Research Interests

I am a passionate paleoecologist interested in vegetation, land use, and fire history preserved in glacier ice and other natural archives. My expertise covers projects around the globe from the remote Polar region to the Neotropics with an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaborations to understand the complex interactions between ecosystems and climate over centennial to millennial timescales. I particularly enjoy the challenges to conducting research in biogeographical regions where paleodata is still scarce and to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams.

Employment History

10/2022–current    Postdoctoral researcher, Geoecology Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Switzerland / Environmental Chemistry Group, Department of Energy and Environment, Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland

Advisors: Prof. Dr. Oliver Heiri & Prof. Dr. Margit Schwikowski

04/2021–09/2022  Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University Bozeman, Montana, USA / Division of Hydrologic Sciences, Desert Research Institute Reno, Nevada, USA

Advisors: Prof. Dr. Cathy Whitlock & Prof. Dr. David B. McWethy / Prof. Dr. Joseph R. McConnell

10/2019–03/2021  Postdoctoral researcher, Division of Hydrologic Sciences & Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Desert Research Institute Reno, Nevada, USA

Advisors: Prof. Dr. Joseph R. McConnell & Prof. Dr. David Rhode

01/2019–09/2019  Postdoctoral researcher, Paleoecology group, Institute of Plant Sciences and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Switzerland

Advisor: Prof. Dr. Willy Tinner

02/2015–12/2018  PhD of Science in Climate Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland

Thesis: FrozenNature – The palynological contribution to reconstruct paleo fire, vegetation, land use, and pollution dynamics from high-alpine ice cores.

Advisor: Prof. Dr. Willy Tinner

Graduation with highest honours (summa cum laude) on 18/12/2018

09/2012–01/2015  Master of Science in Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland

Thesis: Fire and vegetation dynamics over the past 8ka in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia.

Advisor: Prof. Dr. Heinz Veit and Prof. Dr. Willy Tinner

09/2008–03/2012 Bachelor of Science in Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland

Approved Research Projects

08/2022: SNSF Ambizione (grant PZ00P2_208687)

“FrozenEcosystems – Understanding Siberia’s past with a combination of state-of-the-art and next-generation ice core methods"

  • Duration: 48 months (01.10.2022-30.09.2026)
  • Hosts: Prof. Dr. Oliver Heiri, University of Basel, Switzerland / Prof. Dr. Margit Schwikowski, Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland. Amount: 836,679 CHF

06/2022: SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowship (grant TMPFP2_209793) Project declined by applicant due to other successful grant application

Ice core-based reconstruction of the complex relationship of Holocene vegetation with climate and fire history to understand endangered boreal ecosystems in Siberia”

  • Duration: 24 months (01.10.2022-30.09.2024)
  • Host: Prof. Dr. Margit Schwikowski, Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland. Amount: 231,640 CHF

12/2020: SNSF Postdoc.Mobility fellowship (grant P400P2-199285)

Reconstructing biomass burning and fossil fuel emissions from New Zealand lake sediments using established and novel fire proxies: Atmospheric effects of late 13th century Maori settlements

  • Duration: 18 months (01/04/2021-30/09/2022)
  • Hosts: Prof. Dr. David B. McWethy & Prof. Dr. Cathy Whitlock, Montana State University Bozeman, Montana / Prof. Dr. Joseph R. McConnell, Desert Research Institute Reno, Nevada. Amount: 78,750 CHF

12/2020: Internal Institute Project Assignments (IPA project) (grant PG20136)

Microfossils in Greenland ice – Establishing a new method at DRI”.

