Bern have developed an unprecedented simulation which, in just 80 seconds, shows the evolution of glaciers in the Alps over the last 120,000 years. This complex computer model is the fruit of intensive collaboration between climatologists, glaciologists, and geologists.

  • Researchers from the University of Zurich measure the soil's carbon content in the Sierra Nevada National Forest. (Picture: Michael W.I. Schmidt)

    Climate Change Releases Carbon Stocks Deep Underground

    Subsoils are the largest storehouses for carbon, as well as one of the most important sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Global warming is accelerating the decomposition of soil humus. It is also affecting the waxy and woody compounds which help plants store carbon in their leaves and roots and were previously thought to be stable. These are the findings of a study conducted by researchers from the Department of Geography in the Sierra Nevada National Forest.

  • Landwirschaftlich genutzte Böden in Südeuropa

    Microorganisms are key to storing carbon in soils

    Microorganisms play a key role in soil carbon storage, as shown by an international collaborative study involving researchers from the Department of Geography. Microbial carbon use efficiency is at least four times more influential than other biological or environmental factors when it comes to global soil carbon storage and distribution. The results have implications for improving soil health and mitigating climate change.

  • Earth heat inventory

    Heat stored in the Earth system 1960–2020: where does the energy go?

    Our "out-of-balance" Earth accumulates more energy than it loses. But how much and where? An international, multidisciplinary research team used carefully calibrated, cross-checked, and well-documented data from the ocean, land, ice, and atmosphere. The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) contributed the glacier data and calculations.

  • Workshop

    Empowering policy relevance of our research

    The impact of our research is often measured in the number of publications or related indices. The impact on policies and practitioners is more difficult to assess and less recognized in academia. With this initiative, we aimed to strengthen the societal relevance of our research by fostering different pathways of science-policy-interfaces. 

  • grassland ecosystems

    Grassland ecosystems become more resilient with age

    Reduced biodiversity affects the stability of the entire ecosystem. A long-term experiment now shows that grassland plant communities with multiple species need about 10 years to adjust to each other and produce an even amount of biomass again.

  • Malaspina-Seward Glacier in Alaska

    Which glaciers are the largest in the world?

    This question is often asked but not easily answered. It depends on how a glacier is defined and on the availability, quality and consistency of digital glacier outlines at a global scale. A joint paper by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center and the World Glacier Monitoring Service now provides the answer.

  • glacial striations on Rhone glacier, Switzerland

    Unlocking Environmental Narratives

    Newspapers, travel diaries, policy documents and even fiction offer rich material capturing relationships between people and surroundings. A new book explores the possibilities and advances in computational analysis of natural language.

  • farmer and cow

    Relationships to nature go both ways – care and attention for nature bring satisfaction and joy for Swiss Alpine farmers

    Should we protect nature for its own sake or for people’s sake? In this paper we study a third kind of reason to protect nature – the relationships between people and nature. However, sustaining them requires physical, emotional, and socio-economic resources.

  • Wedding

    «Ober mal wett hürate?» oder die Geographie der Schweizerdeutschen Grammatik

    Oder würden Sie eher sagen «ober mal hürate wett»? Die räumliche Ver­teilung grammati­kalischer Muster im Schweizer­deutschen untersuchte ein inter­diszi­plinäres Team der Uni­versi­tät Zürich und der EPFL und zeichnete damit die Spuren historischer Migrationen nach.

  • Diverse forests outyield monocultures

    Diverse forests outyield monocultures

    Multispecies tree plantations are more productive than monocultures, according to a new study carried out in China. GIUZ environmental scientist Bernhard Schmid was involved in the research.

  • Grassland Communities

    Drought-exposure history improves recovery of grassland communities from subsequent drought

    When a plant community is exposed to drought, the different species undergo evolutionary changes. An international study with GIUZ participation now shows that this leads to improved resilience to future drought stress over time.

