WSL Research Programme Extremes 2021-2025

In near future, extremes will be the "new normal". Driven by globalization and climate change, the frequency and severity of extreme events will likely increase over the coming decades. While some impacts can be anticipated, other consequences for the environment and society are still unclear.

The WSL Research Program “Extremes” (2021-2025) fosters inter- and transdisciplinary research to equip Swiss stakeholders with appropriate decision-making tools and coping strategies addressing future extremes.

As a strategic initiative of the WSL, the program allocates a total of 4 Mio. CHF to 5-8 internal projects (anticipating costs of 400’000 - 700’000 CHF per project) placing high emphasis on the co-production of knowledge with stakeholders from various sectors (see Stakeholder Factsheet).


From a total of 14 proposals submitted in Spring 2021, the Scienctific Steering Committee selected the following projects based on the recommendation of the Evaluation Board:

ALANex, Artificial light at night: mitigating an eXtreme environmental disturbance for humans and the environment, Janine Bolliger  more

EMERGE, Extreme droughts in mountain regions: consequences for blue-green water fluxes, Francesca Pellicciotti  more

ExtremeThaw, Unprecedented permafrost thaw - Unlocking ground for new life and release of old soil carbon, pollutants and pathogens, Christian Rixen  more

MaLeFix, Machine Learning aided Forecasting of drought related eXtremes, Konrad Bogner more

MountEx, Mountain spruce forests as hotspots for extremes: impacts, resilience and management priorities, Peter Bebi  more

The projects start in Fall 2021 and are accompanied by various program activities.

Thinking the unthinkable

The Extremes program will focus on events that are rather infrequent and irregular yet likely cause massive impacts on the environment and society. It therefore targets at impacts for which most of us lack experience. While we have a general understanding of the impacts of single drivers, such as for instance the effects of summer drought on runoff, our knowledge on the timing, the specific impacts, and their confounding effects is more limited. Most impact assessments still rely on a linear extrapolation of known drivers on impacts also under extreme conditions. However, this approach does not fully capture the mechanisms behind. In fact, extreme impacts will most likely occur in response to abrupt, compounded or interacting changes in drivers, which often result in non-linear and tipping point behavior. This program aims at thinking the unthinkable in order to prepare for rare and extreme events with significant consequences.

Thinking solutions

The last years have shown several cases of dramatic environmental and societal impacts in response to single or interacting drivers of change. The summer of 2018 for instance has exhibited a severe and lasting drought and heatwave, which has impacted ecosystems and society. Such environmental and societal impacts are specifically challenging for stakeholders, since their management and mitigation decision cannot easily draw from past experience. Reaching tipping points for the first time or when being confronted with non-linear behaviors, management experience is rarely at hand. Science is therefore challenged to support national and regional stakeholders by providing updated knowledge, predictions, projections or early warning systems to better cope with future extreme impacts. In addition, there will be demand for expanded portfolios of tools, best-practices, guidelines, concrete solutions and input for coping strategies to mitigate, manage or respond to future extremes.

Thinking together

The Extremes program is highly inter- and transdisciplinary in nature. Hence it is obvious that the complexity of the topic can only be tackled with in a collective effort together with stakeholders.
Feel free to contact us to share your thoughts and to join the discussion. Let’s think together!


Annual Program Meeting Extremes

16.11.2023, 8:45-16:30, WSL Birmensdorf


Steering Committee