  • Duration: 16 months (01/04/2021-31/08/2022)
  • Host: Desert Research Institute Reno, Nevada, USA Amount: 13,000 USD

05/2019: SNSF Early Postdoc.Mobility fellowship (grant P2BEP2-188180)

“Spatial variability of vegetation-, biomass burning-, and fossil fuel pollution dynamics in the Arctic along a South-North transect from palynological ice records in Central Greenland over the past millennium”

  • Duration: 18 months (01/10/2019-31/03/2021)
  • Hosts: Prof. Dr. Joseph R. McConnell & Prof. Dr. Dave Rhode, Desert Research Institute Reno, Nevada. Amount: 80,750 CHF


11/2019: Prix de Quervain for Polar and High-Altitude Research

06/2018: Early Career Poster Award: best poster in section Europe/Russia, Polar2018 conference

04/2018: SCNAT & ProClim: best poster in Geosphere/Biosphere, Swiss Global Change Day

11/2016: SEP-NGB-Prize for young scientists: best poster, Swiss Geoscience Meeting

02/2016: Best Poster Price, Biology'16 conference

Publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals

von Allmen R, Brugger SO, Schleicher KD, Rey F, Gobet E, Courtney Mustaphi CJ, Tinner W, Heiri O. Method development and application of object detection and classification to Quaternary fossil pollen sequences (2024). Quaternary Science Reviews 327, 108521.

Brugger SO, McWethy DB, Chellman NJ, Prebble M, Courtney Mustaphi CJ, Eckhardt S, Plach A, Stohl A, Wilmshurst JM, McConnell JR, Whitlock C (2024). Holocene black carbon in New Zealand lake sediment records. Quaternary Science Reviews 325, 108491.

Brugger SO, Chellman NJ, Plach A, Henne PD, Stohl A., McConnell JR, in review. Pollen changes in Greenland ice reveal decoupling of eastern Canadian forest dynamics from climate following European settlement (2024). Geophysical Research Letters 51, e2023GL105581.

McConnell JR, Chellman NJ, Wensman SM, Plach A, Santibáñez PA, Brugger SO, Eckhardt S, Freitag J, Kipfstuhl S, Stohl A, Stanish C (2024). Hemispheric-scale heavy metal pollution from South American and Australian mining and metallurgy during the Common Era. Science of the Total Environment, 912, 169431.

Brechbühl S, van Vugt L, Gobet E, Morales-Molino C, Volery J, Lotter AF, Ballmer A, Brugger SO, Szidat S, Hafner A, Tinner W (2023). Vegetation dynamics and land-use change at the Neolithic lakeshore settlement site of Ploča Mičov Grad, Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. Vegetation history and Archeobotany 31(2), 155-170.

Watts T, Brugger SO (2023). The Intersection between Climate Change, COVID-19, and Future Pandemics – Perspectives among American Transportation Network Drivers. Journal of Transport and Health, 30, 101582.

McConnell, J.R., Brugger, S.O. and Chellman, N.J. (2023). Ice Core and Marine Sediment Records of Quaternary Environmental Change. In Handbook of Archaeological Sciences (eds A.M. Pollard, R.A. Armitage and C.A. Makarewicz).

Brugger SO, Chellman NJ, Connell C, McConnell JR (2023). High-latitude fire activity of recent decades derived from microscopic charcoal and black carbon in Greenland ice cores. The Holocene, 33 (2), 238-24.

Rey F, Brugger SO, Gobet E, Andenmatten R, Bonini A, Inniger H, Maurer C, Perret-Gentil-dit-Maillard N, Riederer JC, Heiri O, Tinner W, Schwörer C (2022). 14,500 years of vegetation and land use history in the upper continental montane zone at Lac de Champex (Valais, Switzerland). Vegetation History and Archeobotany. 31(4), 377-393.

Watts T, Brugger SO (2022). Paleofire data for public health nursing wildfire planning - A planetary perspective. American Journal of Public Health 12(S5), e1–e4.

Brugger SO, Jimenez A, Ponsoni L, Todd C (2022). Cryosphere sciences perspectives on Integrated, Coordinated, Open, Networked (ICON) science. Earth and Space Science 9, e2021EA002111.

Brugger SO, Kirkpatrick L, Yeung L (2022). Fire trapped in ice: An introduction to biomass burning records from high-alpine and polar ice cores. PAGES Magazine 30(2), 106–107.

McConnell JR, Chellman NJ, Mulvaney R, Eckhardt S, Stohl A, Plunkett G, Kipfstuhl S, Freitag J, Isaksson E, Gleason KE, Brugger SO, McWethy DB, Abram NJ, Liu P, Aristarain AJ (2021). Hemispheric black carbon increase after 13th C Māori arrival in New Zealand. Nature 598, 82–85.

