Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 205–221 | Cite as

An empirical perspective for understanding climate change impacts in Switzerland

  • Paul D. HenneEmail author
  • Moritz Bigalke
  • Ulf Büntgen
  • Daniele Colombaroli
  • Marco Conedera
  • Urs Feller
  • David Frank
  • Jürg Fuhrer
  • Martin Grosjean
  • Oliver Heiri
  • Jürg Luterbacher
  • Adrien Mestrot
  • Andreas Rigling
  • Ole Rössler
  • Christian Rohr
  • This Rutishauser
  • Margit Schwikowski
  • Andreas Stampfli
  • Sönke Szidat
  • Jean-Paul Theurillat
  • Rolf Weingartner
  • Wolfgang Wilcke
  • Willy Tinner
Review Article


Planning for the future requires a detailed understanding of how climate change affects a wide range of systems at spatial scales that are relevant to humans. Understanding of climate change impacts can be gained from observational and reconstruction approaches and from numerical models that apply existing knowledge to climate change scenarios. Although modeling approaches are prominent in climate change assessments, observations and reconstructions provide insights that cannot be derived from simulations alone, especially at local to regional scales where climate adaptation policies are implemented. Here, we review the wealth of understanding that emerged from observations and reconstructions of ongoing and past climate change impacts in Switzerland, with wider applicability in Europe. We draw examples from hydrological, alpine, forest, and agricultural systems, which are of paramount societal importance, and are projected to undergo important changes by the end of this century. For each system, we review existing model-based projections, present what is known from observations, and discuss how empirical evidence may help improve future projections. A particular focus is given to better understanding thresholds, tipping points and feedbacks that may operate on different time scales. Observational approaches provide the grounding in evidence that is needed to develop local to regional climate adaptation strategies. Our review demonstrates that observational approaches should ideally have a synergistic relationship with modeling in identifying inconsistencies in projections as well as avenues for improvement. They are critical for uncovering unexpected relationships between climate and agricultural, natural, and hydrological systems that will be important to society in the future.


Global change Alps Agriculture Alpine meadows Hydrology Paleoecology 



This paper arose from workshops sponsored by the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, Work Package 3, Climate Risks and Natural Hazards. We thank Heinz Wanner for his early support of this work. Erin Berryman, Todd Hawbaker, and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on the manuscript. Jeremy Havens designed Fig. 2.


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Copyright information

© US Government (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul D. Henne
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Moritz Bigalke
    • 4
  • Ulf Büntgen
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
  • Daniele Colombaroli
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marco Conedera
    • 8
  • Urs Feller
    • 2
    • 3
  • David Frank
    • 3
    • 6
  • Jürg Fuhrer
    • 3
    • 9
  • Martin Grosjean
    • 3
    • 4
  • Oliver Heiri
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jürg Luterbacher
    • 10
  • Adrien Mestrot
    • 4
  • Andreas Rigling
    • 6
  • Ole Rössler
    • 3
    • 4
  • Christian Rohr
    • 3
    • 11
  • This Rutishauser
    • 3
    • 4
    • 12
  • Margit Schwikowski
    • 3
    • 13
  • Andreas Stampfli
    • 3
    • 14
  • Sönke Szidat
    • 3
    • 15
  • Jean-Paul Theurillat
    • 16
  • Rolf Weingartner
    • 3
    • 4
  • Wolfgang Wilcke
    • 4
    • 17
  • Willy Tinner
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Geosciences and Environmental Change Science CenterU.S. Geological SurveyDenverUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Plant SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute of GeographyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeEngland
  6. 6.Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  7. 7.Global Change Research Centre and Masaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  8. 8.Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Insubric Ecosystems Research GroupCadenazzoSwitzerland
  9. 9.Climate and Air Pollution GroupAgroscopeZurichSwitzerland
  10. 10.Department of Geography, Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, and Centre for International Development and Environmental ResearchJustus Liebig University of GiessenGiessenGermany
  11. 11.Institute of HistoryUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  12. 12.Swiss Academies of Arts and SciencesBernSwitzerland
  13. 13.Paul Scherrer InstitutVilligenSwitzerland
  14. 14.School of Agricultural, Forest and Food SciencesBern University of Applied SciencesZollikofenSwitzerland
  15. 15.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  16. 16.Centre Alpien de Phytogéographie Fondation J.-M. Aubert, & Section of BiologyUniversity of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  17. 17.Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Geography & GeoecologyKarlsruheGermany

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