Forschungsprojekte Gruppe für Paläo-Geoökologie

Project leader: Heinz Veit, Naki Akçar

Co-workers: Alexander Groos

Financed by: SNF 200021E-165446/1

Duration: 2016-2019

Reconstructing past glaciations and glacier variations is one of the top proxies in paleoclimatic, paleoecological and climate change research in mountains worldwide. The alternating shrinking and advancing ice bodies clearly indicate changes in mass balance over time, mainly influenced by temperature, precipitation and cloudiness/insolation. Knowing the glacier history in terms of total ice covered area, timing and paleoclimate, is a prerequisite for understanding probable early human distribution patterns and environments in the Bale Mountains. Project P6 has the following three main tasks:

a) Reconstructing the extent of the former ice cover.

b) Establishing a glacial chronology through 14C and 36Cl dating.

c) Mapping and analyzing past periglacial and especially permafrost features.

Offizielle Website: The Mountain Exile Hypothesis

Project leader: Heinz Veit

Co-workers: Christian Gnägi, Tobias Messmer, Mareike Trauerstein

Financed by: SNF 200021_149124/1

Duration: 2014-2016

It has been shown over the past few years that the glaciation and environmental history of the Alps is much more complex than previously assumed. While the dating of glacial sediments by luminescence has currently seen important improvement, it is still methodologically challenging. Another approach for constraining the age of glacial deposits is investigating their cover sediments and soils, because soil development (e.g. decalcification depth) and the complexity of cover bed sequences increases with the age of the underlying sediments. Additionally, investigating the cover beds, soils and palaeosols will not only provide indirect information on the time of glacial deposition, but also reflect the later environmental history of the region. Soil chronosequence studies in the alpine foreland have used geomorphological-stratigraphical models in the past, but lacking numerical dating control. Chronological constrains and environmental inter¬pre¬tations drawn from this approach are based on certain theoretical assumptions, such as: a) the glacier advance at about 25 ka ago was the most extensive one of the last glacial cycle, b) the Holocene was a period of land-scape stability, with closed vegetation cover and continuous soil development at least until the arrival of humans, c) periglacial surface features, such as solifluction layers, cryoturbations etc. are of Pleistocene age, because the formation of such features requires intense soil frost which is absent during the Holocene, and d) well-developed Bt-horizons reflect full interglacial environmental conditions (Holocene, Eem or older).
In this project we aim to challenge all these basic assumptions by combining intensive fieldwork with luminescence-¬dating. This is based on preliminary data we have obtained during the recent years, which contradict these “classical” views of the Upper Quaternary. Instead, our hypotheses are: a) the most extensive advance of the Rhone-Aare-glacier occurred prior to 25 ka, b) during the Early Holocene (ca. 10-8 ka) there was widespread erosion and sedimentation, indicating a relatively open landscape, c) frost dynamics with cryoturbation-like structures occurred at the same period (Early Holocene), probably due to pronounced seasonal contrasts (very cold winters, warm summers), and d) Bt-formation was possible during warmer periods of the Birrfeld glaciation and are not restricted to interglacials in a classical sense.
To prove these assumptions, we have to understand the spatial distribution of soils, their detailed structure, geochemical composition, and we need to know the age of the parent materials. Therefore, we aim at carrying out intensive fieldwork (studying gravel pits, hand- and motor corings, excavations), geochemical/mineralogical lab work, as well as luminescence and radiocarbon dating. The study will be realized in the area of the former Rhone-Aare-glacier glacier between Solothurn and Niederbipp, as well as the younger deposits in the lower Aare valley and the lake district (Lake Biel, Lake Neuchatel). This region features moraines and terraces of the supposed 25 ka advance, as well as deposits of older glaciations.

Period: 2012 - 2015

Project leader: Prof. Heinz Veit

Co-workers:Umberto Lombardo (Post-Doc), Leonor Rodrigues (PhD)

Financed by: SNF 200020-141277/1

Project area: Bolivia (Llanos de Moxos, Beni)