Brugger SO, Schwikowski M, Gobet E, Schwoerer C, Rohr C, Sigl M, Henne S, Pfister C, Jenk T, Henne P, Tinner W. Alpine glacier reveals ecosystem impacts of Europe’s Innovations and Crises (2021). Geophysical Research Letters 48, e2021GL095039.

Brugger SO, Watts T (2021): Transportation Network Companies: driver’s perceptions of ride-sharing regarding climate change and extreme weather. Climate 9(8), 1–15.

Rhode D, Louderback L, Brugger SO (2021). Holocene subalpine woodland dynamics in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, USA. The Holocene 1(3), 502–510.

Brugger SO, Rhode D (2020). The impact of Pleistocene-Holocene climate shifts on vegetation and fire dynamics and its implications for Prearchaic humans in the central Great Basin, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 35(8), 987–993.

Kiosak D, Kotova N, Tinner W, Szidat S, Nilsen E, Brugger SO, de Capitani A, Gobet E, Makhortykh S (2020). The last hunter-gatherers and early farmers of the Middle Southern Buh river valley (Central Ukraine) in VIII-V Mill. BC. Radiocarbon 63(1), 121–137.

Osmont D, Brugger SO, Gilgen A, Weber H, Sigl M, Modini RL, Schwörer C, Tinner W, Wunderle S, Schwikowski M. (2020). Tracing devastating fires in Portugal to a snow archive in the Swiss Alps: a case study. The Cryosphere 14, 3731–3745.

Hartmann M, Blunier T, Brugger SO, Schmale J, Schwikowski M, Vogel A, Wex H, Stratmann F (2019). Variation of Ice Nucleating Particles in the European Arctic over the Last Centuries. Geophysical Research Letters 46(7), 4007-4016.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, Schanz FR, Heiri O, Schwörer C, Sigl M, Schwikowski M, Tinner W (2019). Why loss matters: Reply to the comments of Festi et al. on “A quantitative comparison of microfossil extraction methods from ice cores” by Brugger et al. (2018). Journal of Glaciology 65(253), 867–868.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, Osmont D, Behling H, Fontana SL, Hooghiemstra H, Morales-Molino C, Sigl M, Schwikowski M, Tinner (2019). Tropical Andean glacier reveals colonial legacy in modern mountain ecosystems. Quaternary Science Reviews (Invited Review) 220, 1-13.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, Blunier T, Morales-Molino C, Lotter AF, Fischer H, Schwikowski M, Tinner W (2019). Palynological insights into global change impacts on Arctic vegetation, fire, and pollution recorded in Central Greenland ice. The Holocene 29(7), 1189–1197.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, Sigl M, Osmont D, Papina T, Rudaya N, Schwikowski M, Tinner W (2018). Ice records provide new insights into climatic vulnerability of Central Asian forest and steppe communities. Global and Planetary Change 169, 188-201.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, Schanz FR, Heiri O, Schwörer C, Sigl M, Schwikowski M, Tinner W (2018). A quantitative comparison of microfossil extraction methods from ice cores. Journal of Glaciology64(245), 432-442.

Gilgen A, Adolf C, Brugger SO, Ickes L, Schwikowski M, van Leeuwen JFN, Tinner W, Lohmann U (2018). Implementing Microscopic Charcoal Particles into a Global Aerosol-Climate Model. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 18(16), 11813-11829.

Brugger SO, Gobet E, van Leeuwen JFN, Ledru M-P, Colombaroli D, van der Knaap WO, Lombardo U, Escobar-Torrez K, Finsinger W, Rodrigues L, Giesche A, Zarate M, Veit H, Tinner W (2016). Long-term man–environment interactions in the Bolivian Amazon: 8000 years of vegetation dynamics. Quaternary Science Reviews 132, 114-128.


Dr. Sandra Olivia Brügger
Projektleiterin SNF Ambizione / Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin
Klingelbergstrasse 27
4056 Basel

Tel: +41 61 207 08 06