Plate Boundary Systems: Understanding the dynamics that affect the human habitat

The dynamic processes of the solid Earth, focused at the plate boundaries, are interlinked in complex ways and are as yet not fully understood. They can often only be observed in a limited way or indirectly and exhibit properties which vary across a large range of spatial and temporal scales. We aim to identify causes, controlling mechanisms and interactions and develop corresponding process models. This allows for development of new strategies for the human habitat with a view to dealing with natural hazards and global change.

We continuously observe plate boundaries using multiple instrumentation and establish data series, from satellites and from the Earth’s surface including also an integration of terrestrial and shoreline-crossing instrumentation networks. We combine observations of plate boundary deformation, earthquake rupture, and the activity of volcanic systems with imaging of in situ processes as well as of the temporal variability and coupling of processes. This is supplemented by geophysical/ geodetic/geological field campaigns that yield high ‐ resolution information. We focus regionally on appropriate "natural laboratories", mainly at prototypical plate boundaries. We also explore the constitutive laws of the underlying geo ‐ materials using experimental methods. Numerical modelling as well as experimental simulation ultimately serve the analysis of quantitative process models, the development of efficient monitoring strategies, and lay the basis to a new generation of hazard assessment strategies.

Key research questions:

  • How can time series of processes at plate boundaries be observed and integrated  to analyze key parameters of interactions and coupling?
  • How can properties of geomaterials be quantified and scaling techniques be developed that enable us to link the constitutive laws determined experimentally in the laboratory with field observations and modelling?
  • How can process interactions be quantified and models be developed for complex geosystems?


Onno Oncken
Prof. Dr. Onno Oncken
Lithosphere Dynamics
Building E, Room 424
14473 Potsdam
+49 331 288-1310


Prof. Dr. Heidrun Kopp
Head of Dynamics of the Ocean Floor
Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

East shore campus
Wischhofstrasse 1-3
24148 Kiel
tel. +49 431 600 2334