Helmholtz Association

Research Field Earth and Environment

Our goal is to understand the System Earth to ensure that our home planet remains ecologically stable and the climate equilibrium is not knocked out of balance. Helmholtz researchers search for sustainable solutions for the co-existence of industrial society and the natural environment.

Goals and Roles

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Lena River Delta - Landsat 2000 05, Bild: Alfred-Wegener-Institut

It focuses on expanding and interconnecting long-term observation systems, improving predictions and applying results within society. One special goal is to formulate scientifically based policy recommendations on how the Earth’s resources can be used in a sustainable fashion without destroying the foundations of life. For example, REKLIM, a Helmholtz climate initiative, brings together the expertise of nine Helmholtz centres in an effort to improve regional and global climate models. In the Water Science Alliance, Helmholtz experts work together with universities and other partners to investigate the impact of global change on water resources. An important aim is to establish and operate infrastructure and facilities such as the HALO research aircraft and the TERENO network. This latter project involves the construction of terrestrial observatories in four selected regions in Germany. Within the scope of the COSYNA project, a longterm observation system will be created for the German North Sea and later extended to Arctic coastal waters.

Outlook

To meet the challenges, the research field Earth and Environment will continue to pool the capacities of the participating centres within shared research portfolios. This strategy will lead to new alliances and facilitate the expansion of Earth observation and knowledge systems as well as integrated modelling approaches. The interdisciplinary portfolio project “Earth System Knowledge Platform – Observation, Information and Transfer” will integrate the knowledge acquired by all the centres in this research field and by their partners. It aims to help society to cope with the complex challenges brought about by changes in the Earth system. The incorporation of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel into the Helmholtz Association has significantly expanded its research spectrum.

Research Programmes


Geosystem

This programme analyses processes in the geosphere and their interaction with the hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.

More details about Research Programme Geosystem


Marine, Coastal and Polar Systems Programme

This programme concentrates on changes in the Arctic and Antarctic, their interaction with the global climate and polar ecosystems, vulnerable coasts and shelf seas and the polar perspective of Earth system analysis.

More details about Research Programme Marine, Coastal and Polar Systems


Oceans

This interdisciplinary programme examines the physical, chemical, biological and geological processes in oceans as well as the interactions between these processes and both the ocean floor and the atmosphere.

More details about Research Programme Oceans


Atmosphere and Climate Programme

The goal of this programme is to better understand the function of the atmosphere within the climate system. Topics are Clouds and Weather Research, Land Surface Processes, Tropospheric Trace Gases and Chemical Processes and  the Upper Troposphere and Middle Atmosphere.

More details about Research Programme Atmosphere and Climate


Terrestrial Environment Programme

The goal of this programme is to preserve the natural foundations of human life and health. It addresses the effects of global  change and climate change on terrestrial environmental systems.

More details about Research Programme Terrestrial Environment

The programmes in the funding period 2014-2018

Eight Helmholtz centres currently participate in the research field Earth and Environment: the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (since 2012), the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG), the Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Research is currently being conducted in five programmes:

Research Programmes


Geosystem

This programme analyses processes in the geosphere and their interaction with the hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.

More details about Research Programme Geosystem


Marine, Coastal and Polar Systems Programme

This programme concentrates on changes in the Arctic and Antarctic, their interaction with the global climate and polar ecosystems, vulnerable coasts and shelf seas and the polar perspective of Earth system analysis.

More details about Research Programme Marine, Coastal and Polar Systems


Oceans

This interdisciplinary programme examines the physical, chemical, biological and geological processes in oceans as well as the interactions between these processes and both the ocean floor and the atmosphere.

More details about Research Programme Oceans


Atmosphere and Climate Programme

The goal of this programme is to better understand the function of the atmosphere within the climate system. Topics are Clouds and Weather Research, Land Surface Processes, Tropospheric Trace Gases and Chemical Processes and  the Upper Troposphere and Middle Atmosphere.

More details about Research Programme Atmosphere and Climate


Terrestrial Environment Programme

The goal of this programme is to preserve the natural foundations of human life and health. It addresses the effects of global  change and climate change on terrestrial environmental systems.