The current project is designed as a continuation of our SNF project 200021 – 1222. The research focuses on human-environment interactions during the Holocene in the southern Amazon Basin.
Within the SNF project 200021 – 1222 we have reconstructed the mid to late Holocene fluvial dynamics of the south-eastern LM and highlighted the links between fluvial dynamics and pre-Columbian settlement patterns there; we have put forward a new interpretative model for pre-Columbian agricultural earthworks; and we have discovered late Pleistocene/early Holocene shell middens, which could represent the oldest archaeological sites in central and south Amazonia. Our results suggest that the periods of human presence in the LM and the levels of social complexity reached by the pre-Columbian inhabitants were closely linked to environmental changes that took place during the Holocene. However, new questions have arisen as a result of our findings that need to be addressed in order to fully understand the history of the LM during the Holocene. These will be the focus of the proposed project:
What did the landscape of the LM look like during the early-Holocene at the time of the first pre-ceramic settlers? What kind of impact did the first settlers have on the environment? Which were the causes of the environmental changes that took place during the mid-Holocene? Which were the productive strategies employed by pre-Columbians in the late Holocene? How did pre-Columbian agriculture change soil properties? In order to address these questions we need to supplement the data we already have with more data from paleoecological archives that we have not yet investigated or we have only just started to investigate. Therefore, the present project includes the analysis of lacustrine sediments, the archaeological excavations of early Holocene shell middens and a detailed analysis of soils and sediments from sites with agricultural earthworks. Pollen and charcoal analysis from lacustrine sediments will help to reconstruct the environment of the LM during the Holocene, detect possible evidence of human fire and/or deforestation during the early and mid-Holocene and will provide the essential data needed to assess the impact pre-Columbian agriculture had on forests and savannahs. Geoarchaeological excavations of the shell middens are likely to lead to the finding of human artefacts, hence the definitive proof that they are anthropogenic; the excavation of soil profiles at several pre-Columbian agricultural sites and at reference sites with “natural” soil will allow us to reconstruct how agricultural fields were managed and to understand the reasons behind the large variety of shapes and locations.
The study of human-environment interactions is fundamental to the correct interpretation of palaeoecological archives. These data are also important in order to assess the possible influence that post-contact re-forestation had on global climate and the resilience of Amazon ecosystems to human disturbance, as well as help inform development and conservation policies for the Amazon Basin today.


Rodrigues, L., Lombardo, U., Fehr, S., Preusser, F. and Veit, H. (2014): Pre-Columbian agriculture in the Bolivian Lowlands: Construction history andmanagement of raised fields in Bermeo, Catena. [Sciencedirect]

Lombardo, U., Denier, S., May, J-H., Rodrigues, L. and Veit, H. (In Press):  Human-environment interactions in pre-Columbian Amazonia: the case of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia. Quaternary International [Sciencedirect]

Lombardo, U., May, J-H. and Veit, H. (2012): Mid- to late Holocene fluvial activity behind pre-Columbian social complexity in the south-western Amazon basin. Holocene 22: 1035-1045 [Sagepub]

Lombardo, U., May, J-H. and Veit, H. (2012): Geoecological settings as a driving factor behind pre-Columbian human occupation patterns in Bolivian Amazonia. Journal for Ancient Studies 3: 123-129 [eTopoi]

Lombardo, U., Canal-Beeby, E., Veit, H. (2011): Eco-archaeological regions in the Bolivian Amazon: Linking pre-Columbian earthworks and environmental diversity. Geographica Helvetica 66: 173-182. PDF

Plotzki, A., May, J.H. and Veit, H. (2011): Review of past and recent fluvial dynamics in the Beni lowlands, NE Bolivia. Geographica Helvetica 66 (3): 164-172 PDF

Lombardo, U., Canal-Beeby, E., Fehr, S. and Veit, H. (2011): Raised fields in the Bolivian Amazonia: a prehistoric green revolution or a flood risk mitigation strategy? Journal of Archaeological Science 38(3): 502-512 [Sciencedirect]

Lombardo U., (2010): Raised Fields of Northwestern Bolivia: a GIS based analysis. Zeitschrift für Archäologie Außereuropäischer Kulturen 3: 127-149

Lombardo, U., Prümers, H. (2010): Pre-Columbian human occupation patterns in the eastern plains of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazonia. Journal of Archaeological Science [Sciencedirect]

Period: 03/2008 - 2011

Project leader: Prof. Heinz Veit

Co-workers: Aleksandra Heer

Financed by: SNF - PMCD 118749/1

Project area: Switzerland

Aeolian dunes are known from different areas in the depositional river plains of the northwest Alpine foreland (Rhine Valley, Swiss Plateau, Lower Wallis Valley and south of Lake Geneva). The origin of the dunes is not clearly known. Assumptions about their age vary between pre-Alleröd and early Holocene. Evidence for human settlement exists from at least the Mesolithic period. The soils frequently show disturbed structures suggesting repeated denudation and reactivation. The stratigraphy of the dunesis unkown and a suitable tool for absolute age determination of the terrestrial sedimentary archive was absent before the development of OSL dating. This project aims at generating new knowledge about the dune history, and is thereby considered a contribution towards an improved understanding of landscape evolution and paleoecology in the northwest Alpine foreland since the last postglacial. A combination of field prospecting, soil geochemistry, pollen and microfossil analysis, together with numerical dating methods (OSL and 14C) will be applied. The direct corrleation and calibration of 14C and OSL dating methods will be achieved through careful analysis of fluvial paleochannels underlying the dunes.


