The most magnificent penthouse at an altitude of 3,500 metres!
A hundred years ago, the Federal Council gave the go-ahead for the construction of a research station on the Jungfraujoch. Swiss Post is dedicating a special stamp to mark the anniversary. Find out what life is like in the research station.
Rich Content Section
Carved into the rock and surrounded by the permanent Aletsch glacier, the Jungfraujoch is an alpine tourist destination, but also home to a scientific research center. However, tourists and researchers take different paths in the rocky gallery of Europe’s highest railway station (3,454 m). A floral wreath adorns the entrance to the research station. “It’s really important that the researchers feel at home,” explains Daniela Bissig. She and her partner Erich Furrer have been the research station’s facility managers for one and a half year, alternating every 16 days with another couple. Daniela and Erich have their own proper apartment with several levels and look after the day visitors as well as those who spend the night at the research facility.
Displaying great vision, the Federal Council approved the construction of a research station on the Jungfraujoch on 14 October 1922. Shortly after the inauguration of the Jungfrau railway in 1912, a proposal was made to start research in this extraordinary location which was ideal for studying cosmic rays which had just been discovered. The station was officially opened in 1931. While research activities initially focused on glaciology and medicine, they also later included astronomy. However, they have centered on environmental science over recent years. Over half of projects are currently exploring environmental and climatic topics: air composition, pollution, exposure to aerosols, radioactivity and cosmic radiation.
Today as back then, the High Altitude Research Stations Jungfraujoch and GornergratTarget not accessible (HFSJG) provide researchers from all over the world with the facilities required to conduct scientific research in high-altitude alpine environments. Markus Leuenberger, a professor at the university of Bern and the foundation’s director, explains exactly what makes this site so special for research: “As my predecessor used to say – location, location, location is what makes all the difference. And he was right. One aspect that makes this research station remarkable is definitely access via the Jungfrau railway – then there’s the fact that air masses circulate more freely at an altitude of 3,500 metres than in the troposphere. And finally it’s the lower atmospheric pressure that’s less exposed to the influence of some measurement variables.”
Daniela and Erich have now become used to the breathtaking views from their bedroom: “We live in the most magnificent penthouse at an altitude of 3,500 metres,” jokes Erich. But the living conditions at altitude are still extraordinary. For example, it takes 14 minutes to cook a hard-boiled egg instead of seven, as water boils at 85°C at this altitude. “And you can forget risotto as it turns to mush. We’re used to using the pressure cooker.”
In their leisure time, Daniela and Erich go onto the terrace of the Sphinx observatory to see the almost tame jackdaws who live on the ice: there are always about a dozen of them rummaging for raisins. One especially brave jackdaw gently pecks from Daniela’s hand. One is perched on top of a camera with a solemn expression and watches us. Daniela smiles: “It’s their favourite spot. I wonder if the researchers appreciate it …”
The magnificence of this panorama is captured in the special stamp, which also features the observatory. “The coloured lines represent the air flows that reach the Jungfraujoch from all over Europe and beyond. Here we take measurements – that are unique worldwide – of variables that distinguish between emissions attributable to human activity and natural ones, documenting climate change,” explains Markus Leuenberger. This magnificent place continues to hold tremendous fascination for him as it does for Daniela and Erich. All three agree: “It’s definitely a unique workplace!”
Many of the fifty or so ongoing research projects relate to the air flows converging at the Jungfraujoch from all over Europe and further afield. The special stamp depicts these air flows and is on sale in all branches and at postshop.ch.