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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Lectures 2014



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Wildfire: Rethinking risk management in human-environment systems

THESys Science in Action

Thurs, 15 May 2014, Bild Wissen Gestaltung (2nd courtyard, 2nd floor)

Wildfires are one of the most commented and visible disturbances in our forests; wildfire risk management is a hot topic in climate change agendas. While wildfires represent an important ecological process, they also significantly impair the function of forests as a buffer to climate change.

How can we manage wildfires? Why do we fight them so aggressively? Why do our forests burn? All those questions have one common factor: fuel buildup. Fire is a complex system, as complex as all the processes influencing vegetation growth and death. Fuel buildup occurs because of i) socioeconomic and land-use changes; ii) our particular perception of forest management; and iii) our lack of understanding of the role of fire in our ecosystems.

We are now managing wildfire in a similar way to how we used to manage big predators: trying to eradicate them. Current wildfire solutions have created the wildfire paradox – eradication today leads to larger wildfires tomorrow – and as a consequence the new fires are worse, larger and more intense. Far from solving a disturbance that occurred mostly at the stand level, we are now facing a disturbance operating and driving changes at the landscape scale.

Fire ecology and fire landscape architecture are the basic concepts to build a new approach to wildfire. Marc Castellnou´s lecture will use case studies in Catalonia, Ireland and Germany to show his understanding of wildfire management needs. It will specifically focus on how we as a society can approach, agree upon and create consensus around reducing the wildfire risk, and how we can increase certainty about landscape management and learn to live with fire as part of it.

Marc Castellnou is the head of the Catalan special firefighting unit GRAF on large wildfires.

He grew up in the rural drylands of Southern Catalonia and experienced first-hand the frequent large wildfires in his homeland mountains. His rural upbringing led him to forest management, studying fire ecology and the use of prescribed fires to obtain a degree in forest engineering. Castellnou combined his local knowledge with advanced training and went to the US to study fire modelling and fire suppression.

Recognized as one of the few experts in Catalonia in fighting large wildfires with fire, he was given the opportunity in 1999 to create a new special firefighting unit (GRAF) from scratch that would look at the wildfire from another perspective, challenging the historical perspective aimed at the elimination of fire from the ecosystem.

Location: Interdisciplinary Laboratory Bild Wissen Gestaltung, Sophienstr. 22a, 10178 Berlin-Mitte (2nd courtyard, 2nd floor)

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Solving climate change as a problem of innovation and co-benefits

THESys Lecture

Thurs, 19 June 2014, 17 ct, Grimm-Zentrum/Auditorium

It has been just over 25 years since climate change rose onto the global political agenda. Since then a lot of things have happened - assessment reports published, national strategies developed, international treaties signed, ratified, and enforced - and yet arguable the problem has grown even worse. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just highlighted, in their Fifth Assessment report, global emissions grew faster in the decade 2001-2010 than then had in any of the three decades before. Can we solve this problem? Or are countless generations yet unborn doomed to suffer the consequences of our and our parents’ generation’s desire for inexpensive and convenient energy.

This lecture is about how we can and likely will solve the problem, but not with the government policies that most experts have told us, and continue to tell us, we need.

Most experts tell us we need two sets of policies. At the global level, we need a strong international treaty, setting clear and enforceable national emissions reductions targets. At the national and regional level, we need to put a meaningful price on emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as through a carbon tax. But the closer one looks at these policy instruments, the more problems with them start to appear, rendering them unlikely to come into existence fast enough, unlikely to be sufficient to solve the problem if they do come to exist, and perhaps even unlikely to be necessary. The first half of this lecture is about explaining this story.

The second half of the lecture is about a realistic alternative. People are now recognizing that a necessary condition for solving the problem, and perhaps even a sufficient condition, is the development of new energy technologies that are fundamentally more attractive than those based on fossil fuels on a number of criteria, and not just their carbon emissions. For two decades people have suggested this to be possible, but only now is there evidence that it is really happening. But these technologies face a number of institutional hurdles before they can really take over. New research has started to highlight the government policies needed to overcome these barriers. This lecture will paint a clear picture of what these policies, the practical and political feasible steps that governments can be taking now, actually are.


Anthony Patt is Professor of Human-Environment Systems at ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zürich, within the Department of Environmental Systems Science. Together with his research group, he conducts research on the interplay between social, environmental, and technical factors in achieving a transition to sustainable energy systems and a solution to the problem of climate change. Professor Patt completed a PhD in the field of Public Policy in 2001 at Harvard University, and before moving to ETH was based at Boston University, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. He is an editor of the journal Climate & Development, and was a member of writing teams for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the areas of both climate adaptation and mitigation policy. With his family he lives in a hillside farming community close to Zürich.

Location: Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum, Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 3, 10117 Berlin, Auditorium (ground floor)

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Soundscape Ecology: the new frontier in ecology

THESys Lecture

Thurs, 10 July 2014, 17 ct, Erwin-Schrödinger-Zentrum/Room 0.110

Soundscape ecology has recently exhibited an enormous surge of research that has demonstrated the ability of acoustic information to be an efficient tool for describing complex ecological phenomena at community, ecosystem and landscape scales within both natural and human dominated systems and according to short and long term perspectives.

New theoretical assumptions like sonotope and soundtope models have created stronger linkages between landscape ecology and the ecology of sound, supporting the relationship between topography, vegetation structure, land cover and sonic patterns of aggregated vocal animals.

The scientific practice of soundscape ecology has been powered by recording devices that are readily evolving into inexpensive units with improved microphone quality, efficient data storage, and better acoustic parameterization. Recently, innovative acoustic metrics have allowed researchers to manipulate acoustic files enabling robust synthesis of emergent patterns in frequency dynamics. New technological development that incorporates both improved recording capabilities and acoustic metrics is critical to continue advancing soundscape analyses. Advancement of soundscape research has also extended into several journal publications, books, and dedicated software, which are readily available to students and practitioners.

Soundscape ecology is a promising discipline that will aid in understanding global threats of biodiversity under scenarios of climatic change and a rapid evolution of human societies.

Almo Farina is Professor of Ecology and vice-director of the Department of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics at the University of Urbino, Italy.

Location: Erwin-Schrödinger-Zentrum Adlershof, Rudower Chaussee 26, 12489 Berlin, Room 0.110 (ground floor)

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