Workshop "Modernizing Climate in the Environmental, Atmospheric, and Geo-Sciences: Nordic Contributions and the International Context"

14-15 March 2016, KTH Stockholm, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

Workshop report

Climate has become a key political issue in recent years. The meaning and understanding of climate, however, has been subject to significant changes during the 20th century. The “modernizing of climate” refers to a range of intertwined developments such as the following. 1) Research and discourse about climate today takes place in a context of environmental concern. The understanding of climate change as a future risk to humankind and life in general is new and only emerged in the second half of the 20th century. 2) The term “climate” was subject to significant broader changes. Classical climatology conceived of climate as constant in human timescales. Only in the course of the 20th century the idea of climate change within decades emerged and became dominant towards the end of the century. 3) Climate used to be a geographical concept and climatology a geographical discipline. Climate was understood as linked to a specific geographical location. Today, in contrast, climate is conceived of as a physical and complex global phenomenon. The link to geographical locations and, hence, the link to a scale compatible with human experience has largely disappeared. 4) The science of climate moved from a predominant empirical tradition to a predominantly theory-based science grounded in quantitative physical laws, written in the language of mathematics, represented in complex computer models and simulations and fed with multiply processed and manipulated data

Modernizing climate has contributed significantly to improving the understanding of physical climatic processes. On the other hand, it favored certain approaches and types of knowledge to others, physical to geographical, large-scale to regional-, small- and micro-scale, reductionist quantitative to holistic qualitative, scientific to local and indigenous forms of knowledge. It is the scope of the workshop to investigate and discuss the modernization of climate with particular focus on the Nordic countries and Germany, which had a particularly rich history of environmental, atmospheric and geophysical sciences with an interest in climate. While origins of the modernization of climate date back to the 19th century, it attained significant impact in the second half of the 20th century. The workshop, thus, puts the focus on the postwar period with exceptional forays into the interwar years or earlier periods. It aims at covering the history of a broad range of disciplines and research domains related to climate, weather and environment including climatology, meteorology, glaciology etc. as well as research traditions from local scale empirical observation to global scale numerical modeling and simulation.

We are particularly interested in bringing out different disciplinary perspectives, approaches and interests as well as competition, conflicts and collaborations across disciplinary boundaries. Major questions to be discussed comprise such as the following: Which research approaches were strong in the Nordic countries and in Germany? Which different disciplinary approaches and trajectories existed?  Which roles played interaction and collaboration or competition and conflict between different disciplines? What was the significance of observational and monitoring technologies, instruments and other equipment used to transfer data and theory into comprehensive knowledge and predictive narratives? How did computer modeling and simulation play out in the Nordic countries and in Germany? How were computer-based approaches to the atmosphere negotiated by scientists from other domains and disciplines? What were the links between scientists and their institutions with politics, diplomacy and institutions, from ICSU and the IPCC to national organizations? Which roles were played by scientific institutions such as academies and major international conferences? To what extent did cooperation within the Nordic countries and with Germany shape research on and understandings of climate?

The workshop will at least in part be based on pre-circulated papers to be discussed. We invite contributions from researchers in historical disciplines as well as neighboring fields such as anthropology, sociology, geography, political science etc.

Organising committee: Sverker Sörlin (KTH Stockholm), Matthias Heymann (Aarhus University), Daniel Svensson (KTH Stockholm)

Deadline has passed.