  • Plant species diversity in four different ecosystems represented as spectral variation

    Satellite monitoring of biodiversity moves within reach

    Global biodiversity assessments require the collection of data on changes in plant biodiversity on an ongoing basis. Researchers from GIUZ and the University of Montréal have now shown that plant communities can be reliably monitored using imaging spectroscopy.

  • Wiedehopf

    Gone with the wind? How small birds move to the wintering grounds

    To protect endangered migratory birds, we need to know their flight paths. But some birds are too small to carry a GPS tracker. By combining light, activity and wind measurements, their most likely route can be accurately estimated.

  • Choose your own route

    Choose your own route!

    A new navigation system lets pedestrians decide for themselves which route to take in a given area. In this way, they can better acquire spatial knowledge and have a lot of fun during navigation.

  • Bodenprobe

    Improving soil health in tropical regions

    Healthy soils are key to maintaining ecosystem services provided by agriculture. New organic practices can help, but require incorporating traditional knowledge and the needs of local farmers.

  • Klima und Boden entscheiden über die Ausprägung von Pflanzenmerkmalen

    Climate and soil determine distribution of plant traits

    An international team with the participation of researchers from the Institute of Geography succeeded in identifying global factors that explain the diversity of form and function in plants.

  • map of functional diversity in forest near Zurich

    Getting the big picture of biodiversity

    Satellites and other remote sensing tools offer new ways to study eco­systems – and maybe even save them. Members of GIUZ and the URPP Global Change and Bio­diversity are part of this inter­national, trans­disciplinary effort.

  • SoHo, Manhattan, New York

    Capturing mood and affective states via Twitter

    The coronavirus primarily affects our bodies, but it also has massive impact on our mental health. GIUZ researchers use Twitter content to detect emotional stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic across space and time. 

  • What If Our History Was Written In Our Grammar?

    What If Our History Was Written In Our Grammar?

    Humans have been always on the move, creating a complex history of languages and cultural traditions dispersed over the globe. An international team under UZH’s lead has now traced families of related languages over more than 10,000 years by combining data from genetics, linguistics and musicology using novel digital methods. 

  • The eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, in 1991 (left) and Oberaargletscher, Switzerland, in 2020 (right).

    Can large volcanic eruptions make glaciers great again?

    Large volcanic eruptions were thought to lead to a mass gain and an advance of glaciers worldwide. Whether this could happen again under current climatic changes was investigated by Michael Zemp, glaciologist at GIUZ, and Ben Marzeion, climate scientist at the University of Bremen.

  • Eqip Sermia, Greenland

    New model simulates the tsunamis caused by iceberg calving

    An international team with the collaboration of GIUZ researchers has developed a new model for simulating both iceberg calving and the tsunamis that are triggered as a result. Their method can help improve hazard assessment in coastal areas. 

  • field work

    Deep forest soils produce greenhouse gases as temperatures climb

    Projected climate warming will lead to more soil respiration by microorganisms, releasing even more greenhouse gases. This will further accelerate global warming.

  • global glacial retreat

    Global glacier retreat has accelerated

    An international research team has shown that almost all the world's glaciers are becoming thinner and losing mass - and that these changes are picking up pace. The analysis is the most comprehensive and accurate of its kind to date.

  • Members of the army during the Spanish flu in Olten hospital

    1918 Pandemic Second Wave Had Fatal Consequences

    In the event of a pandemic, delayed reactions and a decentralized approach by the authorities can lead to longer-lasting, more severe and more fatal consequences. An interdisciplinary team compared the Spanish flu of 1918 and 1919 in the Canton of Bern with the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

  • Gauligletscher Probenahme

    Earlier than expected

    Precisely when will the long-​lost US aircraft “Dakota” re-​emerge from the Gauli Glacier? Radioactive traces from the Cold War now indicate that this will happen soon.

  • deltas

    Locked-in and living delta pathways in the Anthropocene

    Deltas have historically been the focus of human development. Some deltas became locked-in, too costly to return to natural states. Researchers conducted a historical analysis on anthropogenic pressures over the past 300 years over 48 deltas world-wide.

