Research Groups

The principle research topics at IDYST are spearheaded by a number of research groups, but the research groups rely on strong collaborative interactions amongst them.

The research focus of each group is described in more detail below:

Alpine Environments: Water, Ice, Sediments and Ecology

AlpWise (Stuart Lane)

The last 100 years have witnessed serious pressures on mountain environments arising from the combined effects of climate and human forcing. In terms of natural processes, this timescale remains a critical challenge for three reasons. First, it contains a significant stochastic component that has to be separated from climate or human drivers. Second, it requires careful experimental design to separate out direct human impacts from natural processes such as climatic variability. Third, there are important and often overlooked feedbacks in response to climate and human forcing, such as in ecosystem response, which can in turn both accelerate or slow landscape change. In some cases, understanding this ecosystem response is important in its own right so as to secure a sound scientific basis for ecosystem protection and restoration.

ALPWISE approaches these questions through a combination of state of the art technologies, notably in remote sensing, with the study of particular field environments and numerical modelling. ALPWISE’s research includes both fundamental research topics, such as flow, sediment transfer and ecological processes in rivers, and more applied research questions, such as how human-induced climate change and human activities such as hydroelectricity, impact upon landscape form and process, and how to improve environmental restoration.


Atmospheric Processes

Atmospheric Processes (Daniela Domeisen)

Extreme events such as e.g. heatwaves and precipitation extremes are becoming more frequent with climate change. These extremes have devastating impacts on ecosystems, human health, infrastructure, and a range of other sectors. It is therefore crucial to know the future evolution of such events and to be able to predict their occurrence on timescales of weeks to decades ahead. This can in part be achieved by improving the components of weather and climate models. In addition, a better understanding of these extremes can significantly improve their prediction. For many extreme events, both remote drivers and local feedbacks can be identified that contribute to these events. Understanding these drivers and feedbacks contributes to an improved prediction of extremes.
The “Atmospheric Processes” group investigates global- to regional-scale processes that can lead to a better understanding, prediction, and longterm projection of weather and climate, with a focus on extreme events. This includes the large-scale dynamics of the upper and lower atmosphere, interactions between the tropics, midlatitudes, and polar regions, and the interaction with the surface in terms of ocean, land, and ice/snow surfaces.


Biodiversity Change

Biodiversity Change (Gianalberto Losapio)

Global environmental change is causing alpine glaciers to retreat and disappear, but the consequences of glacier extinction on biodiversity and ecosystems are still unknown and difficult to predict. The Biodiversity Change group addresses how biodiversity responds to glacier extinction and how biodiversity change – genetic, species and habitat loss and turnover– drives network dynamics and ecosystem functions. The overarching goal is to mitigate the impact of global change on socio-ecological systems and ensure the long-term quality and stability of mountain environments.

Within the Swiss NSF-funded project IceNet – Forecasting the impact of glacier retreat on network dynamics and ecosystem functions, we unveil a still little-known biodiversity that we risk losing forever. We work in a multidisciplinary research context, integrating methods typical of Earth sciences, ecology and biotechnology with empirical data, field experiments, greenhouse bioassays, molecular analysis and computational modelling. Particular attention is finally paid to environmental education and to the broader social and cultural context.


Data-Driven Atmospheric & Water Dynamics

3AWN (Tom Beucler)

Our group works at the intersection of atmospherics physics and machine learning to improve our understanding of atmospheric dynamics and assist weather & climate predictions. For that purpose, we combine physical theory, computational science, statistics, numerical simulations, and observational analyses. We are committed to interdisciplinary research and welcome all collaborations in the broad field of environmental data science.


Ecotoxicology (Nathalie Chèvre)

The ecotoxicology group has a strong experience in risk assessment of mixture of organic chemicals. It investigated the limits of mixture models for risk prediction, as well as the behavior, effects and bioaccumulation of flame-retardants in the ecosystems. The development of new or adapted existing ecotoxicological testing for more robust risk assessment are central to the research. In particular, the ecotoxicology group proposed algae tests for pulse exposure assessment, or multi-generational testing for evaluating the effects of pseudo-persistent compounds such as pharmaceuticals.

Currently, the group is developing biomarkers approaches for highlighting effects on organisms and populations at very early life stages, and heavily involved involved in regulatory processes (water/sediment quality criteria). The group expertise in chemical risk assessment is frequently asked by the media and through a blog for the journal Le Temps:


Geostatistical Algorithms & Image Analysis

GAIA lab (Gregoire Mariethoz)

The main research interests of GAIA reside in the development of stochastic methods that characterize the spatial and temporal variability inherent to hydrological systems. It involved the development of numerical techniques using high-order, nonparametric statistics. These enable to analyze complex datasets such as remote sensing data or the outputs of complex models (climate models or flow/transport models). The work pursued is at the frontier between Earth modeling and computer science, with a strong emphasis on stochastic models, training images and example-based modeling.

