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Research Field Earth & Environment

Between the months of October 2017 and April 2018, 33 research units at the eight Helmholtz Centers involved in the Research Field Earth and Environment (AWI, FZJ, GEOMAR, GFZ, HMGU, HZG, KIT, UFZ) were evaluated.

A total of 126 international reviewers from 18 nations participated in this evaluation process, each of whom spent three to four days on site to intensively assess the scientific performance of the centers and their contribution to the research programs. In addition to the internationally renowned chairs, 10 cross-reviewers played a special role in assessing, among other things, the cooperation between various centers in one program.

The results of the scientific reviews showed that all eight centers conduct outstanding research at the highest international level, which optimally addresses the relevant challenges of the respective research fields. In particular, the integrated approach within the centers was seen as essential and exemplary for the success and impact of the scientific work. The centers enjoy an excellent global reputation and, in many cases, they are international leaders in their respective communities. This was impressively demonstrated by the coordinating role of the centers in numerous international projects and missions.
One key factor of the extraordinarily positive result of the reviews was the particularly successful recruitment of excellent international scientists in recent years. These new recruitments have been able to open up new and current subject areas and close existing gaps in the research portfolios of the centers. In recent years, the centers have also reacted to the recommendations made in the last evaluation and have, thus, once again been able to improve visibly in many areas (e.g. publication performance, management processes, knowledge and technology transfer).

The reviewers were particularly impressed by the unique and sometimes spectacular research infrastructures (e.g. research vessels, satellites, observation stations, experimental platforms), which are essential for international leadership in some research areas. In addition to the infrastructures themselves, the in-house research on the systems and the services provided by the centers for the international user community of various large-scale facilities were rated as outstanding. This research includes the development of the latest technologies, measuring instruments and software as well as ensuring a high data quality of the measurements and an open data policy.

At the same time, the reviewers identified potential for improvement in a number of different instances and recommended further strengthening of the cooperation between the centers and within the programs in individual thematic areas. Moreover, the experts saw significant added value in closer cooperation with the three research fields of Energy, Health, and Aeronautics, Space and Transport in order to further advance integrated Earth system research. Furthermore, additional investments in personnel and infrastructure were recommended in some areas in order to maintain the high level of research potential and to further expand the leading international position. Specifically, the strengthening of personnel in the areas of data management and data analysis (statistical, deep learning, visual) as well as in bioinformatics was mentioned here.

Cathrin Brüchmann

Chief Research Manager Earth and Environment
Helmholtz Association

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