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Spatial extremes and environmental sustainability: Statistical methods and applications in geophysics and the environment

Rare events can have catastrophic consequences for human activities, through their impacts on the natural and constructed environments and on health. It is now very likely that the frequency of events such as avalanches, extreme rainfall, and heat waves will increase as a result of climate change, yet as they are intrinsically highly variable, they are hard to forecast and hence to protect against. Recent developments in the statistics of extremes and the increased availability of relevant high-quality data have the potential both to deepen our grasp of the underlying physical phenomena, and to aid in the construction of mathematical models and tools for forecasting the likely occurrence and impact of extreme events.

In this project scientists from a variety of disciplines within the ETH domain work together to improve our understanding of and modelling for extreme environmental events. Our main activities are:

  1. to develop new and better models for the extremes of environmental and geophysical processes, with emphasis on spatial and spatio-temporal aspects, to build methods that can be used to apply these models to data, and to explore the limits of predictability owing to the impact of internal and external factors;
  2. to construct software tools so that these novel approaches can be rapidly transferred to stakeholders, including climatologists and other environmental scientists, engineers, planners at federal and cantonal level, and insurers, and thereby to influence practical applications;
  3. to apply advanced extremal methods to data relevant to environmental sustainability, on snowfall, rainfall, ozone, temperatures, and earthquakes, in order to improve forecasting and risk analysis;
  4. to transfer knowledge and technology between various parts of the the ETH domain, to involve external experts, and to actively train post-docs and graduate students.

Keywords: Precipitation, Temperature, Earthquakes, Avalanches, Trends, Statistical theory of extremes, Spatial statistics, Climate and Environmental Change, Hazards, Risk

Project coordinator
Professor Anthony Davison, EPFL, Chair of Statistics

Principal investigators
Professor Christophe Ancey, EPFL, LHE
Dr Michael Lehning, SLF Davos, Snow and Permafrost
Professor Marc Parlange, EPFL, EFLUM
Professor Martine Rebetez, WSL Lausanne
Professor Didier Sornette, ETHZ, Entrepreneurial Risks
Professor Johannes Staehlin, ETHZ, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science
Dr Stefan Wiemer, Swiss Seismological Service

External experts

Professor Stuart Coles, University of Padova (Italy)
Professor Rick Katz, NCAR (USA)
Professor Philippe Naveau, LSCE (France)


Project duration: 1 July 2007- 30 June 2011

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