Towards a History of Paleoclimatology: Changing roles and shifting scales in climate sciences

Towards a History of Paleoclimatology: Changing roles and shifting scales in climate sciences

Dania Achermann and Simone Rödder (CliSAP Centre of Excellence "Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction", Universität Hamburg; Centre for Environmental Humanities, Aarhus University)
Vom - Bis
06.09.2017 - 07.09.2017
Dania Achermann


The climate of the past is a fundamental part of today's climate research. Paleoclimatological data from the archives of nature serve to calibrate climate models and inform current knowledge about future climate changes. Historian of science Matthias Dörries argues that paleoclimatology gained political relevance by writing a "history of the deep past" by which it also influences the interpretation of the present; it helped to fill the Earth's history with concrete climate events (Dörries 2015: 25). But how did the study of this "deep past" become such a crucial pillar of modern climate science? How has it impacted the very notion of 'climate', and what were the consequences for both, paleoclimatological and climate science practices? It is the goal of this workshop to tackle these and related questions in an interdisciplinary setting.

In the 1960s and 70s, results from the study of ice cores, sea sediments and tree rings provided evidence that climate is prone to change not only over thousands of years but also during period of times that are within the reach of human imagination, like years or decades. At the same time, these studies extended the temporal scale of climate change beyond any human imagination, to millions of years, and helped to expand the spatial scale from regional data gathering to a global concept of climate. As Dörries points out: "the Earth's past in the 1980s had become quite different from its past in the early 1960s" (27). The study of the climate's past shifted from being a marginalised subject of historical climatology to being a pool of data indispensable for climate modelling. Consequently, and with this increasing relevance, new research questions, approaches and technologies were developed and led to an enormous growth of the field.

Paleoclimatological disciplines such as ice core research, tree rings and pollen analysis, ocean and lake sediment studies have emerged from a range of scientific fields such as physics, glaciology, oceanography, botany, ecology, chemistry or archaeology with differing research questions, cultures and methods of data interpretation. The integrative presentation of paleoclimatological data as a fundament of global climate change knowledge, as for example in IPCC reports, tends to hide conflicts between the different paleoclimatological fields as well as between paleoclimatology and climate modelling regarding type and complexity of data or scales of their validity, as well as the frictions in the process of making paleoclimatological data fit for computer models.

This workshop aims at exploring the changing roles of paleoclimatology as a part of climate science and its contribution to the understanding of climate on different temporal and spatial scales throughout the 20th century. It will be an exploratory and interdisciplinary meeting to bring together researchers with an interest in the role and history of paleoclimatology. "Paleoclimatological disciplines" in this context refers to the study of climate of the past, including proxy data from ice cores, tree rings, ocean and lake sediments, fossilised pollen, bones, and moraines.

We invite scholars from both the historical and the climatological communities to participate in the workshop.

A detailed programme and the abstracts of the presentations can be found here:

For registration please send an email to:

Deadline for registration is 31 Aug. 2017

(Literature: Dörries, Matthias 2015: "Politics, geological past, and the future of earth", Historical Social Research 40: 2. pp. 22-36.)


Wednesday, 6 Sept. 2017

12:00–13:00 Lunch and gathering

13:00–13:15 Dania Achermann/Simone Rödder: Welcome and Introductory remarks

13:15–14:05 GERHARD SCHMIEDL (Hamburg): "Historical milestones in marine paleoclimate research: A micropaleontological perspective"

14:05–14:55 MERITXELL RAMÍREZ I-OLLÈ (Keele): "A climate of scepticism about paleoclimatology"

14:55–15:25 Coffee break

15:25–16:15 MARTIN CLAUßEN (Hamburg): "The past is the key to the future"

16:15–17:05 CHRISTOPH ROSOL (Berlin): "Marrying the signals of deep time: When proxy data and model data meet"

17:05–17:55 FELIX RIEDE (Aarhus): "Tracing the rise and fall of vegetation history research in Denmark"

17:55–18:15 Wrap-up

Thursday, 7 Sept. 2017

9:00–9:50 EDUARDO ZORITA (Geesthacht): "The climate of the past millennium: a conflict by proxy"

9:50–10:40 HANS VON STORCH (Geesthacht): "Paleodata inversion – from a statistical challenge to a political weapon"

10:40–11:00 Coffee break

11:00–11:50 HEINRICH MILLER (Bremerhaven): "How icecores shape our views of the climate system"

11:50–12:40 Lunch

12:40–13:30 SARAH DRY (Oxford): "‘Only the northern tip of Greenland’: How ice cores became global indicators"

13:30–14:30 Commentary by HARTMUT HEINRICH (German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency, BSH) and Final discussion


Dania Achermann
CliSAP Centre of Excellence "Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction"
Hamburg University
Veröffentlicht am
Weitere Informationen
Land Veranstaltung
Sprach(en) der Veranstaltung
Sprache der Ankündigung