Co-operation on research between Poland and Switzerland

Article, 24.09.2012

In the framework of the Swiss-Polish Research Programme, two research teams from Bern are participating in projects on flood prevention and aspects of climate change. The Programme is financing a total of about 40 research projects which are being carried out by Swiss and Polish universities and research institutes. The programme has an overall budget of about CHF 30 million.

Switzerland plays a leading role in international scientific research. The new member states of the European Union are also making considerable efforts to strengthen their potential to be part of a knowledge-based economy. Often, however, their infrastructure, equipment, and institutional structures are inadequate and their integration in international networks needs to be improved. This situation offers Swiss research institutions the opportunity to place their knowledge at the disposal of the various research programmes being carried out within the framework of Switzerland’s contribution to the EU enlargement, and in this way to support the new EU member states in developing their own research capacities.


Flooding can cause driftwood to form dams, for instance under bridges and at other narrow points in rivers and streams. How this occurs is examined in one of the research projects. © SDC

Two institutes from the University of Bern are involved in the Swiss-Polish Research Programme on projects designed to contribute to flood prevention and to research into past and future effects of climate change. Both of these themes can no longer be overlooked, especially in research, since the very serious flooding in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries in summer 2010 and the spell of very cold weather at the beginning of this year.

Laboratory for Dendromorphology

The Laboratory for Dendromorphology of the Geological Institute of the University of Bern is the largest of its kind in the world. Switzerland is an international leader in research in this field. © SDC

An employee of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Research of the University of Bern

An employee of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Research of the University of Bern examining a sediment sample taken from a lake in Poland. © SDC

A project on flood prevention in Poland

The Laboratory for Dendrogeomorphology of the Geological Institute of the University of Bern reconstructs geomorphological processes such as flooding, rock falls, avalanches and erosion through the analysis of annual tree-trunk rings. Major geomorphological events leave clearly visible traces in the rings of tree trunks. The findings of analyses of past events can be used in analysing the risks of future events. In the best cases, it is even possible to recognise imminent natural disasters in the early stages and to develop preventive measures for protection. The laboratory in Bern is the largest of its kind in the world and has already built up a wealth of international experience. In this research project, it is involved as a partner with the Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Silesia, Poland.

Research co-operation means sharing knowledge

Dr Markus Stoffel, head of the Laboratory for Dendrogeomorphology in Bern, describes the co-operation with the Polish partner as very good and also sees it as beneficial for his institute. The Polish Academy of Sciences has a lot of experience in the field known as “flood dynamics”. This expression focuses on driftwood, which can exacerbate flooding when for example it accumulates under bridges to form dams.

The project, which has a budget of approximately CHF 900,000, began in August 2011 and will last until 2016. Further co-operation is planned between the Laboratory for Dendrogeomorphology in Bern and Academy of Sciences of the University of Silesia after the project has been completed.

Climatic changes of the past are a key to the futur

Methods using the history of climate are also being used by the Oeschger Centre for Climate Research of the University of Bern. The Polish side comprises a network of five universities and the Polish Academy of Sciences headed by the University of Danzig. Their combined research is expected to develop knowledge on climate change over the last thousand years in Poland. Sediment taken from lakes in Poland provides an archive on climate for the research team whose aim is to compile the most precise findings possible on the causes and effects of past and present climate changes, and in this way reduce uncertainties concerning the future climate in Poland and in Europe in general.

The project will last from August 2011 to June 2015 and has a budget of just under one million Swiss francs. According to Professor Martin Grosjean of the Oeschger Centre in Bern, the idea of co-operation with the Polish partner has existed for more than ten years. Only in 2008, and in knowledge of the Swiss-Polish research programme, was it possible to make the idea reality.

Climatic developments in Poland are an important indicator of climate developments in the whole of Europe

The effects of major geomorphological events such as flooding can be identified in tree-trunk rings.

The effects of major geomorphological events such as flooding can be identified in tree-trunk rings. The findings of analyses of past events can be used in analysing the risks of future events, and preventive measures can be developed for protection. © SDC

In the two-year field-research phase, sediment and water samples will be taken from 50 lakes in Poland, some of which have existed for up to one thousand years. Poland is an especially suitable research partner because it has many lakes and its climate, in particular in winter, is representative of that of a large part of Central and Eastern Europe. Many of these lakes have been accumulating seasonal deposits for thousands of years and, in a similar way to tree-trunk rings, store climatic and environmental information in very high and precise chronological definition. The sediments contain microfossils, e.g. pollen grains and rock algae (diatoms), and biogeochemical components which are examined to reconstruct summer and winter temperatures and precipitations over the last thousand years. In this way, it is possible to find out how the climate in Poland reacted to natural events, such as sun activity or volcanic eruptions, and so-called anthropogenic factors, such as greenhouse gas emissions. This information serves to reduce the uncertainties regarding possible climatic developments in the coming century.


Info box

Swiss research programmes in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Hungary will help to promote these countries as research locations: Scientific exchanges with Switzerland will be intensified and academic careers will be designed to be more interesting for young researchers. Switzerland’s contribution to these research programmes amounts to approximately CHF 60 million, about half of which has been earmarked for the Swiss-Polish Research Programme. This programme comprises about 40 projects in the fields of information and communications technology, renewable energy, nanotechnology, health and environment.

The funds allocated for each of the research projects in the framework of Switzerland’s contribution to the EU enlargement are used primarily for personnel costs. Swiss funds are also available to cover the costs of materials used in the laboratories and travel expenses