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date: 17 January 2021

Viennese School of Climatologyfree

  • Christa HammerlChrista HammerlZentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, Seismology


Vienna was a metropolis in the middle of the Danube monarchy of Austria-Hungary and under the rule (1848–1916) of Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830–1916) the city experienced rapid growth and an unprecedented flowering of culture, the arts, architecture and science. The capital of the monarchy, an intellectual melting pot, was a city of distinguished personalities who formed the Second Viennese School of music, the Austrian School of economic thought and many more doctrines, including the ideas of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. Vienna clearly reflected the zeitgeist of the fin de siècle in its economic, scientific, and cultural heyday.

At the end of the 19th century, meteorology and climatology became recognized scientific disciplines, and dynamical meteorology developed during the first quarter of the 20th century. The fact that imperial Austria took a leading position in these developments mostly owes to the work of renowned scientists of the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, ZAMG) in Vienna.

The institute was founded in 1851, and the astronomer Karl Kreil (1798–1862) became the first director. One of Kreil’s goals was to ensure that both the central meteorological station and the growing number of new meteorological stations across the entire territory of the Austrian Empire were equipped with all the appropriate instruments. Another important goal was the processing of the existing observations to publish in the institute’s yearbooks. In truth, that was the starting signal for all further scientific developments, including that of the Viennese School of Climatology.

During the first decade of the 1900s, Julius Hann (1839–1921), the third director of the ZAMG, was already being acknowledged as a renowned meteorologist and climatologist. He was a pioneer in gathering and synthesizing global climatological and meteorological data, and his Handbook of Climatology (Handbuch der Klimatologie; Hann, 1883 [Hann, J. (1883). Handbuch der Klimatologie. Stuttgart, Germany: J. Engelhorn]) and Textbook of Meteorology (Hann, 1901 [Hann, J. (1901). Lehrbuch der Meteorologie. Leipzig, Germany: C. H. Tauchnitz]) were standard setters (Davies, 2001 [Davies, H. C. (2001). Vienna and the founding of dynamical meteorology. In C. Hammerl, W. Lenhardt, R. Steinacker, & P. Steinhauser (Eds.), Die Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik 1851–2001: 150 Jahre Meteorologie und Geophysik in Österreich (pp. 301–312). Graz, Austria: Leykam Buchverlagsgesellschaft]). In Hann’s era, one began to speak of a “Viennese or Austrian school.” Heinrich Ficker, who later became director of the institute, defined its distinguishing characteristic as a school that did not simply adhere to one direction but promoted each direction, every peculiar talent, and the ideas that a meteorologist with necessary characteristics was always present at key turning points in meteorological research.


In the 19th century, Vienna was a metropolis in the middle of the Danube monarchy of Austria-Hungary. In the last decades before the breakdown of the Habsburg monarchy, in 1918, the capital clearly reflected the zeitgeist of the fin de siècle in its economic, scientific, and cultural heyday. Vienna, an intellectual melting pot, was a city of distinguished personalities, among them the composers Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. They formed the Second Viennese School (Wiener Schule der Moderne), which was the basis for the “new music” (Neue Musik), a Central European–influenced form of music, from about 1910 to present. There were also the renowned Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and the physicists Ernst Mach and Franz Serafin Exner at the University of Vienna. One began to speak of the “Viennese Modern Age” (Wiener Moderne) when describing Vienna’s culture at the turn of the century. The Jugendstil architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos; the artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele; and the writers Karl Kraus and Arthur Schnitzler belonged to this cultural flow. Last but not least, there was the Austrian School, a concept of economic thought led by Carl Menger, Eugen Böhm von Bawerk, and Friedrich von Wieser.

Meteorology was part of this cultural awakening, and at the end of the 19th century, meteorology and climatology became recognized scientific disciplines. Dynamical meteorology then developed during the first quarter of the 20th century. That Austria took a leading position in these developments mostly owes to the work of the renowned scientists of the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna, or ZAMG (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik), including Karl Kreil (1798–1862), Julius Hann (1839–1921), Josef Maria Pernter (1848–1908), Wilhelm Trabert (1863–1921), Max Margules (1856–1920), Victor Conrad (1876–1962), Felix Maria Exner (1876–1930), and Heinrich Ficker (1881–1957). In Hann’s era, one began to speak of the Viennese School (Schmidt, 1930). This article shines a light on its background, mainly from the 19th century through the interwar period.

Karl Kreil, first director of the ZAMG, founded in 1851, laid the foundation for all further developments in the field of meteorology and climatology in imperial Austria. He established a meteorological network, on the basis of which he and later scientists were able to build their research. The ZAMG experienced a golden age under Hann, who was called “the acknowledged master of climatology” by the American climatologist Robert DeCourcy Ward (1904). Hann’s pioneering achievement in gathering and synthesizing global climatological and meteorological data was exemplary, and his Handbook of Climatology (Handbuch der Klimatologie; Hann, 1883) and his Textbook of Meteorology (Lehrbuch der Meteorologie; Hann, 1901) were standard setters (Davies, 2001).

Hann was followed in the directorship by Pernter and then Trabert; both were respected meteorologists. Pernter was more of an organizer; Trabert, a gifted teacher. The younger colleagues in this Viennese group were Felix Maria Exner and Heinrich Ficker.

The contribution of the Viennese group of meteorologists to dynamical meteorology was significant. Hann (1901) introduced the term in Textbook of Meteorology; and Exner (1917) published the first comprehensive textbook on the subject, Dynamical Meteorology (Dynamische Meteorologie).

In 1931, on the occasion of the Conference of the German and Austrian Society of Meteorology in Vienna, Ficker, director of ZAMG from 1937 to 1952, was of the opinion that

the characteristic of the Austrian meteorological school is not the adherence to one direction, but the promotion of each direction, each peculiar talent. There has been always a meteorologist of the necessary character at striking turning points in meteorological research. During a scientific discourse, an assistant at the ZAMG was the equal of the director and the student of his teacher. Here I see the most characteristic and the best feature of the Austrian school and the true reason for its prosperity. And it will continue to thrive as long as this atmosphere of free research and scientific camaraderie is maintained!

(Ficker, 1931, p. 461)

How It All Started: Karl Kreil, the Pioneer

The astronomer Karl Kreil (Figure 1) first became known in the scientific community through his extraordinary work in magnetism. He caught the attention of the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) and the polymath Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). He was linked to these remarkable experts through the intense scientific correspondence they carried on. Perhaps stimulated by Gauss’s global magnetic network and early meteorological networks within imperial Austria, Kreil recognized that to carry out meteorological and climatic research, there was a need for a unified network of measurements across the entire Austrian Empire. The network would need to be equipped with adequate instruments, and calibration by means of a central station was essential.

Fig. 1. Karl Kreil (1798–1863), astronomer, meteorologist, and geophysicist, was appointed the first director of the Imperial Royal Central Institute for Meteorology and Earth-Magnetism (kaiserlich-königliche Central Anstalt für Meteorologie und Erdmagnetismus). The institute was founded in 1851 and, in 1904, renamed the Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG). Kreil was simultaneously a professor of physics at the University of Vienna. Archive ZAMG.

To better understand the development of institutional meteorology in imperial Austria, it is necessary to first take a closer look at the exceptional curriculum vitae of Karl Kreil and at his forward-looking research that led to what would come to be called the Viennese School of Climatology.

Kreil, an astronomer, meteorologist, and geophysicist, was born in Ried im Innkreis in Upper Austria in 1798. From 1810 to 1819, he attended a secondary school in the Benedictine monastery (Stiftsgymnasium) in Kremsmünster in Upper Austria, where he worked at the observatory. The school had a great influence on his later work. Meteorological observations have been carried out in Kremsmünster since 1763, and since 1767, there has been an uninterrupted series of unique temperature measurements.

