Department 4: Chemistry and Material Cycles
Understanding the transport of material and energy within the Earth System is of fundamental importance for mankind. It is these processes which, on the one hand, control the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that suddenly and destructively impinge upon society, but on the other provide us with the sustainable production of electricity and heat from geothermal sources and fossil energy resources within sedimentary basins. The main scientific goals of Department 4 are to investigate and understand the cycling of mass and energy by studying chemical, physical and biological processes within the geosphere and at its interfaces to the hydrosphere and atmosphere. Our research integrates analytical and experimental methods with field studies and numerical models to understand natural resources and climate better and to help evaluate geological risk.
Our inorganic geochemists combine fieldwork with laboratory experiments. They develop models of geochemical cycles and investigate volcanic and magmatic activities based on chemistry and isotopy. Coming under scrutiny are not only the rocks themselves but also the gases and fluids found in the Earth's crust. Our organic geochemists and basin modelers investigate the processes which lead to the formation of fossil fuels, and develop methods with which we can predict the quality of oil and natural gas, with unconventional gas deposits in Europe, in the form of “gas shales”, being a new research focus. They also study the role that organic material stored in sedimentary basins plays in climate change. Both groups are investigating the workings of the deep biosphere, this being the occurrence of living organisms within rock pores and fractures under high pressure and temperature deep in the Earth. Studying the formation of sedimentary basins at the lithospheric scale is a fundamental framework for all these investigations, and is based on the integration of geology and geophysics. Engineering practice and developments feature most strongly in the utilisation of geothermal energy for power and heat generation.