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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Possible futures: Hermann Lotze-Campen models agricultural-scenarios

Hermann Lotze-Campen is Chair of the PIK Research Domain "Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities", Professor for Sustainable Land Use and Climate Change at HU Berlin and member of IRI THESys.

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At the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) the agricultural economist Hermann Lotze-Campen models agricultural scenarios for agriculture under the conditions of climate change. Above all, he is interested in a holistic approach which requires a constant exchange with his colleagues from other disciplines.   

From part-time worker to the head of a research domain  

After finishing his studies and PhD, the native East Frisian initially turned his back on science and started a career in industry and self-employment working with a space company for satellite services and as agricultural consultant. In 2001 Hermann Lotze-Campen joined PIK where he was looking for a part time position parallel to his consultancy work – he found a 50 % position, fixed for one year. By now, 16 years later, he is chair of one of the four PIK research domains and has more than a 100 employees doing research on “Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities”. “Because of the interdisciplinary environment and the new perspectives on agriculture I became interested in science again,” the agricultural economist remembers. Suddenly, environmental questions were addressed, namely in cooperation with physicists, hydrologists or ecologists. The focus of Lotze-Campen's own research group lies on agriculture and land use, two aspects are especially important for his team: Firstly, what consequences does climate change has on agriculture? And secondly, how does agriculture itself contribute to climate change?

Gaining orientation for the future with experimental games


Hermann Lotze-Campen models future yields for certain plant varieties. Shown in the picture are mainframes at PIK (source: PIK)

Lotze-Campen finds answers in computer models, as computer simulations are the main research instruments at PIK in order to create future scenarios. In his agricultural models he and his team calculate under which climatic conditions harvest will fail, meaning how much food and biomass is produced in specific regions or around the world. “In a yield model you put in temperature and precipitation, and in the end the wheat yield comes out,“ the scientists states. Although it sounds so easy, the research is based on carefully developed mathematical formulae and requires a huge amount of data which are fed to the computers. Those data, for instance statistics, test series and satellite images, come from external sources, and in the end the models deliver timelines, bar diagrams and maps and will be checked with already known developments from the past. Lotze-Campen cannot forecast the future with them, but such experimental games and scenario analysis provide orientation – for example, what awaits us if we continue to drive climate change with our way of living and economic system?