Kreil studied law at the University of Vienna from 1819 to 1823, and then went on to study mathematics, physics, and astronomy, from 1823 to 1827. In 1827, he became the assistant of the director (Joseph Johann von Littrow, 1781–1840) at the Vienna University Observatory, and from 1831 onward, he was the second adjunct to the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Milan, Italy, which belonged to the Austrian Empire until 1859.

Kreil’s Relationship With Carl Friedrich Gauss and the Göttingen Magnetic Union

In 1834, Kreil met the German geologist Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen (1809–1876) and the mathematician Johann Benedict Listing (1808–1882) from Göttingen during their visit to the observatory in Brera. The scientists carried with them the brand-new Gaussian magnetometer. This magnetometer, the first capable of measuring “absolute” magnetic intensity (horizontal intensity and declination with the Gaussian magnetometer and an inclinometer), had just been invented by Gauss, in 1833. The encounter proved pivotal in Kreil’s scientific career.

Kreil was so impressed with the magnetic instrument that he instructed his mechanic, Carlo Grindel (1780–1854), at the Brera Astronomical Observatory to make a similar one. As early as 1835, Kreil had carried out the first geomagnetic observations in the Austrian Empire with this new instrument. He also joined the Göttingen Magnetic Union (Göttinger Magnetischer Verein), led by Gauss, who from 1836 to 1841 collected and published magnetic observations from all over Europe, including Milan (from Kreil), Heidelberg, Berlin, Brussels, Greenwich, and Dublin.

Gauss highly appreciated Kreil’s achievements in this field, and consequently Gauss introduced him to von Humboldt. Kreil became acquainted with the famous natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt, to whom he sent the results of his observations on geomagnetism. Kreil continued recording magnetic observations at Brera from 1836 to 1838, and he finally published the data, which is recognized as the most significant success during his stay in Milan (Kreil, 1839).

Throughout Europe, however, Kreil became known for an overview of the observational data recorded at the Brera Astronomical Observatory that he compiled in a letter to the chemist and physicist Adolf Theodor Kupffer (1799–1865), who later became the director of the St. Petersburg Magnetic and Meteorological Central Institute, in 1848. Kreil’s letter was printed in 1840 and sent to all the observatories in Europe (Sabine, 1840).

In 1838, Kreil was appointed adjunct of the astronomical observatory at the Clementinum, a former Jesuit college in Prague. The observatory he inherited was in a very bad condition. In the Prague Clementinum systematic observation of the weather had begun at an early stage, in 1752. Daily weather recording started in 1775, when the observatory was expanded into a meteorological observatory, and recording has continued there ever since. To counter the lack of staff, Kreil constructed self-registering instruments, for example, a self-registering barograph.

Kreil published his observations in the well-received Magnetic and Meteorological Observations of Prague (Magnetische und meteorologische Beobachtungen zu Prag; Kreil, 1840–1849). From 1843 to 1845, Kreil undertook a scientific field trip through Bohemia, which was approved by the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences. The results of his journey were published as Magnetic and Geographical Localization in Bohemia (Magnetische und geographische Ortsbestimmungen in Böhmen: Ausgeführt in den Jahren 1843–1845; Kreil, 1846).

In recognition of Kreil’s impressive scientific achievements, he was elected member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1845, Kreil was appointed director of the Prague Astronomical Observatory.

He carried out another scientific journey from 1846 to 1850, with the goal of completing a magnetic survey of the western and eastern Alpine areas, in particular, the Danube and Carpathian areas. The results were published in the five-volume Magnetic and Geographical Localization in Imperial Austria (Magnetische und geografische Ortsbestimmungen im österreichischen Kaiserstaate; Kreil & Fritsch, 1848–1852). Kreil was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Imperial Austrian Franz Joseph Order (Kaiserlich-Österreichischer Franz-Joseph-Orden) for this enterprise.

Founding of the Imperial Royal Central Institute for Meteorology and Earth Magnetism in Vienna

A petition by twelve scholars in 1837 led to the founding of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna, by imperial patent of May 14, 1847. The academy immediately began extensive research work in the field of science. Kreil, appointed by Emperor Franz Joseph, was among the first members. One important task of the newly founded academy was to develop a meteorological observation system for the Austrian Empire. For this purpose, the academy had addressed a request to Karl Kreil, in 1847, when he was director of the Prague Astronomical Observatory. It had for many years been Kreil’s vision to set up an observation network that would be spread over all the territory of Austrian Empire, and the long-desired creation of the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, in 1847, was a favorable development in realizing these plans.

At a meeting of the academy (Akademiesitzung) on June 24, 1848, supported by Baron von Baumgartner (the vice president of the academy) and Ritter von Ettingshausen (the secretary general), Kreil presented his plan for establishing a meteorological and magnetic observation network in the empire and a first set of guidelines for conducting the meteorological observations. A special commission for the organization of the meteorological observations was established within the academy, which was soon overwhelmed by the incoming observation material. Based on the commission’s work Kreil then submitted to the academy a proposal to found the Imperial Royal Central Institute for Meteorology and Earth Magnetism.

On June 8, 1851, the Austrian minister of culture and education, Count Leo of Thun (1811–1888), submitted a proposal concerning the establishment of a Central Institute for meteorological and magnetic observations in Vienna to the Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph I, who sanctioned it on July 23, 1851 (AVA MCU ad Nr. 8171, 1851).

Karl Kreil was appointed the first director of the newly founded Imperial Royal Central Institute for Meteorology and Earth Magnetism ((k.k. kaiserlich-königliche) Central Anstalt für Meteorologie und Erdmagnetismus), which in 1904 was renamed the k.k. Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, or ZAMG, and simultaneously professor of physics at the University of Vienna (Figure 2).

Fig. 2. It took 21 years after the founding of ZAMG before, in 1872, regular observations and service commenced in the newly erected building in the 19th district of Vienna, Hohe Warte 38. The ZAMG is still in this place. The architect was Johann Heinrich, Baron von Ferstel. Archive ZAMG.

In a ceremonial address to the Academy of Sciences in 1852, Kreil spoke enthusiastically about his new duties as director of the ZAMG:

Above all, the Austrian imperial state seems destined to become the most instructive school for meteorological and climatological conditions. Partly surrounded by the sea, partly covered by broad plains, traversed by mighty masses of mountains, wetted by large lakes and streams, the climate of the lake and the country offer a hand. The atmospheric conditions, so different on the sea and in internal regions, on alpine heights and in lowlands, can be explored everywhere; the intermeshing of them, as well as the effectiveness of the large partitions of the European climate, the Alps and Carpathians, can be explored here better than anywhere else.

(Schrötter, 1863, p. 142)

Meteorological Stations Throughout the Territory of the Austrian Empire

One of Kreil’s goals was to ensure that both the central meteorological station and the growing number of new meteorological stations throughout of the Austrian Empire were equipped with all the appropriate instruments. Another important goal was to process of the existing observations to publish in the ZAMG yearbooks. The meteorological-station network, originally planned to have 100 stations across the empire, developed rapidly. In 1859, the network comprised 124 stations.