  • staying home for nightlife

    Staying home for nightlife

    It’s not just the coronavirus that’s making young people spend their evenings at home. When they are not under the watchful eyes of parents, home can be a place of autonomy and intimacy.

  • Field trial BEF-China

    Directed Species Loss from Species-Rich Forests Strongly Decreases Productivity

    At high species richness, directed loss, but not random loss, of tree species strongly decreases forest productivity. Previous studies based on random species loss could therefore bias the predictions of how more realistic extinction scenarios are likely to affect ecosystem functioning.

  • old people walking

    Daily Mobility for Healthy Aging

    Mobility is one of the key factors for maintaining health up to an old age. Using GPS, individuals' daily-life mobility can be tracked with high resolution in space and time. But how to extract meaningful indicators for the multidimensional nature of mobility? 

  • Water-Tower_Indus

    Water Towers of the world ranked on vulnerability

    Scientists from around the world have assessed the planet's 78 mountain glacier-based water systems and ranked them in order of their importance to adjacent lowland communities, as well as their vulnerability to future environmental and socioeconomic changes.

  • Lake Jialong Co in Central Hiamalya

    Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt

    The rate glaciers are melting in the Himalaya is being significantly accelerated by lakes already formed by glacial retreat, according to recent research conducted at the University of Zurich and the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

  • Comic game

    Gaming for better data

    Citizen scientists collect large amounts of very valuable data, yet the quality of data is an important issue. The CrowdWater game shows a playful way to improve their accuracy.

  • Alp Ampervreila

    Poor communication torpedoes a second national park

    When planning a nature reserve, you have to engage in a subtle art of communication. This failed in the case of the projected Adula Park, as an ethnographic analysis has now proven.

  • sampling on the amazon river

    Black mystery in the Amazon River

    Black carbon produced by the burning of fuels and biomass is the most stable carbon compound in nature, yet its path from land to the deep ocean remains mysterious. An international research team under the lead of the Department of Geography characterized the black carbon exported by the Amazon River.

  • navigation system eye tracking

    Find your way back with intelligent navigation systems

    Navigation systems are ubiquitous tools, but they make us pay less attention to environment properties and thus we acquire less spatial knowledge. However, intelligent navigation systems can influence human navigation behaviour.

  • singer photograph

    The emotional entanglements of smartphones in the field

    Smartphones as data collection instruments cause emotions. This was one of the results of the interdisciplinary project "Youth@Night". The effect of such emotions calls for a renewed scrutiny of research ethics, particularly as smartphones increasingly become part of research designs.

  • charcoal factory tree by Stefan Doerr

    From fires to oceans

    No life without fire, no light, no culture, and no landscapes. The relics of fire are present in the air, soils, sediments, rivers, and the oceans. A special issue explores the dynamics of fire-derived organic matter in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

  • Eis am Stiel

    Ice on a stick in soil research

    Fertile soils are one of the foundations of life on earth. According to the United Nations, one third has already been lost. Researchers at the Department of Geography have now used a new method to decipher the temporal variations in soil erosion and regeneration over the last 100,000 years in the Sila highlands of southern Italy.

  • gletscher

    Melting glaciers causing sea levels to rise at ever greater rates

    Melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic as well as ice melt from glaciers all over the world are causing sea levels to rise. Glaciers alone lost more than 9,000 billion tons of ice since 1961, raising water levels by 27 millimeters, an international research team under the lead of UZH have now found.

  • key relationships

    Do financial incentives motivate farmers to conserve land?

    Financial incentives facilitate, but rarely motivate farmers to undertake conservation practices on their land. Instead, their values and relationships are key.

  • Titelbild Landschaftsleistungen

    How landscapes contribute to our well-being

    The impact of landscapes on human well-being is manifold: We appreciate the beauty, we feel we belong there, we can relax and promote our health. In five landscapes of national importance in Switzerland, researchers from the universities of Zurich and Lausanne assessed how landscape services are perceived.

