Department 2: Geophysics

People are not the only casualties of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and their consequences. The damage to buildings and infrastructure can also be extremely costly. Hazards even threaten from space, as strong variations in the magnetic field can cause expensive power outages on the ground and can blind or even damage satellites. Geoscientific research is challenged to recognize and quantify these hazards, and especially to help to reduce the risk from them. In Department 2, we contribute to these goals in a variety of ways.

We are developing methods, which will help to forecast volcanic eruptions and which will allow short term, local warnings for earthquake waves. Our group has contributed seminally to the development and implementation of an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia (GITEWS). In addition, we continuously monitor the strength of geomagnetic activity. We do not neglect our own region, however, as we prepare maps describing the earthquake risk for Central Europe. Together with industrial partners, we are participating in the development of instruments which apply the results of our early warning research.

The analysis of geologic risk is only possible with the appropriate basic research, for example, the world-wide monitoring of earthquakes. Under the name GEOFON, we have deployed a world-spanning network of seismometers which transmit their recordings to Potsdam in realtime. We also continuously monitor the components of the Earth's magnetic field at the historical Adolf Schmidt Observatory in Niemegk and at other stations we have newly installed throughout the world. With high performance computing we aim at specifying and predicting the adverse effects of space weather.

Members of our department are almost always on the road somewhere, making field measurements in regions with especially high geodynamic activity. They are using geophysical methods to investigate active plate boundaries like the Dead Sea Fault in the Middle East, the San Andreas Fault in California or the Andes in South America. Other researchers head off to a disaster-struck area immediately after a big earthquake, in order to catalog damage and record aftershocks. Theoretically, we support our field work with numerical models of the movements at the borders of the colliding continental plates, or the secular flow within the Earth's mantle. We apply what we learn in the real world by passing concrete numbers for earthquake safe construction on to structural engineers. In training courses, we transfer our know-how on to developing countries.