GFZ Geochemist Friedhelm von Blanckenburg awarded European ERC Advanced Grant

ERC Advanced Grant for Friedhelm von Blanckenburg: The geochemist researches the weathering of basalt and limestone and the associated potential for removing atmospheric CO2.

GFZ Scientist Friedhelm von Blanckenburg (Section 3.3, Earth Surface Geochemistry) will receive a prestigous European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant worth 2.3 Million Euros for his research on the weathering of basalt and carbonate rock and the resulting natural withdrawal of atmospheric CO2. The ERC grant-funded project DEVENDRA ('Deciphering the Effect of Vegetation and Erosion on basalt and carbonate weathering by Novel Denudation Rate Approaches') will start in January 2023 and run for five years. Its focus: a new isotope geochemical method to measure the rate at which basalt and carbonate rocks are transformed into soil by weathering and then get eroded. An ERC Advanced Grant is awarded to outstanding scientists with many years of proven expertise in a research field.

Congratulations by Manja Schüle and Niels Hovius

Brandenburg's Research Minister Manja Schüle congratulates: "Our research in Brandenburg is top-notch and future-oriented. The European Research Council sees it the same way and has awarded Friedhelm von Blanckenburg, a renowned geochemist from the Potsdam GeoForschungsZentrum, one of this year's 'Advanced Grants'. I warmly congratulate him on this outstanding success! With his work and expertise, Professor von Blanckenburg makes a significant contribution to the international visibility of our science location Brandenburg. His research on the weathering of basalt and limestone and the associated removal of atmospheric CO2 is forward-looking and shows once again: the future is being researched, made - and awarded - in Brandenburg."

Congratulations also come from Niels Hovius, the Scientific Director (interim) at the GFZ: "Congratulations to Friedhelm von Blanckenburg for this award. It enables him to continue his extremely successful work here at the GFZ. With this Advanced Grant DEVENDRA on basalt and carbonate weathering, the recently awarded Consolidators grant PETRARCH on hot climate states in Cretaecous times for Michael Henehan and the starting grant COLD awarded in 2018 for Dirk Scherler on the climate sensitivity of glacial landscapes, the GFZ section Earth Surface Geochemistry has become an ERC hotspot. The tree ERC grants demonstrate the substantial potential and versatility in applications of Isotope Geochemistry in Earth System Science.”

About the DEVENDRA project

The chemical weathering of rocks on the Earth’s surface draws down atmospheric CO2. Before industrial CO2 emissions, weathering balanced CO2 emissions from volcanoes and, via Earth’s greenhouse effect, maintained temperatures that allowed life to thrive on Earth for billions of years. Basalt and carbonate rocks are particularly crucial in this balance, because they are efficiently weathered. For example, although basalt makes up only five per cent of the Earth's surface, the rock provides 20-35 per cent of the global silicate weathering flux and CO2 consumption. Feedbacks operate between weathering of these rocks and climate, and their most important controls are thought to be water flow, erosion rate and vegetation growth. Deciphering these controls requires methods that measure their speed.

The aim of DEVENDRA, dedicated to the pioneer of cosmogenic nuclide geochemistry Devendra Lal (1920 – 2012), is thus to establish a novel method as Earth’s surface weathering “speedometer”: The rare isotope beryllium-10 is produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere and is rained out from the atmosphere at known rate – the clock. At the same time stable beryllium-9 is released by weathering. The ratio of both isotopes is the “speedometer”. This new method will be used to calibrate – using globally-distributed soil profiles and catchments of differing climate and erosion rate – the laws that govern weathering and CO2 drawdown in these rocks. The outcomes will serve as input to global weathering models of Earth’s carbon cycle on geological time scales, to predict the trajectory of anthropogenic CO2 in coming centuries, and to estimate the potential for withdrawing excess industrial CO2 from the atmosphere by artificially-enhanced weathering of basalt powder that could be applied to fields, for example.

About Friedhelm von Blanckenburg

Geochemist Friedhelm von Blanckenburg is heading the Earth Surface Geochemistry section (3.3) that operates the Helmholtz Laboratory for the Geochemistry of the Earth Surface (“HELGES”) at GFZ. He holds a Professorship at Freie Universität Berlin. He studied Geology at the Technische Universität Berlin, and obtained his doctorate degree in Isotope Geochemistry at ETH Zürich. After that, he spent 5 years as PostDoc at Cambridge University and 2 years at Oxford University (England). For 4 years he was lecturer at University of Berne (Switzerland) and 9 years Professor of Geochemistry at the Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, prior to taking up his position at GFZ and FU Berlin in 2009. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg is member of the Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina, the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and the Academia Europaea, and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union.


About the ERC 

The ERC is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. ERC Advanced Grants allow exceptional established research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields or other domains.

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg
Head of Section 3.3 Earth surface geochemistry
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
14473 Potsdam
Tel.: +49 331 288-2850

Media contact:
Dr. Uta Deffke
Public and Media Relations
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
14473 Potsdam
Phone: +49 331 288-1049



ERC Advanced Grant for Friedhelm von Blanckenburg: The geochemist @GFZ_Potsdam researches the weathering of #basalt and #limestone and the associated potential for removing atmospheric #CO2. #ERCAdG @ERC_Research


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