Peter Ranacher

Peter Ranacher, Dr.

Head of the SDS Group

Address: Freiestrasse 16, 8032 Zürich

Room number: FRF E 2

I study movement and change. My research covers different phenomena, actors,
and scales, both in space and time, from local to global, from snapshots of human
activity to century-long historical processes. During my PhD studies, I focused on the local scale, exploring urban traffic with GPS movement data. As a URPP Language and Space group leader, my focus has shifted to the regional and global scale. In the Spatial Data Science group, we study the role of geography in the diffusion of linguistic families, explore the co-evolution of culture and genetic variation, and develop Bayesian models to detect past human interaction and contact.



Invited Talks

Ranacher, Peter. “More than maps: Spatial patterns of language evolution”. ISLE Colloquium. Zurich, Switzerland. 2021.11.16

Ranacher, Peter, Nico Neureiter. “Contact-tracing in cultural evolution: a Bayesian mixture model to detect geographic areas of language contact”. Colloquium at the Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft. Tübingen, Germany. 2021.07.06

Ranacher, Peter, Anastasia Escher, Barbara Sonnenhauser, Nico Neureiter. “It's (not) all in the family. An algorithm to reveal areas of language contact in space”. International Conference Balkan Languages and Dialects: Typology, Dialectometry, Corpus-Based Studies. St. Petersburg, Russia. 2020.10.15-16

Ranacher, Peter. “A spatial view on language evolution”. Workshop on GIS for Language Studies. Uppsala, Sweden. 2018.05.07-08

Ranacher, Peter. “Exploring correspondences between language, culture and genes”, Workshop on Ancient genes of North-Eastern Europe. Seili, Finland. 2019.08.26-28

Ranacher, Peter. “Why GPS makes distances bigger than they are”. AGILE 2017. Wageningen, the Netherlands. 2017.05.09-12

Ranacher, Peter,  Richard Brunauer, Wolfgang Trutschnig, Stefan van der Spek, Siegfried Reich. “Why GPS makes distances bigger than they are”. AAG Annual Meeting. Boston, USA. 2017.04.05-09



2022 GIScience Project
Students independently carry out a real-world GISCience research project end-to-end.
2021 Spatial Analysis with GIS
Introductory level course on spatial analysis
Advanced Spatial Analysis II
Lecture on advanced procedures of spatial analysis including spatial regression, machine learning and Bayesian inference
Advanced Spatial Analysis I
Lecture on advanced procedures of spatial analysis including spatial cluster analysis, density estimation, neighborhood relations and network analysis
Getting Started with R for Spatial Analysis
Introductory level course on data types and operations in R, spatial data handling and basic programming
Small Group Teaching
Guided Reading course for discussing scientific literature from Geography

Awards, Grants, and Prizes

2017 Most Downloaded Paper Award
Award for the most downloaded paper in the International Journal of Geographic Information Science published in 2016
2016 Science Slam
Winner of the Science Slam Salzburg 2016
2013 COST Action Grant
Grant for Short-Term Scientific Mission (under COST Action IC0903)
2012 Best Poster Award
Best Poster Award at the DK GIScience Symposium 2012, Salzburg University
2009 Ideenwettbewerb GoGeo09
First prize in the GoGeo09 competition for ideas organized by the Bavarian Information and Communication Cluster (BICC)


PhD theses

Master theses

  • Patricia Schnidrig (2021): Modeling spatio-temporal diffusion of complex linguistic structures in social media
  • Simon Hirschhofer (2021): The Alps – A real Barrier for Bird Migration?
  • Mike Werfeli (2020): Inferring migration routes of individual nocturnal bird migrants (pdf)
  • Noemi Romano (2018): An application of spatial population genetics methods to detect clines in Swiss German morphosyntax
  • Luca Scherrer (2017): Tourist or Commuter? User Characterization based on Spatio-Temporal Footprints in the Absence of Ground Truth (pdf)


2011 – 2016 PhD in Applied Geoinformatics, University of Salzburg
2008 – 2010 MSc in Geospatial Technologies, Graz University of Technology
2008 – 2010 BSc in Geography, University of Graz


German (native), English (proficient), Russian (independent), Italian (basic), French (basic)