  • Freeze-on plume

    Ice-sheet growing from the base

    Freeze-on of water at the ice-sheet bed can explain the occurrence of the large plume-shaped ice-bodies at the base.

  • Global black carbon cycle in large reservoirs (Image: MELS/SIVIC, UZH)

    Charcoal: Major Missing Piece in the Global Carbon Cycle

    Due to its widespread occurrence and tendency to linger in the environment, black carbon may be one of the keys in predicting and mitigating global climate change. This study is the first to address the flux of black carbon in sediments by rivers on a global scale.

  • OliverBurkhard

    Extracting mobility patterns from Call Detail Records

    Estimating transport demand is one of the key information for city and transport planners. It is determined by origin, destination and time of the day that people move from place to place. 

  • Diversity

    Mapping functional diversity of forests with remote sensing

    Productivity and stability of forest ecosystems strongly depend on the functional diversity of plant communities. Using airborne remote sensing the authors have developed a new method to measure and map functional diversity of forests at different scales – from individual trees to whole communities.

  • unaccompanied asylum seekers

    Unaccompanied minor asylum seekers - feelings of belonging in educational experiences

    Drawing on ethnographic research in a center for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers (UAM) in Switzerland the authors explored the educational experiences of these young refuguees.

  • map view

    The effect of anxiety and spatial abilities in route learning from maps

    Differences in the anxiety levels and spatial abilities of individuals affect route learning from a map. In designing maps that work for various contexts and user groups it is important to understand these differences.

  • gold mine in burkina faso

    Making Concessions at the Mining Frontier in Burkina Faso

    Large-scale mineral extraction projects in the global south fundamentally transform state-society relations in producing countries. Extractive enclaves evolve in the concession areas, in which commercial, traditional and national regulatory regimes entangle.

  • trajectories of turkey vultures

    New method for analyzing tracking data enables better understanding of behavioral patterns of animals

    Using this new tracking technology, it has become possible to record movements of animals and automatically assign behavioral activities such as foraging, resting or flying to the tracking data.

  • titelblatt natue climate change

    Who is responsible for negative effects of anthropogenic climate change?

    Anthropogenic climate change implies large negative effects on societies, already now and much more so in the future. Who is responsible and how can these responsibilities be considered in the international climate policy?

  • stadium under construction

    Glaciers in the Karakoram Mountains are in balance since the 1970s

    In this publication the authors used old US reconnaissance imagery to show that glaciers in the Hunza River basin, in Central Karakoram, experienced on average no significant mass changes also since the 1970s.

  • stadium under construction

    The mega-event syndrome

    Mega-events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup have profound effects on the politics, society and economy of the host.

  • Rhonegletscher

    Historically unprecedented global glacier decline in the early 21st century

    The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) has been collecting data on glaciers for more than a century.

  • illustarion vegetation world

    Variability and evolution of global land surface phenology

    Land Surface Phenology is the study of seasonal patterns of variation in vegetated land surfaces as observed from remote sensing.

  • verbranntes holz und taschenmesser

    A literature-based estimation of fire-derived organic matter in soils

    Fire-derived organic matter (charcoal-like) is considered to be one of the most persistent groups of compounds in all ecosystems. A large part of it resides in soils for centuries to millennia.

  • Street protest against the exploitation of care workers

    Neoliberal austerity and the marketisation of elderly care

    This paper analyzes a new market of 24 hour home care for elderly people where private agencies hire migrant women from Eastern European countries and sell packaged services to the elderly in Switzerland.

  • bolivian amazon

    Institutional shopping for natural resource management in a protected area and indigenous territory in the Bolivian Amazon

    Protected area or indigenous territory? Where multiple and sometimes conflicting institutions exist, indigenous people in the Bolivian Amazon have to continuously negotiate access to resources.