Wladimir Köppen and the Köppen Climate Classification System

Map of Wladimir Köppen's global climate classification-svg

Map of Wladimir Köppen’s global climate classification

On September 25, 1846, Russian-German geographer, meteorologist, climatologist and botanist Wladimir Peter Köppen was born. His most notable contribution to science was the development of the Köppen climate classification system, which, with some modifications, is still commonly used. Köppen made significant contributions to several branches of science.

Wladimir Köppen studied botany at the University of Sr. Petersburg. In 1867, Köppen switched to the University of Heidelberg and earned his doctorate degree for his dissertation on the effects of temperature on plant growth at the University of Leipzig in 1870. During the early 1870s, Wladimir Köppen was employed in the Russian meteorological service and became the chief of the new Division of Marine Meteorology at the German naval observatory in Hamburg in 1875. At Hamburg, Köppen was responsible for establishing a weather forecasting service for the northwestern part of Germany and the adjacent sea areas. 

However, Köppen left service after about four years to continue his research. He started a  systematic study of the climate and also experimented with balloons to obtain data from upper layers of the atmosphere. He published the first version of his map of climatic zones in which the seasonal temperature ranges were plotted.This work led to the development of the Köppen climate classification system around 1900, which he kept improving for the rest of his life. The full version of his system appeared first in 1918 and, after several modifications, the final version was published in 1936.

Along with Alfred Wegener, Wladimir Köppen also researched in the field of  paleoclimatology. Together the scientists published a paper titled Die Klimate der Geologischen Vorzeit (The climates of the geological past), which provided support for the Milanković theory on ice ages. In 1911, Köppen co-wrote the successful textbook The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere. In later years, Wladimir Köppen also cooperated with the German climatologist Rudolf Geiger to create a five-volume work titled Handbuch der Klimatologie (Handbook of Climatology). Even though the entire work has never been completed, three separate parts produced by Wladimir Köppen were published. In 1940, Köppen past away, but Rudolf Geiger continued to work on modifications to the climate classification system. 

At yovisto you can learn more about Discovering ancient climates in oceans and ice in a TED Talk by Rob Dunbar.

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