The Past is the Key to the Future

Climate change is not a modern phenomena but in integral part of earth’s history. The speed and the scale of recent changes in global climate on the other hand are unprecedented. Scientists around the world, especially the IPCC, are frequently coming up with new superlatives to describe these changes. People all over the world are taking to the streets, asking for more climate justice and demand that politicians to call the current situation as scientist do: a historic crisis. Even though the scientific foundation is solid there are still people relativizing or straight up denying climate change.

To comprehend which scale these recent changes in earth’s atmosphere have one has to put them into a temporal context and compare the current changes to changes in the past. But how does one reconstruct the climate of the past 100 million years if humans began recording earth’s climate just recently in the 19th century?

This is the task of paleoclimatologists. Scientists of this scientific discipline work on climate archives in order to gain information on earth’s past climate. These archives can be organic archives like tree rings or coral, or anorganic archive such as speleothems, sediment or ice cores. Like other fields of climate science paleoclimatology is highly complex and interdisciplinary.

My final project „The Past is the Key to the Future“ resulted in a book project. The first aim of the book was to cover the work of paleoclimatologists in order to create a deeper understanding of the term „climate science“. To archive this goal I worked with my own images, but also used pictures and illustrations of scientists. In doing so and by using quotes of the scientists I met I make the scientist behind the research visible and give them a voice. As this scientific discipline is highly complex I also used text in order to explain the scientific methodology behind the research. In a second step I visited the Alps in order to document climate change where it is already visible. In a final step I took a look at climate modeling, where scientist develop models of our climatic future which serve as a basis for political decision making and drive our current societal discussions.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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The Rhone Glacier in August 2021. The cloth blankets are used to prevent further melting of the glacier and to preserve the glacial cave underneath, a popular tourist attraction.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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The core repository of the IODP (International Ocean Drilling Programm) in Bremen. The repository contains around 160 km of sediment cores from the seafloor of all oceans. After the extraction the sediment cores are cut into one meter long sections which are then split into a working and an archive half. The working half is used to collect samples, the archive half serves as a backup.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Dr. Frank Sirocko, head of the Climate and Sediment research group at the University of Mainz in one of his core repositories.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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The working half of a sediment core from the North Atlantic. After taking samples from the cores the holes are sealed with foam to prevent a mixing of the layers.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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A cold room at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven. Work on ice cores can only be conducted in rooms which are cooled to -20°C or colder, otherwise the cores would melt.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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A thin layer of ice from Antarctica. The bubbles trapped in the ice contain air from the time of the ice‘s formation. The isotopic composition of the air allows scientists to draw conclusions on the temperature at that point in time.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Dr. Johannes Freitag in the ice core repository of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven. The unit contains 4500 crates with 13 kilometers of ice cores from the Arctic, Antarctica and the Alps.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Speleothem from a cave in Spain at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. The oxygen isotopes bound in the lime allow conclusions regarding the temperatures at the time of its formation.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Sara Todorovic is a PhD student at Center for Marine Tropic Research in Bremen. She works primarily on climate reconstruction based on coral cores from the pacific ocean.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - A coral core extracted close to Rotuma Island in the Pacific.
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A coral core extracted close to Rotuma Island in the Pacific.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Tree rings under a microscope at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. Based on the density of the tree rings scientists can recontruct the climatic conduitions during the tree‘s growth.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Section of a tree which was cut down during the 19th century. It is part of the Hohenheim Tree Ring Chronology which allows a reconstruction of the region‘s climate of the last 12.000 years.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Dr. Alexander Land examines tree rings in his laboratory at the University of Hohenheim.
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Dr. Alexander Land examines tree rings in his laboratory at the University of Hohenheim.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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At the Meteorologic Observatory Hohenpeißenberg weather data has been recorded since 1787. The timeline is the longest and most exact in Europe.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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In a bunker under the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg over 40.000 ship journals are stored. The journals contain early recorded climate data from all over the world.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - A ship journal at the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg.
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A ship journal at the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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A picture of the Mer de Glace glacier in Chamonix from the early 20th century. It is displayed in the ice cave under the glacier, who lost 200 meters of its thickness in the last 100 years.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Klaus Hasselmann was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research in the field of climate modeling in the 1970s. His methods are the basis for today‘s climate models and forecasts.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Klaus Hasselmann's Nobel Prize medal.
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Klaus Hasselmann's Nobel Prize medal.

© Jan Richard Heinicke - Image from the The Past is the Key to the Future photography project
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Supercomputer at the German Climate Computing Center in Hamburg. Some of the climate models of the current IPCC report were calculated on these computers.

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