Bluszacz, Andrzej; Adamiec, Grzegorz; Heer, Aleksandra J. (2015). Estimation of equivalent dose and its uncertainty in the OSL SAR protocol when count numbers do not follow a Poisson distribution. Radiation Measurement 81: 46-54. doi: 10.1016/j.radmeas.2015.01.004

Heer, A.J., Adamiec, G. and Moska, P. (2012). How many grains are there on a single aliquot? Ancient TL 30 (1): 9-16 [Aberystwyth University]

Adamiec, G., Heer, A.J. and Bluszcz, A. (2012). Statistics of count numbers from a photomultiplier tube and its implications for error estimation. Radiation Measurements 47(9): 746-751. doi:10.1016/j.radmeas.2011.12.009


Horizonte 2009/März, S. 16-17: "Ein Fall aus den Rotlichtmilieu", "Altersforschung am Sandstrand"

GeoPanorama 2014, S. 23-25: "Die Geschichte einer Landschaft − Anwendung Optisch Stimulierter Lumineszenz im Wauwilermoos"

University of Barcelona, University of Berne, Meteorological Survey of Catalonia

Research Project CGL2006-0111

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Lothar Schulte, Univ. de Barcelona

PI University Bern: Prof. Heinz Veit


2006-2009: Fluvalps 3000

2009-2012: Fluvalps+

Financed by: Spanish Government

Fluvalps focuses on a multi-proxy approach to gain a greater understanding of the influence of external factors, such as climatic variability and land uses, on alpine fluvial systems. We use sedimentary (fluvial, paludal, organic and soil records) and palynological records from fan deltas and valley floor accumulations in the Bernese Alps to reconstruct environmental changes, fluvial dynamics and sedimentation processes during the Holocene. Regarding the environmental variability of the last centuries, documentary data are used.These data allow us to reconstruct the human occupation under the influence of flood events. By means of climatic instrumental and hydrological data analysis those circulation patterns associated with recent extreme flood events will be reconstructed and the geomorphic events recorded by sedimentary proxies will then be calibrated.

In the western Alps exists an exceptional variety of environmental records from glaciers, lakes, pollen, and tree rings. These studies together with global palaeoclimate records from isotopes and radiocarbon anomalies, offer an ideal framework to draw spatial and time correlations. A better knowledge of the river system-response to climatic and land uses changes is necessary to understand today’s processes, to anticipate future trends and to assess hydrological-geomorphic risks.


Schulte, L., Veit, H., Burjachs, F., Julià, R., 2009. Lütschine fan delta response to climate variability and land use in the Bernese Alps during the last 2400 years. Geomorphology 108, 107-121. [ScienceDirect]

Schulte, L., R. Julià, H. Veit & F. Carvalho (2009): Do high-resolution fan delta records provide a useful tool for hazard assessment in mountain regions? – Int. Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, 1 (2): 197-210 [Emerald]

Baró, M., Schulte, L. (2009). La influencia de la variabilidad climática histórica sobre el registro sedimentario del abanico deltaico del río Lütschine, Alpes suizos. En: Libro de resúmenes VII Reunión de Cuaternario Ibérico. 317: 123-127.

Carvalho, F., Schulte, L. (2009). Analise da dinâmica fluvial alpine novalle Hasli,Alpes Suiços,sob a influencia da variabilidade climática. En: Libro de resúmenes VII Reunión de Cuaternario Ibérico. 317: 128-132

Schulte, L., Baró, M., Carvalho, F., Peña, J.C., Julià, R., Burjachs, F. (2009). Aggradation of fan deltas palaeofloods in high mountain environments during the last three millennia: high resolution sedimentary records of the Swiss Alps. En: Libro de resúmenes VII Reunión de Cuaternario Ibérico. 317: 151-155.

Schulte, L., Julià, R., Oliva, M., Burjachs, F., Veit, H., & Carvalho, F. 2008. Sensitivity of Alpine fluvial environments in the Swiss Alps to climate forcing during the Late Holocene. Sediment Dynamics in Changing Environments.IAHS Publ. 325:367-374

Schulte, L., Burjachs, F., Baró, M., Roten, L., Julià, R., Veit, H., Carvalho, F., Oliva, M. (2008). Fan delta evolution and environmental changes in the Bernese Alps during Late Holocene: natural and anthropogenic contributions. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 10, EGU2008-A-00000, 2008. EGU General Assembly 2008

Schulte, L., Veit, H., Julià, R., Burjachs, F., 2007. Alpine fluvial environment and land-use changes: The Bernese Alps during the Late Holocene. Quaternary International Suppl. 167-168: 371-372. ISSN: 1040-6182

  • Paleoclimate of the Central Andes (1997-2001)
  • Virtueller Campus Schweiz, ALPECOLe  (2001-2003)
  • Biodiversität und ‚Climate Change’ in den Alpen (2001-2002)
  • Paleoclimate of tropical South America: linking Andean highlands (Bolivia) with adjacent lowlands (Bolivia, Brazil) (2003-2004)
  • Paläoökologie von Ostbolivien (2005-2006)
  • Glacier reconstruction along a N-S Andean Transect (Chile, 30-40°S) using 10Be surface exposure dating (2005-2006)
  • 10Be surface exposure dating in the Central Andes (2006-2009)
  • FLUVALPS-3000 – Fluvial Variability in the Alps during the last 3000 years (2006-2009)
  • Alpenforum 2007, Engelberg (2007)
  • Holocene hydrogeomorphology and pre-Columbian water management in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon (2009-2012)
  • Soils, paleosols and quaternary landscape development of the Swiss Plateau