Parallel to the efforts to establish a central station in Vienna, Kreil had already begun preparations for the publication of the ZAMG yearbooks, which were set to receive great recognition in the scientific world. The first volume, published in 1854, contained the stations’ observations from 1848 for all meteorological elements, with the daily, monthly, and annual means. It also contained the hourly values for Vienna, extraordinary phenomena observed, and also the editing of long-standing old observation series and multiyear series from abandoned stations. The first volume included, in addition to ongoing observations from 1848 and 1849 in the territory of the imperial Austria, edited data for Vienna (1775–1850), observations from Milan (1763–1850), Prague (1775–1851), Kremsmünster (1763–1851), Salzburg (1842–1850), Trieste (1841–1850), and Trento (1816–1832). The second volume also included observations from Udine (1803–1842), Fünfkirchen (1819–1832), Stanislau (1839–1850), Graz (1836–1845), Krakow 1820–1847), and Senftenberg (1843–1852). The fourth volume included observations from Sistrans (1825–1828) and Wilten, near Innsbruck (1830–1854), as well as the compilation of hourly means (Stundenmittel) and annual means for Kremsmünster, Udine, and Milan.

The Habsburg Empire had no significant colonies in the age of imperialism, but the Austrians accomplished great achievements in scientific research in regions outside the monarchy. Joseph Ritter von Russegger (1802–1863), for example, was an Austrian geologist. From 1836 onward, he conducted geological studies in northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. Based on these expeditions, he published the multivolume series Traveling in Europe, Asia and Africa (Russegger, 1841–1849). Twenty years later, Kreil (1860) was asked to publish a paper on the climatology of Central Africa based on Russegger’s work. It was Kreil’s first published climatological work, and he followed it with a climatology of Bohemia, (Kreil, 1865), which would be finished and edited after his death. Prague, the capital of the crownland Bohemia, which was part of the Austrian Empire, had taken on a pioneering role when, in 1817, the Imperial Royal patriotic-economic society in Bohemia (kaiserlich königlich patriotisch ökonomische Gesellschaft in den Kreisen Böhmens) was founded, under the directorate of the observatory, to maintain a first unified station network. Kreil devoted his work entirely to expanding the existing observation network there, and he later processed and published the results of the measurements in his climatology of Bohemia.

It must be stressed that he intended this volume to be part of a climatology of the whole Austrian Empire he planned to publish. This enterprise was confirmed by Carl Jelinek (1822–1876), Kreil’s successor as the director of ZAMG, in the introduction of Climatology of Bohemia (Kreil, 1865):

However, the “Climatology of Bohemia” will become significant, according to the author's plan, due to the fact that other countries of the Austrian Imperium will also be treated in a similar manner and, in their entirety, form a climatology of Austria. In front of us we have the first volume of a magnificently arranged work. A premature death unfortunately prevented the author from completing it. (pp. III–IV)

Kreil had passed away on December 21, 1862, in Vienna.

Outstanding scientists followed the first director of the ZAMG, among them Julius Hann, Josef Maria Pernter, Max Margules, Wilhelm Trabert, Felix Maria Exner, Victor Conrad, and Heinrich Ficker.

Julius Hann: The Founder of Modern Climatology

Julius Hann (Figure 3) was born on March 23, 1839, in Schloss Haus im Mühlkreis, a castle in Upper Austria. Like Kreil, he had attended the secondary school in the Benedictine monastery Kremsmünster. Hann’s predilection for the appearance of the sky, clouds, and thunderstorms dates back to this period of study. In 1860, he was graduated with honors from Kremsmünster, and in the same year, he moved to Vienna to study mathematics and physics and become a secondary school teacher. After six semesters of mathematics, chemistry, and physics and attending geology and paleontology lectures by the geologist Eduard Suess (1831–1914) and physical geography lectures by Friedrich Simony (1813–1896), who in 1851 had attained the first professorship in geography in Austria at the University of Vienna, Hann passed the teaching examination in 1864. For financial reasons, he accepted a job as a supply teacher in physics at the well-known Vienna Schottenfeld secondary school (Schottenfeld Gymnasium).

Fig. 3. In 1874, Julius Hann (1839–1921) was appointed associate professor of physical geography at the University of Vienna; three years later, he was appointed director of the ZAMG (1877–1897) and full professor of physics at the University of Vienna. Archive ZAMG.

Later, in 1865, he was invited by the director of the ZAMG, Carl Jelinek, to help edit the journal of the newly founded Austrian Society for Meteorology. On May 1, 1866, the first issue of the Journal of the Austrian Society for Meteorology, edited by Carl Jelinek and Julius Hann, was published. Soon the journal found contributors among international experts. “From its beginning the Zeitschrift has been recognised as the leading meteorological journal of the world, and as indispensable for any library in which the science of meteorology is represented,” wrote the British meteorologist William Napier Shaw (1921) in Nature(p. 250). Hann held the editorial role for 55 years.

Hanns’s Formulation of the Foehn Principle

In October 1866, Hann’s (1866) important essay “On the Question of the Origin of the Foehn” (“Zur Frage über den Ursprung des Föhns”) was published in the Journal of the Austrian Society for Meteorology. At the time, Swiss (Heinrich Wild, 1833–1902) and German (Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in Berlin, 1803–1879) meteorologists were debating whether the foehn originated from the Sahara (the view held by Wild and the geologist Conrad Escher von der Lindt) or the Caribbean Sea (the view held by Dove). Hann’s belief was that foehn is a humid southwest wind that loses a large amounts of water vapor through cloud formation when it crosses southern slopes of the Alps. Wind temperatures would increase through the release of latent condensation heat.

Years later, in 1931, on the occasion of the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honor of Hann at the Conference of the Austrian and German Societies for Meteorology in Vienna, the Austrian meteorologist and future director of the ZAMG (1937–1953) Heinrich Ficker said in his lecture that even though Hann was the author of the thermodynamic foehn theory, it was not commonly known that thermodynamics was in fact first applied in meteorology using Hann’s foehn theory. Therefore modern meteorology begins with this theory and with Hann:

The first hint of this foehn theory is of course given by Helmholtz [Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821–1894), a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions in several scientific fields]. But it was not Dove, the most famous meteorologist of his time, who was teaching in Berlin next to Helmholtz, who took up the suggestion of his colleague of physics and made it fruitful, rather it was the very young, still unknown Hann who made Helmholtz’s sketchy assumptions a real theory, proved then by observations. Everything that could be explained in the foehn problem by applying thermodynamic principles, goes back to Hann, is still valid and has revealed a number of previously unexplained, meteorological causal connections.

Heuristically, the foehn principle became a turning point in meteorological research, and the work that Hann devoted solely to this subject would be enough to make his name immortal in the history of our science. Since the formulation of the foehn principle, meteorology has become a physical discipline from a predominantly statistical, earth-descriptive one.

(Ficker, 1931, pp. 454–455)

In 1867, Hann took over the adjunct position at the ZAMG, which became the starting point of his scientific career at institutions in Vienna. Shortly thereafter, he received his doctorate in philosophy, and in 1868, he achieved his habilitation at the University of Vienna with the geographer Friedrich Simony. In 1872, he took over the lectureship for climatology at the newly founded University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, which he held until 1875. In 1874, Julius Hann was appointed associate professor of physical geography at the university, and three years later, in 1877, he was appointed director of the ZAMG and full professor of physics at the University of Vienna. Hann’s directorship can be considered the scientific heyday of the ZAMG.

Expansion of the Meteorological Network in Austria-Hungary

Hann began to improve the ZAMG meteorological network. He took over a network with 238 stations and handed his successor, Josef Maria Pernter, a network with 447 stations (Figure 4). Hann thus laid the foundation for the wealth of scientific work, which, under his direction, would be carried out by his colleagues and himself.

Fig. 4. Observation stations in Austria, 1876.

Source: Annual Report of ZAMG.

