A 200-year-old relief of the Alps meets an interactive virtual reality installation. During the Berlin Science Week, the historical Aletsch model from the Humboldt Forum and the VR project „Expedition 2 Grad“ from the Universities of Zurich and Fribourg and the Zurich University of the Arts were exhibited together for the first time. They impressively show the Great Aletsch Glacier – the largest glacier in the Alps – as a clinical thermometer of climate change. Following the Berlin Science Week, the installation will be on permanent display at the Humboldt Lab.
The Great Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss canton of Valais covered an area of more than 100 square kilometres at the beginning of the 19th century. During this period, the relief builder, topographer and passionate mountaineer Joachim Eugen Müller created a relief model of the Swiss Alps from plaster and wood, measuring almost 5 by 2.5 metres. On the advice of Alexander von Humboldt, among others, the enthusiastic King Frederick William III of Prussia bought this model of the Alps and exhibited it as the main attraction in the Berlin Kunstkammer (Chamber of arts and curiosities) in the Berlin Palace. For the citizens of Berlin interested in science, the bird’s-eye view of the Alps was a sensation. After the Kunstkammer was dissolved, the trace of the model was initially lost. A section depicting the upper Rhone Valley with the Simplon Pass and the Aletsch Glacier slumbered unrecognised for a long time in the Geomorphological-Geological Collection of the Geographical Institute of Humboldt University in Berlin. It was only in 2017, when the art historian Eva Dolezel and the Swiss relief expert Oscar Wüest examined the model, that they discovered that it had in fact been part of the large Alpine relief in the Berlin Kunstkammer.
Since 2020, the Aletsch model is back in the reconstructed Berlin Palace. As part of the permanent exhibition “Flashbacks. History of the Site“, it is on permanent display in the Humboldt Lab and thus once again accessible to the general public. „The model shows us the materiality and mediality of science communication two hundred years ago, when the ‘sensualisation’ of knowledge was in high demand. At the same time, its topic is highly relevant today: “The temporally frozen state of the glaciers in the relief clearly shows the effects of climate change compared to today,” explains Johanna Stapelfeldt, curator for the Humboldt Lab.
Just as Joachim Eugen Müller modelled by hand 200 years ago what was then a highly modern medium for conveying knowledge, designers, geographers and glaciologists have now created another innovative installation with the virtual reality installation „Expedition 2 Degrees“, with which science can be experienced sensually. In an interdisciplinary project developed in collaboration between the Universities of Zurich (UZH) and Fribourg (UniFR) as well as the department for Knowledge Visualization at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), visitors can go on an immersive expedition to the Great Aletsch Glacier area with the help of VR glasses. They can travel through time and experience the extent of the glacier in the past, what it looks like today, and how much it will have shrunk in a hundred years when the earth has warmed by two, three or four degrees. The project was developed in collaboration between the ZHdK, the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg and the Institute of Geography at the University of Zurich. The virtual reality (VR) is based on high-resolution aerial photographs, digital terrain data and modelled forecasts of glacier retreat based on climate scenarios.
The handmade Aletsch model and the interactive VR installation can now be seen together for the first time in Berlin. During the Berlin Science Week, as part of the event series “Zurich meets Berlin”, visitors were able to experience how the Aletsch Glacier reacts to different climate change scenarios and compare it with the historical model. Following the Berlin Science Week, the installation will be on permanent display in the Humboldt Lab.
“The fact that the Aletsch Glacier has melted to less than 80 square kilometres today is also a consequence of man-made climate change, as well as the fact that it will continue to lose extreme ice mass in the future. The historical relief and the virtual reality installation help to understand the effects of climate change and to illustrate how important our commitment to a climate-neutral world is,” says Christoph Schneider, Professor of Climatic Geography and Vice President for Research at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, “I am delighted that the VR installation complements the historical Aletsch model and will be a permanent feature of the exhibition at the Humboldt Lab after Berlin Science Week until June 2023.”
Author: Artur Krutsch
|Date:||25. November 2022|