Zscheischler’s dissertation addresses the impact of extreme climate events such as droughts, heat waves, or torrential rains on land-based carbon balance sheets. Vegetation normally absorbs more carbon than it emits thus acting like a carbon sink that can also buffer increasing CO2 emissions. More frequent and extreme climate activities due to global change could diminish this cushioning effect. Multiple heat periods, for instance, are likely to boost the risk of forest fires. Huge amounts of destroyed vegetation would release additional carbon into the atmosphere, converting carbon sinks into carbon sources.
First of all, Zscheischler devised a method for identifying regional climate extremes based on Earth observation data. Comparing the results with global carbon balance sheets, he discovered a significant connection. The researcher hence demonstrated that annual variations in the global carbon cycle can be explained by means of only a few extreme local events. Negative carbon balances tend to occur in savannas and grasslands and can mostly be attributed to water scarcity and fires.
The Köppen Award, worth €5,000, will be formally conferred during CliSAP’s New Year’s Reception on 15 January 2016. “I am especially delighted about the project’s groundbreaking scientific quality,” says CliSAP Chair Prof. Dr. Anita Engels. “We aim to encourage young researchers to develop their own creative approaches to climate science.” For the seventh time, the Köppen Award honors an exceptional doctoral contribution to climate research. The award targets candidates thirty years of age and under.
(Text by Stephanie Janssen, CliSAP/CEN Office, University of Hamburg; Picture Credit: Robin Kempster)