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Research Field Earth and Environment

Results and recommendations of strategic evaluation

The Research Field Earth and Environment studies the Earth system and the complex interactions between people and nature. It delivers system analyses, findings, data, and technologies that are needed to create the foundation for a sustainable future. The participating centers and their partners combine their expertise as they work to develop strategies, recommendations for action, methods, and infrastructure. These aspects are intended to play a role in efforts to use natural resources sustainably and conserve them over the long term, understand climate change, overcome natural hazards, and minimize the impact of natural catastrophes.

The combination of incredbly talented scientists and the resources that are continually made available to them for their research is globally unique at this level.

Peter Schlosser, Arizona State University. Member of the expert panel.

Programs in the 2021–2027 funding period

• Changing Earth – Sustaining our Future

Participating centers

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

• Forschungszentrum Jülich

• GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

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

• Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

• Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ

• Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)


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


The experts were impressed by the standard of scientifi c excellence in this research fi eld as well as its infrastructure, which is unique in many cases. They also praised the way the research activities have been reorganized as a single, joint program broken down into nine topics. In their view, this off ers a globally unique opportunity to decisively expand our understanding of changes occurring around the world in conjunction with the natural dynamics of the Earth system. They believe this could deliver potential solutions to the most pressing challenges facing humanity.

The experts also supported plans to establish the joint Synthesis and Communications Platform (SynCom). According to their evaluation, this platform could act as a vital link to promote collaboration on overarching topics—such as climate change, natural hazards, and resources—and have positive eff ects on both science and the dialog between research and society, businesses, and policymakers.

They stated that the success of this ambitious program largely depends on effi cient coordination that works to implement the program’s philosophy across all topics and centers and, in particular, promotes exchange on concepts and methods. The experts also noted that upgrading the existing research infrastructure and building new, cutting-edge infrastructure for observation and modeling purposes would be key to the successful implementation of the program.

The committee found that the joint program has exceptional potential to achieve key breakthroughs in basic research and applications and play a leading role in Earth system research. Their report asserted that this program is unlike any other in the world and places the Research Field Earth and Environment in an excellent position that off ers extraordinary possibilities and involves great responsibility that extends beyond Helmholtz.

Strategic Recommendations

  • The governance structure and the SynCom platform must be set up and continually enhanced so the joint program can be successfully implemented.
  • Giving the topics an even stronger thematic focus in the future should be considered. This would make it possible to boost the visibility of overarching goals such as improving the forecasting of extreme weather and its impacts.
  • The exchange on concepts and methods must be stepped up and the research fi eld should focus on jointly developing infrastructure for Earth system modeling and integrating the individual models and complex datasets.

Dr. Cathrin Brüchmann

Chief Research Manager Earth and Environment
Helmholtz Association

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