More details about Research Programme Terrestrial Environment

Insights into Research Field Earth and Environment

Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.

A virtual walk on the ocean floor

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The ROPOS deep sea robot on its way to the ocean floor with the camera system developed at GEOMAR. Image: Björn Kurtenbach

GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

At some sites on the ocean floor water is emitted that can reach temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius and is rich in minerals and sulphur. In most cases these hydrothermal vents form near mid-ocean ridges and on submarine volcanoes. The minerals deposited around them create chimney-like structures called black smokers. Hydrothermal vents are potential sources of raw materials. In addition, they are home to unique ecosystems and teach us a great deal about processes on the ocean floor. Under the supervision of GEOMAR, an international research team has surveyed a hydrothermal field with centimetre accuracy for the very first time. The field is located at a depth of around 1,100 metres in the crater of Niua South Volcano north of Tonga. The FALKOR research vessel operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute served as a platform for the work. To conduct the surveys, the research team used ROPOS, a Canadian-built remotely operated vehicle (ROV). ROPOS was equipped with a camera system specially developed at GEOMAR. In a complex procedure, the cameras photographed and filmed the hydrothermal vents from all angles, making it possible to take a virtual “walk” between the black smokers. “A high-performance computer on board the vessel created a digital 3D model of the entire landscape from the more than 200,000 images. This enabled us to take targeted samples of the ocean floor,” says expedition leader Tom Kwasnitschka from GEOMAR. The digital model will now be further refined and made available for additional studies. “This method will allow us to take virtual walks on the ocean floor after completion of the expedition. Colleagues who were not on board will also have the opportunity to study the Niua South field,” explains Kwasnitschka. During the expedition the vehicle’s dives were transmitted live via the internet. In addition, the team repeatedly fielded questions from interested audiences worldwide, with live satellite links to lectures in Germany, Canada and the United States.


ESA to focus on plant research

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Green does not always mean healthy – the lower aerial image, based on measurement data from the HyPlant spectrometer, shows fluorescence emissions coded by colour, with the different shades reflecting current photosynthesis rates and stress levels.
Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Forschungszentrum Jülich

The Flex satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) will be launched in around six years and will collect global data on plant productivity. Its core component is the HyPlant spectrometer, co-developed and tested by plant researchers at Forschungszentrum Jülich. The instrument measures the fluorescence signal emitted by plants and is thus a reliable indicator of when they are under stress and perform less photosynthesis due to unfavourable environmental conditions such as drought. The Flex data could help to optimise the cultivation and harvesting of crops.


Billions of juvenille fish under arctic sea ice

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The Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) in its icy habitat. Image: Hauke Flores, AWI

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)

Belugas, narwhal and ringed seal have one thing in common: their favourite food is Arctic cod. The fish is one of the most important species in the Arctic Ocean. It was previously unknown how large its stocks are under sea ice, but now AWI biologists have managed to catch Arctic cod directly under the ice using a special net and to determine its distribution. According to their findings, several billion cod, primarily juvenile fish, could live under the ice cover. For these creatures, the ice labyrinth is a source of food and shelter.


Using FerryBox data to evaluate models

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Dr. Wilhelm Petersen and Martina Gehrung calibrating a FerryBox. Image: HZG

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG)

FerryBox measurement systems have been installed on ferries and cargo ships in the North Sea to obtain high time-resolution surface data, including measures of water temperature and salinity along shipping routes. Scientists from the HZG and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency have compared the FerryBox data (along the Immingham–Cuxhaven route) with the results of models and discovered that these models underestimated salinity. The Ferry-Box data can thus help to improve hydrodynamic models of the North Sea.


Non-allergic pollen compounds can intensify allergies

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Low-molecular-weight pollen substances – here, from birch – can cause allergic reactions via B cells. Image: Professor Jeroen Buters, Institute for Allergy Research/Helmholtz Zentrum München

Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health

Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have discovered the mechanism by which non-allergenic pollen compounds intensify allergies. In addition to allergens, low-molecular-weight compounds can cause B cells to increase the production of immunoglobulin E. The researchers hope not only to develop new treatments, but also to determine whether climate change alters the composition of pollen and influences its aggressiveness.


