Climate Change

Tuesday, 10. October 2006 | 13:30 Uhr


Dieter Imboden


ETH Zurich


What do we know? What are the questions that still need to be answered? The fact is that the average global temperature has risen by 0.6°C in the last 30 years; from 1850 to 2000 it rose by 1°C. By the end of the 21st century, the temperature is expected to rise by another 1-3°C. In the 20th century, precipitation increased by 5 to 10 percent. The sea level increased by 1-2 mm. The thawing of the permafrost is affecting nature and buildings. In socio-economic terms, this also has an impact on drinking water and health, e.g. through malaria. Apart from effects on the human population, natural factors need to be taken into account, including orbital variations, tectonics, volcanoes and solar activity.

Dieter Imboden

Dieter Imboden has been full Professor of Environmental Physics in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the ETH Zurich since 1988. Since 2005 he is President of the Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), which is the major Swiss funding agency for basic research.

Dieter Imboden was born in Zurich on August 22, 1943. He studied theoretical physics in Berlin and Basel and in 1971 received his doctorate at the ETH Zurich for his studies on theoretical solid-state physics. His interest for the environment, particularly water led him to the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) and to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California. Since 1974 he has been teaching at the ETH Zurich. In 1982 he completed his habilitation requirements in the field of mathematical modeling and environmental physics. In 1987 he was one of the co-founders of the new curriculum in Environmental Sciences at the ETH Zurich. From 1992 to 1996 he served as head of the Department of Environmental Sciences. From 1998 to 1999 he was the director of novatlantis, an interdisciplinary project on sustainable development within the domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, where he initiated the pilot project ”2000 Watt Society”. He has been visiting professor at various universities such as MIT and Caltech.

For many years Dieter Imboden’s main research interests were the physics and chemistry of natural water bodies, especially the large lakes of the earth (Lake Baikal, Caspian Sea a.o.). One of his main aims in research and in teaching is to combine the methods of physics with other disciplines in order to tackle complex environmental problems. His textbook ”Environmental Organic Chemistry” which he wrote together with two chemists, René Schwarzenbach from ETH Zurich and Phil Gschwend from MIT, won the ”Chemistry Book of the Year Award” of the Association of American Publishers in 1994 (revised and expanded edition published in 2003). Using examples such as «global climate change» or «energy policies», Dieter Imboden attempts to bridge the gap between natural and social sciences and the humanities.

In 2000, Dieter Imboden was appointed a Research Council member of the SNSF where together with a multidisciplinary team of colleagues he became responsible for the selection process of the new National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR). In 2005 he became President of the SNSF Research Council. During these years, the focus of his work shifted more and more from science to science politics. He is a strong supporter of the view that, beside the obvious role of science and engineering for innovation and the economic power of a country, basic science – together with art – represents a central part of the culture of a modern society and thus needs a strong public and private support.

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