Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Kuhn

Office room number 3.rd floor, 3-09
Klingelbergstr. 27, 4056 Basel

Office phone
+41 (0)61 207 07 41
Office phone 2
+41 (0)61 207 36 45
Office fax
+41 (0)61 207 07 40



Nikolaus J. Kuhn got his first degree in Physical Geography (1990-1995) in his native country Germany from the University of Trier, completing a thesis on Holocene climate change and dryland lake hydrology in NE-Spain. Winning the Government of Canada Award to undertake PhD research, he moved to the University of Toronto in 1996. There he completed a PhD in Geography (1996-2000), studying the effects of varying weather patterns on soil erosion in Canada and Mexico. The PhD was followed by postdoctoral research in Israel (2001) on the role of rainfall-surface interaction for landscape development in the northern Negev. In 2002, he started academic teaching as Visiting Assistant Professor at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. He joined the University of Exeter as Lecturer for Geography in July 2003. In 2007, he was appointed Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter.


Environmental Change represents both a great challenge but also a great opportunity for Physical Geography. The conventional assumption that hydrologic and geomorphic systems are generally in a state of dynamic equilibrium, interrupted by phases of transience due to changes in external forcing, requires careful revision in the light of changing climate, land use and the internal feedback in system processes and properties. Geographic research in Basel therefore focuses on surface-climate interaction, especially with regards to the impact of land use and climate change on surface processes, properties and earth systems behaviour in the future. The research covers a wide range of scales in space and time and relies on extensive field sampling, experimental geomorphology and GIS.

Transitional Environments

In the area of landscape ecology, research activities focuses on ecohydrology and -geomorphology, with study areas in China, Israel, Italy and Spain. Key elements of the research are (i) the mapping of current patterns of runoff and erosion, (ii) their sensitivity to change in land use or climate, (iii) the identification of potential feedback reactions between surface processes and response unit properties, and (iv) their consequences for the extent and functioning of process domains. Conceptually, the research is aimed at understanding whether a hydrologic or geomorphic system is able to buffer internal or external changes, or whether and how it will react to change. The concept of “Transitional Environment”, describing a response unit in a quasi-permanent state of adaptation in response to environmental changes has been developed. Unlike an system in transience, which is between two states of a quasi equilibrium, a transitional environment is not moving towards a new stable condition. Processes and properties of a transitional environment emerge as a result of its individual history. Collaborative research in this area includes Dr Richard Jones, University of Exeter, Dr Enlou Yhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, and Dr. Dino Torri from the Italian Research Foundation in Florence.

Soil Surface Carbon Dynamics

In detailed laboratory-based studies, the potential effect of soil surface processes for the global carbon cycle has been identified. Current research in Basel focus on the development of a functioning model to assess organic carbon dynamics at the soil surface. This includes further laboratory work, as well as field work aimed at identifying the dominant soil properties and external factors controlling soil surface carbon dynamics. Collaborative work with Dr Karen Anderson of the University of Exeter in Cornwall involves the development of a functioning terrestrial hyperspectral sensor for monitoring soil degradation.

GIS and Environmental Risks

Geographic Information Systems provide an ideal platform for extrapolating the results of the research into soil surface carbon dynamics and ecohydrology and –geomorphology. A further emphasis lies on the development of tools for assessing the impact of land use or climate change on the behaviour of geomorphic response units, in particular with regards to future environmental risks such as drought, flooding and pollution. Impact assessment often suffers from a lack of data that are required to run sophisticated process-based runoff or erosion models. Many models are also outlet-based and thus difficult to connect to processes or particular human activities in the catchment. GIS-based Multi-Criteria Evaluation offers the possibility of examining risks associated with Environmental Change in conditions of limited availability of spatial data. GIS-based environmental analysis tools are also developed for scenarios where spatial information is available, but information on relevant surface processes such as infiltration, is limited. For such scenarios, strategies for effective groundtruthing are developed. Collaborative research with the Clark Labs has resulted in the development of a new runoff modelling tool for the IDRDISI GIS software package.


Teaching responsibilities

At the University of Basel:
Geomorphology and material cycles

At the University of Exeter:
Undergraduate modules
Earth System
First Year Field Class to Dartmoor
Processes in Physical Geography
Physical Geography Practice
Physical Geography Field Class (Canada and Iceland)
Environmental Geology

Postgraduate modules
Environmental Reconstruction
Environmental Change
Masters field class to Germany on Multifunctional Landscapes

Previous Teaching

Environment and Development
Physical Geography Research Training
NERC Postgraduate Research Training

Clark University:
Lecture: Environmental Geology
Lecture and Lab exercises: Introduction to Physical Geography
Soil Erosion: field and lab seminar on measurement and assessment

Conference Presentations


Convener Sessions


Latest Publications

Hunziker, MatthiasCaviezel, Chatrina; Kuhn, Nikolaus J.: Shrub encroachment by green alder on subalpine pastures: Changes in mineral soil organic carbon characteristics, in: CATENA 157, 2017, S. 35-46. URL
Hu, Yaxian; Kuhn, Nikolaus J: Erosion-induced exposure of SOC to mineralization in aggregated sediment, in: Catena, 2016, S. 517-525.
Hu, YaxianFister, Wolfgang; Kuhn, Nikolaus J: Inherent interreplicate variability during small-scale rainfall simulations, in: Journal of soils and sediments, 2016, S. 1809-1814.

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