Wladimir Köppen was one of the most important geographers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although initially his studies focused on botany, over time he became increasingly interested in the climate of modern and past times.
Of Russian origin but of German lineage, Köppen has been a reference both in Germany, Russia and the rest of the world in terms of geography, meteorology and climatology, being very famous for its system of classification of climates of Earth, in effect today with some modifications.
Let’s look at the life and contributions of this scientist, hence his interest in plants and climates and what are his main works, through a biography of Wladimir Köppen.
Brief biography of Wladimir Köppen
Wladimir Köppen was a Russian geographer, meteorologist, climatologist and botanist of German origin.. He came from a line of illustrious people, because his grandfather was a great doctor, who came to serve in the Russian monarchy during the time of the tsars, and his father was a great anthropologist and geographer. His grandfather’s interest in the natural sciences and his father’s social sciences led Wladimir Köppen to take a bit of both, becoming interested in botany and geography.
Vladimir Petrovich Kopen was born on October 8 (Gregorian calendar) / September 25 (Julian calendar) of 1846 in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire. Her grandfather was one of the many German doctors invited by Empress Catherine II to improve the health of the country who also became the Tsar’s personal doctor. His father, Peter von Köppen (1793-1864) was a notable geographer, historian and ethnographer of Russian ancestral cultures who worked at the Academy of St. Petersburg.
Köppen’s father promoted intellectual contacts between Russian scientists and Slavs (experts in Slavic cultures) in Western countries. In gratitude for the services of Peter von Köppen, Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) of Russia made him an academic and granted him a hacienda on the south coast of Crimea, a place that would be very important during Wladimir’s childhood. .
The Crimea was a place very rich in flora and fauna, a nature which aroused the interest of the young Wladimir Köppen and led him to begin his first botanical explorations.. The richness of the place prompted him to seek an explanation of the influence of temperature on the varieties of plants in a given place. He would carry out these explorations in his spare time, at the end of secondary school in Simferopol, on the Crimean peninsula.
After graduating from high school in Crimea, Wladimir Köppen he enrolled in botany at the University of Saint Petersburg, where he began his courses in 1864. He would not be here forever because in 1867 he would be transferred to the University of Heidelberg. Later, in 1870, he went to the University of Leipzig, the same center where he defended his doctoral thesis on the effects of temperature on plant growth.
During the Franco-Prussian War, Wladimir Köppen served in the ambulance corps, an experience that would later help him work in his hometown at the Central Medical Observatory in St. Petersburg. Without leaving Russia, between 1872 and 1873 Wladimir Köppen worked at the Russian Meteorological Service.
Weather forecast service
However, he would later return to Germany, moving to Hamburg in 1875 to head the Atmospheric Telegraphy and Marine Meteorology Division at the German Maritime Observatory (Deutsche Seewarte). Köppen’s work in this institution was that of be in charge of the weather forecast service for northwestern Germany and neighboring countries.
His systematic study of the climate was innovative and original for the time, as he used balloons to obtain data from the upper layers of the atmosphere. Thus, thanks to his system, in 1884 he published the first version of his map of climatic zones, retracing the temperature belts of the world as a function of the monthly thermal average.
In 1900 he introduced his mathematical system of climate classification, based on the amount of precipitation and temperature in different parts of the world. The full version of this system will be released in 1918 and, after further modifications, the final and final version will be released in 1936.
In 1919 he retired from the Hamburg Observatory and in 1924 he decided to move to Graz, Austria, where he spent the rest of his life. In 1930, he co-published a work on climatology which, in principle, was to consist of five volumes called “Handbuch der Klimatologie” (“Manual of climatology”), with the help of the German meteorologist Rudolph Geiger. This work was never completed, as Köppen only managed to publish three of the five volumes planned.
Wladimir Petrovich Köppen died on June 22, 1940 at the age of 93 in the city of Graz, Then Austria under the Nazi regime. After his death in 1940, his colleague Geiger continued to work on changes to the climate classification system.
Personal life and interests
The figure of Köppen alive was that of a prolific scientist who produced more than 500 scientific papers which demonstrate his great interest and curiosity for science, in particular climatology of which he was so expert. He is also interested in social issues, such as land use, educational reforms and improving nutrition for the most disadvantaged. He was a peace advocate and an Esperantist, advocating the use of Esperanto, Auxiliary language who knew how to speak and who, in fact, in it made several publications.
But not only did he devote himself to describing the climates of the time, but he also researched what they must have been like in ancient times. He was a pioneer in the science of paleoclimatology and tried to expose his knowledge and his theories in a scientific article published in 1924, entitled “Die Klimate der geologischen Vorzeit” (The climates of the geological past), with his son-in-law Alfred Wegener, a German scientist who became his theory of Continental Drift. This text supported the theory of ice ages proposed by the Serbian geophysicist Milutin Milankovic.
Classification of Earth’s climates
As we have mentioned, Wladimir Köppen’s greatest merit among the goals he had was his classification of Earth’s climates. While throughout the 19th century he already produced his first sketches and publications on this question, in 1918 he revised his first climatic diagram, originally published in 1900, and continued to improve it during his last years of life.
By his death in 1940, his proposal had become very popular, being used by geographers as well as climatologists., Especially the aforementioned Trewartha. They adapted and improved this classification, reaching the current model.
Today, the classification of Earth’s climates is essential for understanding how nature is distributed and adapted to climate and precipitation. This is an empirical classification, which groups climates according to their effects on a climate-dependent element or phenomenon, Köppen’s proposal being originally very focused on natural vegetation.
In the original classification, Köppen combined precipitation and temperature taking into account the fixed annual and monthly values, Whatever the causes. Depending on the majority vegetation of a certain region, temperatures and rainfall, this area has been grouped into one or the other climatological group. To each climate assigned a letter to him, being originally five of the great climatological types that have raised Wladimir Köppen:
- A: tropical rainy climates
- B: dry climates
- C: temperate and humid climates
- D: boreal or snow and forest climates
- E: polar or snowy climates
After further revisions by Köppen himself and other scientists, the letters F (equatorial climate) and H (alpine climate) will be added. All these climates are defined by temperature criteria and the type of vegetation present., With the exception of climate B in which only precipitation is taken into account.
- Wille, Robert-Jan Wille (2017): Colonizing the Free Atmosphere: Wladimir Köppen’s ‘Aerology’, the German Maritime Observatory, and the Emergence of a Trans-Imperial Network of Weather Globoons and Kites, 1873-1906
- Alby, Michael (3002). Encyclopedia of weather and climate. New York: Facts On File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-4071-0 (English).
- Else Wegener-Köppen, Jörn Thiede (2018): Wladimir Köppen: Scholar for Life, Borntraeger Science Publishers ISBN 978-3-443-01100-0, 316p.