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Department of Biogeochemistry / Geology

The department of Biogeochemistry and Geology studies changes of the abiotic environment and its interface with the living world through time.

The abiotic environment reacts to natural and anthropogenic change by changes in matter fluxes. Changes in the abiotic environment affect the biotic sphere of the ecosystems and the ecosystem’s services. Sediment fluxes as response to land-use change or as result of deterioration of mangroves affect the health of coral reefs. Damage of sea-grass meadows as well as sand-mining can result in severe coastal erosion. Eutrophication by increasing fertiliser use in agriculture leads to a shift of faunal associations away from photic or photosymbiotic organisms to heterotrophic ones. At the same time the physical and chemical records such as sediment cores and skeletons of marine organisms provide archives of changes such as nutrient levels, acidification, growth rates of calcifying organisms, change in sediment input and alike.

The Biogeochemistry & Geology department focuses on the response of tropical systems to natural and anthropogenic change. Studies of present-day settings combined with reconstructions on time scales relevant to humans provide the means to explore scenarios of future developments. Studies spanning from the hinterland of coasts to coastal ecosystems and further to the deep sea provide an integrative perspective of the land-ocean continuum.

Based on an empirical, non-site-specific approach driven by data acquisition, we develop, calibrate, test and improve scenarios of future developments. Our tool box includes biogeochemical, sedimentological, geochemical, and microbiological methods.

The department contributes to the ZMT mission by pinning down the physicochemical effects of human activities, by linking human action to the ecosystem. As the largest gaps in data and knowledge on the abiotic environment on a global scale still persist in the tropics, we also provide data for the data bases on global change.

Department leader

Prof. Dr. Hildegard Westphal
Phone: 
+49 (421) 23800 - 21
e-mail: 

Working groups

Research topics

  • Drainage Basin Processes
  • Internal Ecosystem Cycles
  • Coastal Biogeochemistry
  • Biogeochemical Exchanges at Shelf-Open Sea
  • Carbonate producing organisms as environmental archives
  • Reaction of carbonate producing organisms to acidification and eutrophication
  • Geomorphology and dynamics of tropical coastal ecosystems
  • Bioindicators in reef ecosystems
  • Submarine groundwater discharge
  • Microbial role in biogeochemical cycling
  • Marine aggregate dynamics