Hann also sought to set up new stations in the Balkan Peninsula. The ZAMG and the Ministry of War re-established the former Bosnian meteorological stations, and the data was published in the ZAMG yearbooks. The director of the road-building department in Sarajevo said, in a paper from 1893:

Before the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina [in 1876], regular meteorological observations in these countries were as unknown as any other institution of the civilized states [Kulturstaaten]. It was only under the Austrian Hungarian administration that the necessary attention was paid to them both for the interest of daily life and for observations important to many branches of human activity. –From small beginnings, in a relatively short time, a tightly organized observation service distributed across the whole country was formed in the year 1892 . . . With the Decree of 8 October 1891 Z. 8426 / BH. the I. R. Ministry of Finance (Department of Bosnia and Herzegovina) ordered the installation of a meteorological observation service distributed evenly and appropriately throughout the country . . . The equipment of the meteorological stations is provided by state funds, while the ZAMG in Vienna gives valuable support by ordering and testing the instruments, and by advising in activating the whole observation service.

(Hammerl, 2001, pp. 63–64)

To compile worldwide climatic tables, Hann supported the building of observation stations around the world, which led to the annual ZAMG reports, which also contained observations from, for example, Alexandria, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sulina, Sofia, Saloniki, Üsküb, Prizren, Scutari d’Albania, Cettinje, Marianhill and Lourd in Natal, Wu-tchang in China, and Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Under Hann’s leadership, many stations in the network were equipped as principle observation stations, which dramatically increased the quality of the observation data. These included the mountain observatories of Sonnblick, Obir, Schafberg, and Schmittenhöhe, and the stations at Lesina, Rovereto, Gries (Bozen), Bludenz, Zell am See, Bucheben (Rauris), Eger, Bielitz, Prerau, Graz, and Klagenfurt. The large number of principle observation stations encouraged the study of meteorological elements and their daily, monthly, and annual means in Austria.

The expansion of the meteorological network also resulted in an extension of the ZAMG yearbooks. This meant that the data obtained by the self-registering instruments at the ZAMG—both meteorological and geomagnetic—had to be recorded in the yearbooks as hourly values. Gradually, compilations and overviews of observations from the other stations with self-registering instruments were added. In particular, the observations from the Kremsmünster (long series) and Sonnblick (mountain meteorological observatory) stations were taken into account as much as possible.

The results of the extremely lively scientific work on the observation material were published not only in the yearbooks but also in the series (Sitzungsberichte and Denkschriften), of the Academy of Sciences. Above all, Hann devoted his work to the evaluation of the meteorological network data, which he developed with great commitment. In the course of his directorship, he published a wealth of papers on the observational material from Austria. Hann’s zeal for work in this field of research also influenced the staff at the ZAMG significantly, as is evidenced by the long list of their publications.

Mountain Meteorological Observatories

Julius Hann is generally considered the founder of mountain observatory stations. Even though mountain observatories did already exist in 1846, for example, at Mount Obir in Carinthia—the first mountain observatory in the Austrian Empire—it was Hann’s systematic approach, which made the measurement data scientifically usable. At the meteorologists’ symposium in Rome in 1879, Hann stressed the importance of mountain stations and balloon rides in investigating atmospheric processes. During the symposium, Hann presented a summary of worldwide “observations on high mountains” and “observations in the balloon” and proposed:

The Congress, due to the state of art of meteorology, considers it of particular importance to erect some fully equipped observatories on dominating mountain peaks and to publish the complete observations in order to make them accessible to all meteorologists and, if possible, to make them available for the solutions of all problems, also for those that may arise in the future.

(Hann, 1879, pp. 21–23)

Detailed study of the free atmosphere had long been a goal, but at the time there were still many technical requirements that could not be satisfied. It was not until the turn of the 20th century that scientists attempted to explore the higher strata of the atmosphere with kites and captive balloon ascents or free balloon flights. Earlier, to measure the atmosphere three dimensionally, one had to rely on the observations from the mountain stations.

Under Hann, the Austrian observation network was extended with the following first-order high-altitude meteorological stations: Obir (at an altitude of 2041 meters above sea level), in Carinthia; Schafberg (1776 meters), in Upper Austria; and Schmittenhöhe (1935 meters) and Sonnblick (3106 meters), in Salzburg. The data were mostly edited and analyzed by Hann, Pernter, and Trabert, and were published in the Denkschriften of the Academy of Sciences.

The ZAMG Sonnblick Observatory in the Austrian Central Alps at an altitude of 3106 meters above sea level, completed in 1886, was a technical masterpiece (Figure 5). Research at Sonnblick covers three main areas—the atmosphere, the cryosphere, and the biosphere—in an extensive monitoring program and includes many diverse research projects. The observatory’s long-term climate observations and studies on glacier changes are outstanding. Continuous measurements have been carried out since 1886, the world’s longest continuous series of measurements at such a high altitude. The impact of climate change on the cryosphere is therefore a major research topic at Sonnblick.

Fig. 5. The ZAMG Sonnblick observatory, built 3106 meters above sea level, shortly before the official opening in 1886 (view from the southwest). Archive ZAMG.

In 1905, Hann reaffirmed the importance of high-altitude weather stations at the International Conference of Directors in Innsbruck in Tyrol:

I am very much in favor of the construction of observation stations on mountain peaks. They have indeed delivered beautiful results . . . Since we . . . will never be able to continuously record the meteorological conditions at a fixed altitude of the atmosphere, the observations on mountain tops, even if they are subject to local influences, remain of great importance and they are indispensable for determining the weather history in the higher layers of the atmosphere.

(Hann, 1907, p. 4)

Hann’s vision was realized and has been confirmed by the manifold special measurements and research projects carried out on the Sonnblick summit in the early 21st century, which include studies on air-electrical phenomena, cosmic rays, glacier research, and the environmental monitoring and measurement of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, CH4, and O3, and aerosols and permafrost in the high mountains.

The scientific work of Julius Hann was comprehensive, and the first of his publications on foehn attracted international attention in the first year of the Journal of the Austrian Society of Meteorology. It was followed by an issue on warm anticyclones, which was important because Hann’s fact-based analysis could not be reconciled with theories of the time. Only decades later could his results be understood based on new scientific findings.

Handbook of Climatology

In 1883, Hann published his most famous work, the Handbook of Climatology (Handbuch der Klimatologie), initially, in one volume, in 1897 the second edition in two volumes. Later, in 1908, 1910 and 1911 the greatly expanded third edition was published in three volumes. It formed the basis of early climatological knowledge.

Robert DeCourcy Ward (1867–1931) was an American climatologist. He was the first professor of climatology in the United States and made major contributions to the study of the climate. Ward released a translated and updated version of Hann’s Handbook of Climatology (Hann & Ward, 1903), which became widely used. He highly appreciated Hann’s work. In a review in Science, Ward was as full of praise and recognition for the second volume of the third edition, published in 1910, as he had been six years earlier on, the climatography of Lower Austria (Ward, 1904):

The first part of the second volume of the third edition of Hann’s monumental work—revised, enlarged, up to date—the unique store-house of climatological fact and description; the indispensable reference book for all who deal in any way with the science of the earth’s atmosphere; a book which has laid the whole scientific world under a debt of gratitude to its author, impossible to overestimate.

(Ward, 1910, pp. 305–306)

The famous American astronomer and meteorologist Cleveland Abbe (1838–1916), known as the “father” of the National Weather Service (originally, United States Weather Bureau), wrote a detailed review of the three-volume third edition of Hann’s book a year later, in 1911:

A laborious work is now completed and published. The progress of science may years hence suggest modifications and improvements. The history of science may bring into prominence the names of others than those quoted in this great work, but for the present this monument must stand alone, towering over other books as the pyramids of Gizeh tower over the valley of the Nile.

