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Field of research

The Research Focus is engaged in interdisciplinary research projects that encompass the movement of large lithospheric plates and the linked effects of deformation processes, mass flow, and surface process interferences. In many instances this has included investigations into how climate has triggered processes within the earth’s interior. Another component includes analyzing the impacts of those processes on society, and assessing how they might be more effectively handled.

Research is conducted in individual research projects, which are typically supported from external sources – such as funding from DFG (German Research Foundation), BMBF (Federal Ministry of Research), BMWi (Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs) or the EU Horizon2020 program. We have long-term experience of combining national funds with foreign resources – such like in our binational cooperation with Argentina (CONICET, MinCyT), Colombia (COLCIENCIAS) or the US (NSF, Smithsonian).

The Research Focus has been conducting large-scale research initiatives in the past – such like the DFG-SPP (Priority Research Program) ICDP Germany or the DFG-funded Research Unit (Forschergruppe) HIMPAC. Also, we have gained experience in coordinating large-scale BMBF-funded research clusters – such like PROGRESS (Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental Change and Sustainability) und GeoEn (Research cluster on Geoenergy). Currently, research focusses within two DFG-funded Research Training Groups (Graduate schools), which both started in 2015: “STRATEGY: SuRfAce processes, TEctonics, and Georesources: The Andean foreland basin of Argentina“ (GRK 2018/1) and „NatRiskChange: Natural Hazards and Risks in a Changing World“ (GRK 2043/1).

Together with the Research Focus of Functional Ecology and Evolution, we have established an interdisciplinary new research initiative on Dynamics of the Earth Surface (NEXUS: Earth Surface Dynamics). Based on this initiative, we have submitted a proposal within Germany’s Excellence-Initiative (DFG) in 2017, which aims to provide support for new wide-ranging research initiatives of regional university clusters. Under the leadership of UP’s Research Focus of Earth Sciences, a proposal for the investigation of geo-bio interactions was submitted.

Foci of spezialisation

With direct and automated instrumental recordings augmenting information from the geologic record, data on Earth-system processes can be extracted on multiple timescales. This is conducted through the use of satellite systems, field work, and radiometric dating methods. Rare, but large scale events with catastrophic effects, such as floods, landslides, and asteroid impacts, have had major consequences for the earth system. These commonly include mass extinctions, punctuated changes in erosional processes, soil and vegetation changes, and in some cases long-term changes of the environment.

Recent research projects jointly pursued by the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and its international collaborators have focused on assessments of changes of the tectonic stress field, earthquake hazards in regions of low seismic activity, and method development for an earthquake warning system. A number of questions arise in regions associated with such risks: How can and how should information about such risks be communicated? How can a society minimize the impacts associated with catastrophes through policy changes? Risks and hazards must be analyzed and managed on a regional scale. Particular regions may require different intervention strategies, which alone is a major area of research.

The main concerns of the mineralogical and petrological working group are mass transport phenomena tough time and space in solid substances and complete solutions. Through geochemistry scientists investigate the low temperature zone of the Earth, and through metamorphism and magmatism they study the high temperature zone. Thermochronometric analyses are becoming a routine component of such studies due to the construction of a state of the art 40Ar/39Ar laboratory at Potsdam University. This allows for high resolution dating of deformation processes, and is critical for providing the timing constraints needed for understanding the rates at which deep earth processes proceed.