Vertical Glaciology: The second discovery of the third dimension in climate research

Achermann, Dania (2020). Vertical Glaciology: The second discovery of the third dimension in climate research. Centaurus, 62(4), pp. 720-743. Wiley 10.1111/1600-0498.12294

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The history of climate research in the 20th century has been characterised by a crucial shift from a geography-oriented, two-dimensional approach towards a physics-based, three-dimensional concept of climate. In the 1930s, the introduction of new technology, such as radiosondes, enabled climatologists to investigate the high atmosphere, which had before been out of reach. This “conquest of the third dimension” challenged the geographical, surface-oriented notion of climate patterns and opened up climatology to a three-dimensional approach, which deeply changed the character of climate research. Two decades later, by drilling deep into Polar glaciers and using the downward vertical dimension as an archive of Earth’s history, ice core scientists began to reconstruct past climates layer by layer. The data retrieved in deep glacial layers contributed crucially to a temporal expansion of climate history far beyond human time scales. However, the inaccessibility of glaciers and the practical challenges of bringing fragile fragments of ice into transnational networks of scientific exchange meant that this vertical extension of climate knowledge production proceeded through a range of new scientific practices, and was shaped by new forms of international collaboration. Furthermore, this vertical approach to glaciers also asked for a new understanding of glacier volume. Drawing on archival and printed sources I argue that ice core research represented a second discovery of the third dimension, this time downwards into the depth of the surface, but again with decisive consequences for the research practice, for collaboration politics, and for understandings of climate, spatially as well as temporally.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)

UniBE Contributor:

Achermann, Dania


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 970 History of North America






[42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds


[1243] Ice Cores, Small States and Global Climate Change: The rise of a new scientific discipline Official URL




Dania Achermann

Date Deposited:

11 May 2020 11:09

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:36

Publisher DOI:


Additional Information:

Beitrag zum Special Issue "Verticality in the History of Science"

Uncontrolled Keywords:

History of Climate Science, Ice Cores, Glaciology, Verticality




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