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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Christoph Schneider: A modern observer of nature in the city and on the ice

Christoph Schneider is professor of Climate-Geography at the Geography Department of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since October 2015. Since April 2016, he is also member of IRI THESys.

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Christoph Schneider knows how to visualise the melting of glaciers and how to count dust particles in the air and soon he even wants trees to communicate with us. The geographer and physicist holds the professorship for Climate-Geography at the Geography Department at HU since October 2015, replacing Wilfried Endlicher. He works on glaciology as well as urban climatology. As observer of nature he uses the most modern technical know-how and can be described as a researcher with multiple interests.

“Today polymaths such as Alexander von Humboldt do not exist anymore, but it is definitely an advantage if one knows more than one discipline. It helps with understanding linkages as well as teaching them”, says the scientist who was working in Freiburg and Aachen before coming to Berlin. Schneider compares working at Humboldt-Universität with winning the lottery. The network of three universities and numerous other scientific institutions makes Berlin to an agglomerate of geographic research. Schneider perceives the exchange with the humanities and physics as very inspiring in his research.  

How climate change melts glaciers

Christoph Schneider currently contributes to an exchange with the general public within the special exhibition “Extremes! Nature, Culture and the Humboldt Current” taking place in the Humboldt-Box. The exhibition depicts a forecast on the work that will be done in the future at the Humboldt Forum. In a video-loop the researcher explains the climate phenomenon El Niño, a natural climate anomaly in the Pacific whose ecological and economic consequences can be felt globally and are accelerated by anthropogenic climate change. 

Christoph Schneider in the  video-loop within the exhibition "Extremes! Nature, Culture and the Humboldt Current"

As glaciologist Schneider researches the effects of climate change on the movable ice and snow masses of the Earth which are melting due to rising temperatures. “Due to the melt water the sea level is rising. On a long term basis this will lead to flooding in the coastal areas where we often find cities with millions of inhabitants. In summer, the agriculture in dry areas lacks the melt water, thusly threatening global food security”, says the expert who has been researching for a long time in the South West of Patagonia amongst other areas. Since 1999 Schneider has often been working in Chile where he and his colleagues are dropped off in remote locations by the local navy. “14 days without communicating with the outside world, just a satellite phone for emergencies”, that is how he describes his fieldwork in the still natural landscape in this region.

To observe environmental changes the scientists drill for instance measuring rods twelve metres deep in the ice or set up time lapse cameras with long lasting batteries. “If you return to the same place half a year later the measuring rods  often have moved eight to ten meters out in the sea as all the ice has melted. And the pictures which were taken in regular intervals are converted to time lapse films visualising the movement of ice and snow.” Such a time lapse film can also be seen in the Humboldt-Box.