For forty years past Dr. Julius Hann has been filling meteorological journals and literature with a steady stream of works on the subject that has absorbed his thoughts and life. Neither Newton nor Laplace surpassed him in intense concentration of effort; neither Euler nor Humboldt have published more voluminously. Neither “The Voyage of the Challenger” nor all the polar expeditions of the past thirty years have contributed more to our accurate knowledge of the atmosphere of our own globe.

(Abbe, 1911, pp. 155–156)

Abbe called Hann “the founder of modern climatology,” and he appreciated tremendous amount of work Hann accomplished, which was based on a wealth of measured data. He sums up Hann’s work:

[Hann has] given us both numerical and textual descriptions and comparisons covering all the characteristic features, both the general and the special local characteristics, of all the known climates of the globe. At first sight it would seem impossible to do this; but at numerous localities the forces that build up local climates are the same, so that the relative importance of one or the other force controls the result. Complex as are the atmosphere and its relations to the earth and man, to geology and biology, to history and religion, yet all can be analyzed into temperature, moisture, sunshine and wind. The tabulation of these fundamental data gave Hann the handy material for statistical intercomparison and study.

(Abbe, 1911, p. 155)

Hann’s teachings were of great importance for the development of meteorology as a science. During his directorship, several officials at the ZAMG, including the geomagnetist Liznar and the meteorologists Pernter and Trabert, achieved habilitation. During the first decade of the 1900s, Hann was already achieving renown as a meteorologist and climatologist. He was a pioneer in gathering and synthesizing global climatological and meteorological data, and his Handbook of Climatology (Hann, 1883) and Textbook of Meteorology (Hann, 1901) were standard setters (Davies, 2001). It was in Hann’s era that one began to speak of the “School of Austrian Meteorology” (Pernter, 1902a).

Climatography of Austria: A Promising Enterprise at the Turn of the Century

The Forerunners: Kreil’s “Climatology of Bohemia” and the “Kronprinzenwerk”

In this context, it must be stressed that the idea to edit an Austrian climatography was not new. The roots go back to Karl Kreil (1865), who had already started to realize this enterprise in the 1860s with his publication Climatology of Bohemia.

The treatise on the climate of Austria-Hungary by Hann included in the Kronprinzenwerk (Hann, 1886) must also be mentioned. In 1883, Crown Prince Rudolf initiated work on an extensive project—namely, an ethnographic encyclopedia on Austria-Hungary. The 24-volume Kronprinzenwerk, or The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Words and Pictures, was compiled by hundreds of authors, including the crown prince himself, in both German and Hungarian versions between 1886 and 1902. Numerous xylographs adorned the individual volumes. The second volume was an overview of natural history; it included articles written by the most renowned scientists of the time, for example, Franz von Hauer on geology; Anton von Kerner on plant life; and Julius Hann, who contributed the 50-page article “The Climatic Conditions of Austria-Hungary.” The Kronprizenwerk was conceived as an ethnographic work, as a vision of the peaceful, fruitful juxtaposition that exists within diversity. Hann’s article stressed the climatic diversity of Austria-Hungary, and he introduced it as follows:

Nature has made it comfortable for the inhabitant of Austria-Hungary to cultivate climatic studies. If he has the desire to travel and the money to do so, he can, without crossing the border, explore the impact of climatic opposites as in no other country in Europe at similar distances: let him first start by train around the middle of winter from Vienna to Fiume [now Rijeka, Croatia]. In the short span of half a day, he passes from the winter of Central Europe, with its monotonous snow cover, the gloomy cloudy sky and very frosty temperatures, into a balmy air full of sunshine and picturesque light effects in a land where spring seems to dominate, where there is no lack of flowers and the shores of a deep blue sea are lined with evergreen laurel forests.

(Hann, 1886, p. 135)

Climatography of Austria: A Series

It would be another 18 years before an important series published by the ZAMG, the Climatography of Austria, was initiated under Josef Maria Pernter’s directorship (1897–1908). These volumes would describe the climatic conditions of the individual crownlands of Cisleithania, which were represented in the Imperial Council (Reichsrat). Cisleithania, home to the capital city Vienna, where the Austrian emperor had his residence, was a common yet unofficial name for the northern and western part of Austria-Hungary, the dual monarchy created by the Compromise of 1867, as distinguished from Transleithania. The territory, which had a population of 28,571,900 in 1910, stretched from Vorarlberg (Austria) in the west to the crownland of Galicia and Lodomeria (Poland and western Ukraine) and the crownland of Bukovina (after WWII part of Ukraine and Romania) in the east, as well as from the crownland of Bohemia in the north to the crownland of Dalmatia (since 1991 part of Croatia) in the south. It comprised the current states of Austria (except Burgenland), as well as most of the territories of the Czech Republic and Slovenia (except Prekmurje), and parts of Italy (Trieste, Gorizia, and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol), Croatia (Istria, Dalmatia), and Montenegro (Kotor Bay). From 1867 onward, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Kingdom of Slavonia, and the Principality of Transylvania were no longer “Austrian” crownlands.

Wilhelm von Hartel, the minister of education in Austria-Hungary, announced the very ambitious project of publishing a climatography of Austria in his opening speech at the Viennese Academy of Science in 1901, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of ZAMG:

The study of the climatic conditions of our fatherland, as well as gathering knowledge on atmospheric phenomena, has been carried out using an increasingly dense network of observation stations, which have been coordinated and equipped with meteorological instruments from the center [ZAMG in Vienna]. From hour to hour, day to day, these stations have provided homogenous observation material to the central station, where they were received not to simply mold in the archives, but have been collected, revised and processed. It may already be promised today that these fifty-year-old observational results will soon appear in a monumental work which will give a detailed account of the climate of the diverse parts of our empire, for the collective good.

(Hartel, 1902, pp. 372–373)

Several editors were going to oversee the publication of the 16 climatographies of the crownlands. In the preface to Hann’s (1904) Climatography of Lower Austria, the first volume in the series, the director of the ZAMG at the time, Josef Maria Pernter, wrote:

It is also very important that the person who studies the climate of a country knows this country well, and it is therefore recommended that the authors of the climatographies have either lived there for a long time or, even better, live there at the time of the compilation of the climatography.

(Hann, 1904, p. I)

To ensure the comparability of the monographies, Hann’s Climatography of Lower Austria, served as a model in form and method for the climatographies of the other crownlands. Pernter wrote, “Only one man is able to design this unified method, a guideline valid for all, and it is the most outstanding climatologist of our time, our doyen, Hofrat Julius Hann, my predecessor in the directorship of this central institution [ZAMG]” (Hann, 1904, p. I).

An overview of the climatic conditions, characteristics, and differences throughout the Austrian Empire was intended for a closing volume.

The publication of Climatography of Lower Austria had caused a sensation in the international scientific community. Robert DeCourcy Ward wrote in his review:

The acknowledged master of climatology has written on the climate of his own country. The present volume is the first of a series of reports to be issued as rapidly as possible under the auspices of the Austrian Central Meteorological Institute of Vienna, dealing with the climates of the different portions of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It was as fitting as it was natural that Hann, who stands at the head of the world’s workers in meteorological science, should be chosen to prepare the first volume in the series. This he has written with the thoroughness, the accuracy, and the systematic arrangement of details which distinguish all his work. As an authoritative study of the climatography of Lower Austria; as a model for the remaining volumes of the same set, and of monographs on the climate of other countries; as an additional proof of the debt which meteorology owes to its master, this report has a value which it is impossible to over-estimate.

(Ward, 1904, p. 569)

Hann’s colleague could not have bestowed greater praise on the work.

Hann’s monograph was followed by the second volume in the series, on the imperial Austrian coastal region (Mazelle, 1908), with a focus on Trieste. It was published in 1908 by the geophysicist and meteorologist Eduard Mazelle (1862–1925), director of the Imperial Royal Astronomical Observatory of Trieste.

