Climate research in Germany: Cultural shifts and the emergence of climate modelling, 1950s-1980s

Dania Achermann at CSS Colloquium, 22 February 2017

2017.02.09 | Mia Korsbæk

Date Wed 22 Feb
Time 13:45 13:45
Location Aud D2 (1531-119) Ny Munkegade 118, 8000 Aarhus C

In the 19th and early 20th century, climatology was a geographical discipline. Climate was understood as a stationary condition of the atmosphere, associated with specific places or regions and related to human sensation. From the 1950s on, however, his traditional concept was challenged by a new notion of climate. A new generation of climate scientists, typically trained in meteorology or physics, depicted climate as a physical-mathematical and global variable, and began to use computer models designed for weather forecast as a tool to represent and investigate climate – and to eventually predict its future changes. Ever since, climate modelling has fundamentally changed knowledge production and influenced perception and interest in climate. It also impacted the question of who has the epistemic authority in climate research.

This change of epistemic standards and the shift towards a modern climate science was not a linear one. Traditional climatologists observed it with scepticism and feared the marginalization of their own approach, while others were more open towards the new tools and tried to incorporate the novel ideas. In my presentation I zoom into the German climatological community and discuss the cultural shifts and challenges within the discipline. On the basis of the academic life of the German climatologist Hermann Flohn I discuss what the “conquest of the third dimension” meant, how the practice of numerical weather prediction reached Germany, and which circumstances eventually lead to the institutionalisation of climate modelling research in Germany.


Dania Achermann is a historian of science and a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Science Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. She holds a Master’s degree in history and geography from Zurich University (Switzerland) and a PhD in history of science from both Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (Germany) and Aarhus University (Denmark). Her main field of interest is the history of atmospheric and climate sciences in the 20th century.