One key contribution has been the development of numerical methods that offer improved possibilities to integrate different kinds of data, especially those using the semi-qualitative concept of a training image. These include algorithms to perform reconstructions and stochastic simulations, broadly known as Multi Point Statistics.


GLACE – Glacier-Landscape interactions in Alpine and Arctic Catchments and Environments

Glace (Ian Delaney)

Our research aims to understand recent changes and evaluate forthcoming ones, in Arctic and alpine landscapes undergoing glacier retreat, changing hydrology, and climate warming. To accomplish this, we collect and analyze sediment discharge records. We also implement and develop numerical models that describe the interactions amongst ice dynamics, fluvial sediment transport, and glacial erosion to understand these records better.


High Mountain Geomorphology

HMG (Christophe Lambiel)

Our group conducts studies aiming at a better understanding of how geomorphological processes – mainly periglacial and (para)glacial – drive landscape evolution in mountain areas and how climate change impacts these processes. A large part of our research deals with alpine permafrost and, more broadly, ground ice. For this we carry out field work studies mainly on the Western Swiss Alps, but also in the Southern Alps of New Zealand and South American Andes.

One of our objectives is to improve our knowledge on mountain permafrost distribution and to better understand the factors that control the occurrence of frozen grounds. We also investigate the interactions between (para)glacial and periglacial processes in the vicinity of small glaciers located in permafrost environments.

Our activities also concentrate on the study of slope movements in high mountain areas, by using high precision terrestrial surveying techniques (GPS/GNSS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) platforms, as well as satellite remote sensing (e.g. InSAR data). In particular, we try to understand the factors that control rock glacier development and evolution, both at short time (current evolution) and long time (Holocene) scales.

In coordination with the Swiss Permafrost Monitoring network (PERMOS), we also monitor the thermal evolution, the rock glacier kinematics, and the ground resistivities in several sites located in the Valais Alps, to further understand permafrost evolution in the current context of climate change.


Hydrology and Environmental Change

Hydrology and Environmental Change (Paolo Benettin)

We are interested in water flow and solute transport processes in watersheds. Water flowing through a catchment receives solutes and transports them to streams and lakes. The chemical composition of streamwater is very dynamic, reflecting the temporal variability in streamflow generation processes. We embrace this variability to conduct fieldwork during dynamic flow conditions and to develop models at high temporal resolution. We explore how the variability of flow conditions within a rapidly varying environment affects the eco-hydrologic functioning of landscapes.


Hydrometeorology and Surface Processes

Hydrometeorology and Surface Processes (Nadav Peleg)
With experimental field sites, numerical models, and remote sensing data, the Hydrometeorology and Surface Processes group explores the effects of climate on hydrological and morphological systems at various spatial and temporal scales. We conduct hydro-meteorological research on a wide range of topics, including catchment and rural hydrology, climate change impacts, studying the physical drivers of hydrological and climatic extremes, modeling the evolution of landscapes and fluvial processes, remote sensing of precipitation by weather radars, stochastic climate modeling, downscaling climate, and analyzing the uncertainty associated with hydrological and climate modeling.

Interactions between Climate and Earth surface processes

ICE (Frédéric Herman, Georgina King)

Interactions between Climate and Earth surface processes (ICE) work is in the area of Earth surface processes, glaciology, thermochronometry and numerical modeling. It involves the development of landscape evolution models, and new field and analytical methods for geomorphology, glaciology and interactions between climate, tectonics and erosion.

ICE studies the impact of Quaternary glaciations on mountain glaciations and erosion. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, which includes fieldwork, analytical work and numerical models, we collect data from mountainous areas around the world (e.g., Alps, New Zealand, Himalayas, Patagonia) to quantify how erosion processes and rates varied locally and globally during the Quaternary. In particular, we use thermochronometry to quantify erosion rate histories. The need to constrain the rate and timing of landscape evolution has led to a continuous growth of thermochronometric techniques, which quantify the cooling histories of rocks that are exhumed towards the Earth surface in response to erosion. In that framework, ICE has pioneered to the development of new thermochronometric technique based on luminescence.

ICE also puts a lot of emphasis on understanding glacial erosion processes from a mechanistic point of view. Despite decades linking glacial erosion and climate, glacial erosion processes remain poorly known. ICE devotes a lot of effort in trying to fill this gap.

Finally, ICE develops landscape evolution models within the Swiss Geocomputing Center, new field and analytical methods for geomorphology and glaciology, and the development and use of inverse methods in these topics.


Mineralia Viva

Laboratoire du Mineral Vivant (Jasmine Berg)

We are interested in cryptic biogeochemical processes, in other words, those that are easily overlooked by traditional analyses involving the quantification of reaction intermediates or end products over time. Steady-state concentrations of certain redox species may arise from the balance between continuous oxidation and reduction reactions, and although concentration changes cannot be measured, their rapid turnover can play a key role in the environment and sustain highly active and diverse microbial communities. Our group specializes in the application of interdisciplinary approaches – borrowing methods from the fields of biology, geology, and chemistry – to solve complex environmental questions related to biogeochemical cycling.


