CliSAP successfully finished in 2018. Climate research continues in the Cluster of Excellence "CLICCS".

Visiting CliSAP: Andrea Luca Balbo PhD


Andrea L. Balbo (PhD) joins the CliSAP Research Group “Climate Change and Security” (CLISEC) as a guest researcher for a two-month period, having arrived this week. Born in Italy, Balbo has been working as a geoarchaeologist at the Spanish National Research Council for more than five years now. Previously employed at the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge UK, he has also worked as consultant for Norwegian Universities (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø). Balbo received his PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his Masters at the University of Paris, France. Here Andrea L. Balbo talks about his work on past societies and how it could foster the analysis of the impact of climate change on today’s societies:

Guest researcher at CLISEC: Andrea L. Balbo, PhD

CliSAP: Your research fields are the social sciences, in particular archaeology. From your point of view, where is the link between archaeology and climate research?

Balbo: The focus of my research is on the interaction between environment and people. I concentrate on climate-sensitive regions, where minor climate shifts have the potential to greatly affect environmental and social change. In such regions, people have dealt with constantly changing conditions, providing some of the best examples of human adaptive capacity. Examples are deserts, high latitudes or the Mediterranean.

CliSAP: What was it that ignited your interest in climate research? And why does it fascinate you?

I first realized the importance of human-environment interaction at high school, during a weekend natural science assignment. While following the river downstream, from the forest towards the town, the subject of my observations shifted progressively from wildlife to illegal dumping areas, animal farm sewages and multi-colored foams from the local textile industry. Without knowing it, I had stepped into the interdisciplinary realm that lies between the natural and the social sciences. Ever since this experience, my interest into the ways people and environment influence and transform each other grew. And with this interest, slowly, grew the awareness of the scale at which such human-environment interconnections act, from household management all the way up to the thin layer of gases that separates planet Earth from the outer space.

CliSAP: Once having discovered that interest in human-environment interaction, what were the steps leading you into a scientific career?

Balbo: At high school I took up the land surveyor curriculum learning the basics of house and infrastructure building as well as land-use evaluation. At university I read palaeoethnology, palaeogeography and geoarchaeology exploring the long-term evolution of the relationships between Mediterranean climate, freshwater systems (from single watercourses to entire river basins) and the people settling on their margins. During and after working on my PhD thesis I took up a course in quantitative palaeoecology (University of Bergen and Bierkeness Centre for Climatic Research) and a position as assistant researcher on Holocene climate change in polar environments (British Antarctic Survey – National Environment Research Council). Following this trail, I have become fascinated with, and interested in, the exploration of the ways in which human society can develop sustainably within the framework of the challenges imposed by ongoing climate change, with a particular focus on drylands. In particular, projects I am currently developing involve the use of computer simulation to develop virtual models of socio-ecological systems in drylands to study their capacity for resilience in the face of climate change.

Which were the promising aspects of CliSAP that made you come here to do your research?

Balbo: My main motivation for spending a period of study at CliSAP lies in the highly interdisciplinary environment offered by this research cluster. My main research focus has been on how human societies have managed the effects of environmental and climate change in the past. At CliSAP, I am attracted in particular by the opportunity of working with experts in the field of climate change research who are actively contributing to the definition of guidelines to reduce potentially unwanted effects of climate change for the environment and society in the present day.

What exactly are you planning to work on while being at CliSAP?

Balbo: During my two-months stay I wish to explore how the work I am currently doing regarding past societies may be integrated to analyze the implications of climate change for present-day societies. Specifically, I will be working with Prof Jürgen Scheffran to explore the potential for using formal models of human-climate interaction to understand the implications of climate change for conflict and security.

CliSAP: What is it that you and your expertise can contribute to the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP?

Balbo: I will bring to CliSAP my expertise on protocols for the use of computer simulation to produce models of long-term human-climate interaction. The construction of such models advances in steps, starting with phrasing a clear research question , finally leading to the definition of progressively more formal models, evolving from natural language to computer code. By discussing my experience with colleagues at CLISEC and CliSAP, I wish to contribute to the improvement of practice for the implementation of analytical tools for the analysis of resilience in social-ecological systems with respect to climate change.

CliSAP: What is it that you you will be taking home from here?

Balbo: After my stay at CliSAP, I will return back home equipped with with an array of new tools and ideas for integrating work done in the social sciences and humanities, in particular archaeology and anthropology, into the climate change debate.

CliSAP: Do you already have an image of future activities that may arise from your trip to Hamburg?

Balbo: New ideas and collaborations with Prof Jürgen Scheffran have already stemmed from my planned stay at CliSEC. We are currently collaborating to the preparation of a paper on social-ecological resilience of small-scale societies in drought-prone regions, which will be presented at the international workshop on small-scale societies and environmental transformations ( to be held in December 2014 in Barcelona. The paper resulting will be submitted to the journal Ecology and Society. Prof Scheffran is also involved as leading expert in ARiD (Adaptive Resilience in Drylands), a project proposal I have recently submitted to the ERC StG 2014 for evaluation. Based on this stay at CliSAP, I am sure the period spent in Hamburg will open up new possibilities for collaboration.

CliSAP: Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank CLISEC, in particular Prof Jürgen Scheffran, Anke Allner, Maximilian Doeckel, Nadine Frömter, Christine Gattner and Caroline Kieke for providing me this opportunity and facilitating my stay at the center.

Contact Information:

Andrea L. Balbo
Geoarchaeologist at IMF - CSIC
Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics (CaSEs)
+34 617 138 396

More information:

Profile on