Research groups at the Institute for Geosciences

The two focal areas of the Institute of Geosciences at Mainz are “Dynamics of the Solid Earth” and “High-resolution Paleoclimatology”. Furthermore, two groups work in applied topics of geosciences.

1. Dynamics of the Solid Earth

The Earth deforms over a broad range of timescales and the collision of lithospheric plates results in the formation of mountain belts, which is accompanied by volcanic activity and large earthquakes. We are interested in better understanding how these processes work on both the present-day and the early Earth. This requires an interdisciplinary approach, consisting of geological field work, laboratory experiments, (geo)chemical analyses and computer modelling. We are part of the research focus area VAMOS (Volcanoes, Atmosphere and Magmatic Open Systems), which studies how magma is generated, transported to the Earth’s surface, and erupts at volcanoes and interacts with the atmosphere.

The Petrology group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Roman Botcharnikov) focuses on the formation of igneous rocks, using geochemical data, high-pressure experiments and field observations to decipher melting processes in the Earth’s mantle

The Metamorphic Processes group (Junior-Prof. Dr. Evangelos Moulas) develops thermodynamic models for minerals and melt to model metamorphic processes and to constrain the past pressure and temperature conditions of rocks that we now find at the Earth’s surface.

The Tectonic and Structural Geology group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Virginia Toy) uses field observations, microscopic analysis and experiments to recontruct the tectonic movements and deformation processes of rocks under different pressure regimes and the resulting shape changes over geological timescales.

The Tectonophysics group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Cees Passchier) uses field work, microscopic observations and experiments to reconstruct how rocks can flow under pressure and how they have changed shape in their geological history.

The Geodynamics group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Boris Kaus) simulates geological processes in the computer and compares the results with available geophysical and geological data.

The Volcanology group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jonathan Castro) investigates how volcanoes work by combining field observations with laboratory experiments (which involves creating mini-eruptions in the laboratory). In addition, we have ongoing collaborations with the MPI for chemistry (where Prof. Dr. T. Wagner uses satellites to monitor gas release during volcanic eruptions), the Institute of Atmosphere Physics (where Univ.-Prof. Dr. P. Hoor and Jun.-Prof. Dr. C. Voigt sometimes fly through volcanic ash clouds) and the Institute of Chemistry (where the group of Univ.-Prof. Dr. T. Hoffmann develops new techniques to measure the composition of volcanic gasses).

2. High-resolution Paleoclimatology

Spatial and temporal high-resolution paleoclimate data provide the basis to validate and optimize numerical climate models. As such they are prerequisite for reliable predictions of future climate change, specifically the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Since instrumental data are not available prior to ca. AD 1850, the geosciences at Mainz reconstruct past environmental parameters from chemical, physical and biological proxies recorded in lake sediments, speleothems and mollusk shells. Once precisely temporally constrained, these archives provide annually and seasonally resolved time-series of paleoclimate data. Aside from using established proxies, the research groups at Mainz also develop and validate new climate and environmental proxies. The focus at Mainz is on the reconstruction of paleoweather, paleoclimate and paleoenvironment during the Quaternary, in particular the last ten thousand years, i.e. the time interval during which humans severely influenced the earth system.

The Climate and Sediments group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Frank Sirocko) analyses pollen as well as petrographical and geochemical proxies contained in lake sediments in order to reconstruct the climate and vegetation dynamics.

The Paleontology/Sclerochronology group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Bernd R. Schöne) studies annual and daily growth patterns, stable isotopes and trace elements in biogenic hard parts such as shells of bivalves and gastropods as well as vertebrate teeth.

The Speleothem Research group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Denis Scholz) constructs precisely dated (230Th/U) time-series of geochemical climate and environmental proxies from speleothems.

Marine and continental sediments from periods ranging from the recent past to over more than the past 3 billion years are analysed by the Sedimentary Geochemistry group (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Philip Pogge von Strandmann), often using new light metal isotopes (e.g. Li, Mg, Ca, Si). Subsequently, the biogeochemical cycles of the elements, including the carbon cycle, are reconstructed and modelled.

The Biomineralization research group (Junior-Prof. Dr. Anne Jantschke) focusses on the formation mechanisms and structural properties of biomaterials derived from different microalgae, explores their potential materials applications and investigates their relevance on the cycling of elements.

All paleoclimate groups closely collaborate with the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, the Chemical Institutes and the physical geographers (Climatology/Dendrochronology, Soil Sciences, Geomorphology) at the Geographical Institute, Mainz.

3. Additional research topics

Two other groups at the Institute of Geosciences, “Gem and Geomaterials Research” (Dr. Tobias Häger ) and “Hydrogeochemistry” (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Michael Kersten) work in the field of applied geosciences. Both groups are primarily interested in Earth materials, resources, archeometry as well as solid waste repositories and their interaction with the hydrosphere. The rock and mineral microstructure is analyzed both in terms of host lattice properties and also in terms of fluid transport within the pore space. The chemistry is analyzed by means of modern solid-state spectroscopy and trace element analysis instruments. Other aspects are (i) deriving models of how minerals (gems) form and trace elements are intercalated, (ii) deriving models how reactive solutes are transported in the pore space, (III) reproducing geomaterials in the laboratory by simplified recipes compared to the complex reaction pathways in the geosphere, (IV) testing gems with respect to provenance and purity, (V) testing potential applications for industrial technology and environmental remediation, and (VI) the application of modern nondestructive microanalytical techniques to human artefacts (archeometry).