Past, present and future of alpine lakes

LAKES (Marie-Elodie Perga)

The Alpine region is subject to exacerbated climate changes. Besides, alpine inland waters have long been under intense human exploitation, leading to disturbances in nutrient loadings, global or local pollutions, fishing activities and hydrological regulation for hydropower. Lakes in and around the Alps have been evolving in context of continuous and intensifying environmental changes over the last 150 years, to which they are responding through non-linear and somewhat unpredictable trajectories.

LAKES studies how lakes in and around the Alps have been responding to environmental changes. The focus is on both biogeochemistry and ecology, covering different space and time perspectives. The approach relies on the combination of paleo-ecological reconstructions from sediment archives, high- and low frequency monitoring data, laboratory experiments and modeling to mechanistically unravel alpines lakes vulnerability and responses in a context of global changes.


River EcoSystems

RivES (Virginia Ruiz-Villanueva)

RivES group focuses on understanding river ecosystems. The ecosystem concept of rivers recognizes the importance of abiotic processes (e.g., morphodynamics), habitat diversity, the role of riparian vegetation and organic matter, the diversity of living beings and the complex interdependence between all of them. Similarly, a river must be conceived as part of the watershed it drains, considering what occurs in the linked terrestrial systems.

RivES aims at developing new methods for monitoring and modelling river ecosystems and at refining theories about how physical and biotic processes interact to create habitat, helping design effective management strategies and informing sustainable environmental policies. To do so we apply a multidisciplinary approach combining field surveys, remote sensing and Drones, laboratory experiments and numerical modelling.

Our work is interdisciplinary and represents the intersection of physical, ecological, and social aspects of rivers, crossing disciplines such as biogeomorphology, hydromorphology and ecohydrology.


Soil and Vegetation Research

Soil and Vegetation Research (Stéphanie Grand, Pascal Vittoz)

The Soil and Vegetation Research groups specialise in field investigations of soils and vegetation, including their interactions. On the soil side, we are particularly interested in unravelling the way in which the geochemical environment influences soil development, soil quality and biogeochemical function. We combine classical soil characterisation methods with high-resolution spectroscopic or imaging approaches to resolve the interaction between organic and inorganic soil constituents at different spatial scales. On the vegetation side, interests are mainly around ecology and distribution of plant communities and vegetation dynamics. This is handled with permanent plots, resurveys of historical plant inventories and dendrochronology. Both research areas converge on ecosystem-scale studies of soil development in parallel to plant community succession, as influenced by global change, and the capacity of plants to produce oxalate, contributing to long-term continental carbonate deposits.


Soil Science and Biogeochemistry

BGC lab (Marco Keiluweit)

Research at BGC broadly focuses on the response of soil processes to climate change. The main goal of this research is to understand the effect of changing environmental conditions on fundamental ecological mechanisms that control the fate of essential elements, most importantly the cycling and storage of carbon.


Spatial Ecology

Spatial Ecology (Antoine Guisan)

The Spatial Ecology group at the University of Lausanne is specialized in predictive habitat distribution modeling, mainly at the level of species, but also sometime at the level of communities and habitat types. This approach is currently being developed and tested as tools for the management or rare and endangered species, for evaluating the invasive potential of neophytes plant species, for evaluating landscape diversity and fragmentation, as well as for preparing scenarios of climate change impact on plant species distribution, diversity and communities.

More dynamic models are also being developed for simulating the spread of species in the landscape, for instance after a climatic change or to simulate invasion processes. Finally, the set-up of permanent observation plots for monitoring the flora and fauna is another development of our group. It aims at testing, in a near or later future, the validity of our models and scenarios.

Our preferred study areas are alpine landscapes of the Swiss Prealps of Vaud and the national scale. Modeled species include Eryngium alpinum (rare and threatened) and Ambrosia artemisiifolia (invasive). We also use simulation, such as virtual species in a real landscape, to solve methodological problems and questions.


Stable isotope geochemistry

ISOLAB (Torsten Vennemann)

Stable isotope geochemistry is a powerful method to trace the origin and interactions between fluids, gases, and solids on almost all scales of Earth’s science processes, be they natural processes such as interactions between the hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere, or induced by human activities. In addition, the stable isotope compositions of liquids, gases, solids, and minerals characterize the thermodynamic properties (notably formation temperature) of compounds containing the compounds. Not surprisingly, the areas of application of stable isotope research covered by the ISOLAB research group are also very wide, including relevant research topics for “deep-earth” processes and Earth’s economic resource potential, but more importantly focussing on pressing questions concerning low temperature environmental geochemistry in a broad sense.


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