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Prof. Dr. James Kirchner



senior scientist / chercheur


Institut fédéral de recherches sur la forêt, la neige et le paysage WSL
Zürcherstrasse 111
8903 Birmensdorf


Birmensdorf Bi LG E 14


Research interests

Hydrology, geochemistry, geomorphology, evolutionary ecology, paleobiology.

James Kirchner's s recent research has focused on developing simple, tractable mathematical models and time-series analysis methods for understanding the behaviour of complex environmental systems.

Professor at ETH Zürich: Physics of Environmental Systems

Physics of Environmental Systems in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland, explores complex environmental systems seeking to answer questions such as: How does rainfall become runoff? How is the chemistry of natural waters shaped by subsurface transport and mixing, by chemical reactions with soils and rocks, and by biological processes? What processes control rates and patterns of physical erosion and chemical weathering? And how do they, in turn, regulate the topographic evolution of mountains and valleys, as well as the physical and chemical environment in which we live? Group members investigate connections between terrestrial and aquatic environments, and linkages between physical, chemical, and biological processes. The research work typically combines field observations, mathematical models, and novel analyses of environmental data. >> more

Teaching Activities

James Kirchner has taught courses in water resources, catchment hydrology, geochemistry, geomorphology, and analysis of environmental data. He currently supervises several PhD students conducting their dissertation research at WSL.

Former director of WSL

Kirchner served as Director of WSL from 2007 to 2012. He was attracted by the wide range of research opportunities, by WSL's commitment to translating science into practice, and by the prospect of living and working close to the Swiss Alps.  Since stepping down as Director, he has remained involved in WSL’s scientific life as Senior Scientist in the research unit Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements.

Formerly at Berkeley

James Kirchner received his PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1990. Following postdoctoral work at Caltech, he returned to Berkeley as an assistant professor. He was promoted to full professor in 2002, was named the Goldman Distinguished Professor for the Physical Sciences in 2003, and also served as the director of Berkeley‘s Central Sierra Field Research Stations. In 2008 he was named as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.