Robert Klein (1909) edited the third volume, the Climatography of Styria. Robert Klein was a provincial doctor in Tragöß in Styria and correspondent for the ZAMG, who, at the same time, maintained a meteorological station to study the sudden appearance of the north foehn, which was characteristic for the area. Being an amateur climatologist, Klein (1909) said that “the appropriate literature comforted me in the treatment of the challenging material that even the best expert can describe the climate of any part of the world only by the example of Hann.”

Heinrich Ficker, who was later the director of the ZAMG, was the author of the fourth volume, Climatography of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, also published in 1909. In the foreword, Ficker described the obstacles he had faced during the project:

When I took over the editing of the Tyrol volume of the Climatography of Austria, I was unaware of the difficulties . . . The meteorological material that is available is not complete enough and reflects the situation of too few stations to be able to derive a reasonably adequate, climatic picture of Tyrol. Areas with large differences in altitude require a far greater number of stations than areas in the flat country . . . However, there is special difficulty with the treatment of Tyrol in that two completely different climatic regions border on one another. A uniform treatment of North and South Tyrol is thereby impossible, so that one would actually have to write a separate climatography for each part of the country. In a final chapter, a climatic overview of the whole of Tyrol, which is in fact a comparison of the parts of the country, was given, only in consideration of the uniform national borders and on the practical usability of the climatography.

(Ficker, 1909, p. 1)

In 1912, Alois Fessler (1912) Fessler published the fifth volume, the Climatography of Salzburg. Fessler worked at the ZAMG from 1909 to 1912, before becoming a teacher of mathematics and physics in a secondary school (kaiserlich königliche Staats-Oberrealschule) in Laibach (now Ljubljana, Slovenia), the capital of the crownland Carniola. The author of the sixth volume, the meteorologist and seismologist Victor Conrad, former head of the ZAMG Earthquake Survey, published the Climatography of Carinthia in 1913 (Conrad, 1913), when he was working as a professor of cosmic physics in the crownland Bukovina at the Chernivtsi University. Carinthia has a relatively large number of long-term observation stations, some of which were established before the founding of the ZAMG in 1851. Conrad introduced his climatology as follows:

The Klagenfurt station has been working since 1813 thanks to the efforts of excellent, scientifically-minded men. . . . i.e. Johann Prettner (1812–1875) operated an observation network in Carinthia and summarized the observed data in “The Climate of Carinthia,” Klagenfurt 1872. . . . the excellent, really exemplary station descriptions were consulted in many cases.

(Conrad, 1913, p. 4)

Conrad was also the author of the seventh volume, the Climatography of Bukovina (Conrad, 1917). At the end he stated his belief that

an attempt was made to design a climatic picture of Bukovina. . . . In the present description, many a detail and some observations had to be disregarded because the material is not accessible due to the military situation [WWI]. In addition, the excellent anniversary work by Bukovina’s gendarmerie about the crownland Bukovina, published by one of the best connoisseurs (Eduard Fischer), was not available and consequently could not be used. So the gaps and shortcomings may not be blamed on the author.

(Conrad, 1917, pp. 25–26)

Major General Dr. h. c. Eduard von Fischer (1862–1935), Knight of the Maria Theresia Order, was a colonel (Gendarmeriegeneral) commanding the Austrian gendarmerie in Bukovina. He was also a respected author. Conrad edited the Climatography of Bukovina and wrote the cited text in the Imperial and Royal field weather station (Feldwetterstation) in Belgrade, in May 1917, during wartime.

In 1918, Hermann Schindler, author of the eighth volume, published Climatography of Moravia and Silesia (Schindler, 1918). Schindler was a student of Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar and scientist in Brno who is recognized as the founder of the modern genetics. Schindler dealt with meteorological observations for more than 50 years. His observational data were published in the yearbooks of the ZAMG and in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brno (Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines in Brünn) and he used them as the basis for his climatography. Schindler was first a private secretary in Dačice and, later, an estate manager in Olomouc (Czech Republic) in the crownland Moravia.

In 1919, Father Thiemo Schwarz, mathematician and director of the Benedictine monastery’s observatory in Kremsmünster, author of the ninth volume, published the Climatography of Upper Austria (Schwarz, 1919). Schwarz used the meteorological records of the Upper Austrian stations, which had been collected by the ZAMG, along with many notes from the meteorological diaries of the observatory in the archive of Kremsmünster, “as a valuable supplement,” as he himself wrote in the foreword.

After the collapse of the Austrian Empire in 1918 and the break-up in several successor states, which changed the status of the ZAMG from an empire´s (Austria-Hungary 624,856km2, Austrian part 300,005 km2) Central Office to the Central Office of the comparatively very small Republic of Austria (83,855 km2), another two climatographies were published: the first, the Climatography of the Former Austrian Coastal Region, was published in 1927 by Erwin Biel (1899–1973), a geographer and meteorologist. Biel explained his work in the preface:

The present climatography of the former Austrian coastal region is, in its structure and content, a part of the work “Climatography of Austria,” published by the Central Institute for Meteorology; it closely follows the work of Julius Hann who created the basis of representation and is based on the results of the stations of the Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik . . . Since the coastal region and Istria have not been part of Austria since 1918, the ZAMG was unable to print the climatography of this area as an official publication, following the earlier booklets of Austrian climatography.”

(Biel, 1927, pp. 137–138)

Three years later, in 1930, Arthur Wagner, who had been appointed chair of cosmic physics in Innsbruck in 1927, before becoming an assistant at the ZAMG, published The Annual Course of the Meteorological Elements in Vienna (1851–1920) as the tenth volume of the Climatography of Austria (Wagner, 1930). It was the last in the series.

The authors of the ten volumes of the Climatography of Austria came from very heterogeneous professions. Five of the ten authors were eminent meteorologists of the ZAMG, these being Hann, Conrad, Ficker, Fessler, and Wagner, and two were esteemed experts such as Biel and Mazelle. The other three authors, Klein, Schindler, and Schwarz, came from different professions: physician, estate manager, and mathematician, respectively. However, they were highly motivated and serious about their work in meteorological stations as amateur climatologists. Guided by Hann’s first volume, they were able to summarize their measured data as climatographies of the respective regions.

In the end, however, the ambitious project to publish the complete Climatography of Austria (Cisleithania) series was never finished. Changing political circumstances kept the intended final volume from being written, but the volumes that were published and the project as a whole represented a unique and promising enterprise.

From Pernter to Ficker: Scientists of the Viennese Group in the Footsteps of Julius Hann

Hann’s Successor

Josef Maria Pernter (1848–1908) was born in Neumarkt in South Tyrol. Pernter (Figure 6) studied physics at the University of Innsbruck, and then mathematics and physics at the University of Vienna. In 1882, Pernter received his PhD with Josef Stefan. In 1880, he became an assistant at the ZAMG; and in 1884, adjunct of the ZAMG under the directorship of Julius Hann. He got his venia legendi in meteorology at the University of Vienna in 1885, and in 1892 he qualified as full professor of cosmic physics at the University of Innsbruck.

Fig. 6. Josef Maria Pernter (1848–1908), fourth director of the ZAMG, from 1897 to 1908. Archive ZAMG.

Pernter was appointed director of the ZAMG in 1897 and professor of physics of the earth at the University of Vienna after Julius Hann.

One of Pernter’s main research topics was meteorological optics. He improved the theory of rainbow development after being inspired by the optical phenomena that were a consequence of the eruption of the Krakatau volcano in 1883. His main work was “Meteorological Optics,” published in 1902 (Pernter, 1902b); in it he summarized the contemporary knowledge in the field for the first time.

