The WSL and SLF gather information on forests, species and natural hazards at thousands of sites across Switzerland on a long-term basis. In some cases, the data series are over 100 years old and offer valuable insights into risks or past and future changes.

Only with long-term environmental monitoring can gradual (and therefore often imperceptible) developments be identified and complex relationships be uncovered. Decades' worth of measurement data are required in order to understand, for example, the consequences that climate change is having on forests, landscapes, biodiversity, the snowpack and the frequency of natural hazards.

Surveying 9,000 trees

Environmental monitoring is one of our core areas of expertise. This involves observing and surveying only; we do not intervene in natural processes. We analyse the extensive data gathered and calculate past developments from it or use models to calculate possible trends for the future.

Monitoring projects require perseverance and many hours of work. For example, the Swiss National Forest Inventory (NFI), which is managed by the WSL, surveys around 9,000 trees every year. As a result, we know exactly how much usable timber the forest contains, how much carbon dioxide it is storing and how much ecologically valuable deadwood it contains. As part of the Long-term Forest Ecosystem Research Programme (LWF), we are examining how the forest reacts to external influences like pollutants across 19 test sites all over Switzerland – this enables us to measure the pulse of the forest on an almost continuous basis.

In winter, the SLF records the fresh snowfall and snow depths every day at numerous stations. It has been doing this for over 70 years on the Weissfluhjoch station in Davos. Since 2011, we have been monitoring biotopes of national importance on behalf of the federal government – bogs and fens, alluvial areas, dry meadows and pastures, and amphibian breeding sites (Monitoring the Effectiveness of Habitat Conservation). This allows conclusions to be drawn in terms of whether and how well protection measures for these ecosystems are working.

Certain current events also require detailed monitoring. Our forestry engineers monitor how forest areas react to forest fires or storm damage, and our biologists track reports of tree disease in the forest.

Monitoring provides valuable basic information for practitioners such as forest owners and ski lift operators, and for authorities, the government and science experts. That is why we are committed to making our data easily accessible to interested groups.