Eearthquake risk for Istanbul

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The Anatolian Plate and the North Anatolian Fault Zone. Image: Dorina Domigall, GFZ

Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

A large earthquake will one day hit Istanbul, but no one knows when or with what magnitude. GFZ scientists are now helping with estimates. They are creating a catalogue of historical seismicity for the North Anatolian Fault Zone which goes back 2,300 years. According to the data, a megaquake of magnitude 8 is likely, but only in the zone’s eastern section. In the west, where Istanbul is located, major earthquakes are expected but none with a magnitude of more than 7.5. Nevertheless, even earthquakes of this strength can be devastating. Now, at least, there is a basis for risk assessment.


Improving water quality worldwide

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In 2010 access to clean water was declared a human right. The WWQA pre-study was launched to explore equirements to design more effective water policies and to ensure the enforcement of this right.
Image: Künzelmann/UFZ

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ

For two years scientists from the UFZ and the University of Kassel analysed data and developed a methodology to assess the quality of rivers and lakes and consequences of water degradation worldwide. On 19 May 2016 they presented the initial findings of the World Water Quality Assessment (WWQA) pre-study. The WWQA seeks not only to describe the current situation but also to close data gaps, identify the causes of pollution, show consequences and define policy options. The ultimate goal is to improve water quality worldwide.

Initiatives in the Research Field Earth and Environment

In the following, a selection of initiatives in the research field Earth and Environment are presented:

Climate Service Center 2.0

A team of natural scientists, economists, political scientists and communication-specialists are working at the Climate Service Center 2.0. Their tasks are refining the knowledge derived from climate research in a practice-orientated way and conveying the findings to decision-makers in politics, administration, economy and for the broad public.

More details about the Climate Service Center 2.0


European Climate Research Alliance (ECRA)

The European Climate Research Alliance (ECRA) is an association of leading European research institutions in the field of climate research. ECRA has the objective to bring together to expand and to optimize European expertise in climate research by sharing existing national research capacities and infrastructures.

More details about the European Climate Research Alliance (ECRA)


Helmholtz Network REKLIM (Regional Climate Change)

The Earth is currently subject to profound climate change. The observed increase in global air and ocean temperatures, the melting of snow and ice and the rising sea level indicate a significant warming of the Earth in recent decades. However, the impacts of climate change can regionally be highly different. Within the framework of the Helmholtz Network "Regional Climate Change" (REKLIM) nine Research Centres of the Helmholtz Association focus their competences in exploring the regional climate. The networks research activities will help to improve the understanding of regional processes and therefore contribute to optimise mitigation and adaptation strategies.

More details about REKLIM


Regional Climate Offices of the Helmholtz Association

The effects of global climate change on particular regions vary significantly. Farmers, coastal engineers, town planners and other decision makers need first-hand information on regional climate change in order to adapt their region to the effects. The Helmholtz Association has therefore decided to initiate a German network of regional climate offices. Each of the four Regional Helmholtz Climate Offices is focusing on a certain region. We integrate regional climate change information based on latest research projects and make scientific results understandable to the public.

More details about Regional Climate Offices of the Helmholtz Association


TERENO - Terrestrial Environmental Observatories

The infrastructure measure TERENO is an observation platform which combines a variety of terrestrial observatories in selected and for Germany representative regions. The observatories continuously provide spatially and temporally distributed measured long-term data to support the further development and validation of integrated process models of terrestrial systems.

More details about "TERENO - Terrestrial Environmental Observatories"

Contact

Prof. Dr. Peter M. Herzig

Research Field Coordinator Earth and Environment

Director, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
24148 Kiel

Phone: +49 431 600-2800
Fax: +49 431 600-2805
pherzig(at)geomar.de
http://www.geomar.de


Dr. Cathrin Brüchmann

Research Field Earth and Environment

Helmholtz Association

Phone: +49 30 206329-45
cathrin.bruechmann (at) helmholtz.de


 

"Taking the pulse of the planet"

Brochure of the Helmholtz Earth Observatory Network

 

"Integrated research for adressing global water challanges"

Brochure of the Helmholtz Water Network

09.12.2016