One of the Founders of Dynamical Meteorology

Max Margules (1856–1920) was an exceptional theoretical physicist who used the laws of thermodynamics to describe the basic principles that regulate the formation of storms and cyclones. He was one of the founders of dynamical meteorology, but the true value of his contributions was not generally acknowledged in his lifetime.

On the occasion of 50th anniversary of Margules’s death, in 1970, Heinz Reuter, full professor of theoretical meteorology at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Vienna and director of the ZAMG from 1976 to 1984, said that

the partly very difficult mathematical papers [written by Margules] did not find understanding from the majority of meteorologists. The opinion, that meteorology is a physics of the atmosphere, was not conventional wisdom at the time and the famous “Leipziger Programm” of V. Bjerknes was formulated only at a later time, when Margules had already turned away from meteorology.

(Reuter, 1970, pp. 221–228)

Margules (Figure 7) was born in Brody in the Habsburg monarchy crownland of Galicia and Lodomeria. In 1877, the mathematician, physicist, and chemist joined the ZAMG as a volunteer. After a break to carry out his doctoral studies, he returned in 1882 as an assistant. Margules, a reserved and highly talented theoretician, retired in 1906 at the age of 50. Only a few people understood Margules’s research, which is said to have been ahead of its time, and perhaps this was also the reason for his early retirement from the ZAMG.

The study of the energy source of storms was one of Margules’s most important works. He demonstrated that the available potential energy associated with horizontal temperature contrasts inside a cyclone was, if converted to kinetic energy, sufficient to explain the observed winds. Over the course of this work, he derived an expression for the slope of the inclination of the boundary between two air masses, a formula (the Margules Equation for Frontal Slope) that is still occasionally found in modern textbooks. Margules showed that surfaces of separation between distinct air masses actually exist in the atmosphere (Kutzbach, 1979). This work overturned the convective theory of cyclones and adumbrated the frontal theory, which emerged about a decade later (Lynch, 2003).

Fig. 7. Max Margules (1856–1920): 1877–1879, volunteer at the ZAMG; 1882–1906, assistant at the ZAMG, and one of the founders of theoretical meteorology. Archive ZAMG.

An Inspiring Teacher

Wilhelm Trabert (1863–1921) was born in Frankenberg in Hessen, Germany, and in 1866, his family moved to Vienna. At the University of Vienna, Trabert (Figure 8) studied mathematics and physics and devoted himself to meteorology and astronomy. In 1888 Trabert received his PhD and started to work at the university observatory in Vienna. Two years later, he joined the ZAMG as an assistant. Trabert was appointed director of the ZAMG and at the same time full professor of physics of the earth at the University of Vienna in 1909.

Fig. 8. Wilhelm Trabert (1863–1921), fifth director of the ZAMG, from 1909 to 1915. Archive ZAMG.

Trabert was an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher, and he was interested in the influence of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere on synoptic development (Davies, 2001). Consequently, he wrote a short, concise meteorology textbook that was particularly useful for students and was therefore issued in several editions (Trabert, 1896). He followed it with more extensive summary of meteorology and climatology some years later (Trabert, 1905).

Heinrich Ficker, who later became director of the ZAMG, studied with Trabert at the University of Innsbruck and characterized his significance for science as “making the difficult works by Margules easier to understand for his students” (Ficker, 1931). Ficker expressed the view that Trabert was probably the first meteorologist to recognize the significance of Margules’s work and that he became the founder of a real “Austrian school” representing certain doctrines. Ficker was referring in particular to Trabert’s work The Theory of Daily Barometric Pressure Variations by Margules and the Daily Oscillation of Air Masses (“Die Theorie der täglichen Luftdruckschwankungen von Margules und die tägliche Oszillatin der Luftmassen”) (Trabert, 1903).

The Seismologist, Meteorologist, and Climatologist

Victor Conrad (1876–1962) was born in Vienna, Austria. In October 1895, he began to study mathematics, mechanics and chemistry at the University of Vienna, and after his military service he continued his studies in physics, meteorology, and mathematics with the renowned physicists Franz Exner, Viktor Lang, and Ludwig Boltzmann. By 1901, he was a university assistant at the ZAMG, and three years later Conrad (Figure 9) became the head of the newly founded Earthquake Survey. He was appointed professor of cosmic physics at the University of Chernivtsi (now Černivci, Ukraine) in 1910. From 1915 onward, during war service (Feldwetterdienst, Feldwetterstation Belgrad; meteorological field service, field weather station Belgrad), Conrad established a meteorological network from the Save and Danube to the Osum river in south Albania. This work lasted several years and included many journeys into more or less unknown areas of Montenegro and Albania, culminating in a well-functioning network, whose data Conrad (1921) could later use in a comprehensive description of the area’s climate. Another Conrad wartime endeavor during Serbia’s occupation by the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) was the Climatography of Serbia (Conrad, 1916).

Fig. 9. Victor Conrad (1876–1962). In 1904, he was named the first head of newly established seismological survey at the ZAMG. The Conrad Observatory is named after him. Archive ZAMG.

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Conrad had to leave Chernivtsi in 1919 and served again at the ZAMG in Vienna. During the following years, he concentrated on seismological research, which culminated in the paper “Laufzeitkurven des Tauernbebens vom 28. November 1923” (Travel-time curves of the Tauern earthquake of November 28, 1923). In it he described the nature of the P-wave, which is the primary wave with a high velocity and therefore the first wave recorded by a seismograph, leading him to suggest that the Earth’s crust consists of two layers. The separation of these layers became known worldwide as the “Conrad discontinuity.”

From 1926 onward, Conrad worked very successfully on studies of the climate of spas and winter resorts in Austria, at first, by order of the Federal Office of social administration. Many publications resulted from these investigations. Conrad continued working in this field after emigrating to the United States in 1939. In 1927, VGA (Volksgesundheitsamt), the public health service, under Victor Conrad introduced the medical-climatological campaign, installing climatological stations in several locations in Austria. This gave Conrad a basis for making assessments of places with favorable climates, and Austria later used this data to develop to a modern law for health resorts.

In 1938, the “Anschluss” of Austria into Nazi Germany led to Conrad, who was of Jewish descent, leaving Europe. From 1939 to 1940, he worked at the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University in the United States. From 1940 to 1942, Conrad was attached to various academic institutions, including New York University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and, finally, Harvard University. The Conrad Observatory of the ZAMG in Lower Austria, a state-of-the-art facility for monitoring fundamental physical parameters of Earth, is named after him.

The Textbook of “Dynamical Meteorology”

Felix Maria Exner (1876–1930), born in Vienna, came from one of the most important and influential “university families” of the Habsburg monarchy.

Exner (Figure 10) studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the University of Vienna, where he received his PhD in 1900. After two semesters of studying physics and meteorology in Berlin and geophysics in Göttingen, where Ernst Mach, Ludwig Boltzmann, Wilhelm von Bezold, and Emil Wiechert were among his teachers, Exner started to work as an assistant at the ZAMG in 1901. In his first years there, Exner’s scientific career was strongly influenced by Julius Hann and Max Margules. His work in Vienna was interrupted by a one-year research trip, which began shortly after his habilitation for meteorology at the University of Vienna in 1904. He traveled to British India and made his way back via Washington. The North American data available at the Weather Bureau in Washington, DC, encouraged Exner to evaluate the complicated processes in the atmosphere theoretically in order to improve the weather forecast.

Fig. 10. Felix Maria Exner (1876–1930), sixth director of the ZAMG, from 1916 to 1930. Archive ZAMG.

In 1916, Felix Maria Exner was appointed director of the ZAMG and professor of physics of the earth at the University of Vienna. When there was a slowdown of research during World War I, Exner (1917) published his main work, the textbook Dynamical Meteorology, in 1917. It was published in a second, expanded edition in 1925. Wilhelm Schmidt, who was a later director of the ZAMG, characterized Exner’s textbook by saying:

Generally in the book, Exner’s scientific mentality consciously contrasts with the so-called “Nordic School” Exner had referenced the polar front theory of the distinguished Norwegian physicist and meteorologist Vilhelm Bjerknes (1862–1951)]. Those cannot deny having been born in the entangled situation of a mountainous region . . . Here one will not so easily find the simplified conditions of nature for a theoretical approach . . . So Exner was guided by necessity from his theoretical publications to carry out experiments in the laboratory . . . This work method was always an important part of what was called the “Viennese School.”

(Schmidt, 1930, p. 256)

The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Figure 11) in 1918 and the break-up into several successor states meant a big change for the ZAMG as well. One of the consequences was the loss of 189 meteorological stations and all their instruments.

Deborah Coen (2006), historian of science, concluded, “If globalization were really the driving force in the history of modern weather science, then meteorology in an amputated Austria should have floundered. Intriguingly, it flourished.” Heinrich Ficker maintained that this was the case during Exner’s directorship, because

by constantly linking his theoretical work with the questions of synoptic meteorology, Exner has also escaped the fate of being overlooked by “practical” meteorologists like Margules. His textbook is now in the hands of every meteorologist and has caused a large number of professionals to continue working in the field of dynamical meteorology. After the death of Hann, Austrian meteorology once again found a leader in Exner, whose word received international recognition, even when the polar-front theory of the Norwegian school spread from the north quickly without providing much new to the Austrian meteorologist, thanks to the works of Margules and Exner.

(Ficker, 1931, p. 459)

Fig. 11. Map showing the boundaries and major cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (green) at the time it entered the First World War, August 1914. The red area shows the new boundaries of the Republic of Austria after World War I.

Source: Modified from Map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand

Alpine Foehn

Heinrich Ficker (1881–1957) was born in Munich. He studied at the universities of Innsbruck and Vienna and received his PhD in Innsbruck in 1906. Ficker achieved great success in his research field “dynamics of the atmosphere.” His “Innsbrucker Föhnstudien” (Ficker, 1906, 1910) and the scientific balloon rides (Figure 12) he carried out for this purpose had yielded accurate insights into the topic of foehn. The alpine foehn was indeed a long-lasting topic of study for the Viennese group. Hann had been at the forefront of foehn studies and had successfully interpreted observations in terms of the newly formulated first law of thermodynamics. Foehn research continued with Trabert’s (1908) detailed case-study analysis of a long-lasting event that included noting the characteristic S-shaped signal in surface pressure. Ficker (1906, 1910) considered the complications introduced by the inner Alpine valleys (Davies, 2001). The question, “Does the foehn research still offer a scientific field of activity in the future?” asked by the meteorologist Reinhold Steinacker (2006) at the end of his paper “Alpine Foehn: A New Verse to an Old Song” shows that the alpine foehn was never a trivial problem and is still an important research topic.

Fig. 12. Heinrich Ficker (left in the nacelle) at a balloon launch to explore the higher strata of the atmosphere, June 16, 1912. Archive ZAMG.

Loss of the Climate and Weather Service Autonomy in 1938

In 1937, Ficker (Figure 13) became director of the ZAMG. Before going to Vienna, he had been director of the Prussian Meteorological Institute in Berlin, where he had experienced a similar situation just four years before—namely, the loss of the weather service autonomy. After Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany in 1938, the climate and weather service of the ZAMG was relocated to Berlin and subordinated to the Reich Weather Service, and the Central Institute in Vienna was turned into a research center. The original status was restored after World War II.

Fig. 13. Heinrich Ficker (1881–1957), eighth director of the ZAMG, from 1937 to 1953. Archive ZAMG.


In the last decades before the fall of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, the capital city, Vienna, clearly reflected the zeitgeist of the fin de siècle in its economic, scientific, and cultural heyday. During this time, various so-called Viennese schools were formed, in the fields of art, science‚ economics, and medicine, for example. This was also true in the field of meteorology and thus of climatology.

The fact that imperial Austria took a leading position in the development of meteorology and climatology, which led to their recognition as scientific disciplines at the end of the 19th century, is mostly due to the work of renowned scientists of the ZAMG in Vienna.

In particular, during the lifetime of Julius Hann, the third director of the ZAMG, one began to speak of a “Viennese school,” in the spirit of the zeitgeist. As a matter of fact, Hann, called “the acknowledged master of climatology” by a contemporary, was a pioneer in gathering and synthesizing global climatological and meteorological data, and his textbooks were international standard setters, not only in German-speaking countries.

Hann’s extraordinary scientific work would not have been possible if the ZAMG had not been founded by Karl Kreil more than 25 years earlier. Even more importantly, without Kreil’s pioneering work in the fields of magnetics and meteorology, the ZAMG probably would not have been founded. He realized his vision of establishing a meteorological and magnetic network, which developed rapidly in imperial Austria. Hann began to improve this network during his directorship, establishing the basis for the wealth of scientific work carried out by him and his colleagues. The ZAMG Sonnblick mountain observatory, for instance, was part of the network and its erection in the Austrian Central Alps at an altitude of 3106 meters above sea level in 1886 was a technical masterpiece. The observatory is outstanding with respect to its long-term climate observations and studies on glacier changes.

At the turn of the century, Pernter initiated work on an important series by the ZAMG, Climatography of Austria (whose roots go back to Kreil, who had started to realize such an initiative in the 1860s); the goal of the ambitious multivolume project was to describe the climatic conditions in each of the crownlands of Cisleithania. In the end, however, it was not completed because changing political circumstances meant that the intended final volume was never written, but volumes that were published, and the project as a whole, represented a unique and promising enterprise.

From the years that followed to the interwar period, ZAMG scientists, including Pernter, Trabert, Margules, Conrad, Exner, and Ficker, built the reputation of a Viennese School of Climatology and even increased it through their own research.

In the early 21st century, scientists at the ZAMG are continuing this tradition. This is particularly evident, for example, in the Historical Instrumental Climatological Surface Time Series of the Greater Alpine Region (HISTALP) project. HISTALP and its database consist of monthly homogenized temperature, pressure, precipitation, sunshine, and cloudiness records for the Greater Alpine Region. The longest running series on temperature and air-pressure extends back to 1760; on precipitation, to 1800; on cloudiness, to the 1840s; and on sunshine, to the 1880s.

Further Reading

  • Coen, D. (2006). Scaling down: The “Austrian” climate between empire and republic. In J. R. Fleming, V. Jankovic, & D. Coen (Eds.), Intimate universality: Local and global themes in the history of weather and climate (pp. 115–140). Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications.
  • Coen, D. (2007). Vienna in the age of uncertainty. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Coen, D. (2010). Climate and Circulation in Imperial Austria. Journal of Modern History, 82, 4, 839-875.
  • Coen, D. (2018). Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Davies, H. C. (2001). Vienna founding of dynamical meteorology. In C. Hammerl, W. Lenhardt, R. Steinacker, & P. Steinhauser (Eds.), Die Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik 1851–2001: 150 Jahre Meteorologie und Geophysik in Österreich (pp. 301–312). Graz, Austria: Leykam Buchverlagsgesellschaft.
  • Hammerl, C. (2001). Die Geschichte der Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik 1851–2001. In C. Hammerl, W. Lenhardt, R. Steinacker, & P. Steinhauser (Eds.), Die Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik 1851–2001. 150 Jahre Meteorologie und Geophysik in Österreich (pp. 17–297). Graz, Austria: Leykam Buchverlagsgesellschaft.


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