Section 4.7: Earth Surface Process Modelling

Research approach

In our research group, we develop computer models to simulate the processes responsible for the evolution of the Earth's surface, such as bedrock incision by rivers and glaciers in mountain ranges, or the slow weathering of rock in low relief continental interiors. In doing so, we provide a framework to integrate field observations and laboratory measurements, and make predictions about places where no data exists or concerning the future evolution of the Earth's surface.

Our group employs a range of researchers who all share a common interest in computer models, but who are from a variety of research backgrounds, including geology, geophysics and mathematics. We also work closely with colleagues in other sections of the GFZ as well as other German and international research institutions and universities.

From time to time we are able to offer projects/internships to students interested in our research topics.



Latest News

EGU announces Jean Braun will receive the Arthur Holmes Medal and Honorary Membership

On October 17, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) announced that Jean Braun has been selected to receive the Arthur Holmes Medal and Honorary Membership for "exceptional international merit and scientific achievements in solid Earth geosciences" at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria April 8-12, 2019. The Arthur Holmes medal is one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by EGU. Jean will present a plenary lecture at the award ceremony when he receives his medal in Vienna. Congratulations Jean!

Jean's talk and the award ceremony are available to view on the EGU Web Streaming page.

Fortran Interface FastScapeLib release

Today (Monday 4th February 2019), we released the latest version of the Fortran Interface FastScapeLib on GitHub thanks to Xiaoping Yuan, Jean Braun and Benoît Bovy who worked very hard to make it easy to use and install. The software solving the basic landscape evolution equations (stream power law, including the effect of sedimentation, and hill slope processes) is designed to be linked to any tectonic model (from a simple flexural model to any complex 3D thermo-mechanical model). It is written in Fortran but can be called from Fortran, C, C++, Python and (soon) Matlab. It is designed to run on any platform (MacOS, Linux and Windows) thanks to Benoît’s efforts and is available at:

SINTEF Winter School 2019: Learning from Data in Geilo, Norway

Kim Huppert attended the 2019 Geilo Winter School on eScience: Learning from Data in Geilo, Norway January 20 - 25, funded by the Research Council of Norway. The winter school covered a range of topics including data assimilation, inverse modeling, parameter estimation, uncertainty quantification, value of information, and machine learning in fifteen 90-minute lectures (conveniently scheduled in the mornings and evenings to allow for a long mid-day ski break!).

Debugging FastScape Interface

From January 15 to 17 a small working group of the COLORS consortium (from Bergen, Rennes and Toulouse) met to help Xiaoping Yuan and Jean Braun debug the latest release of the FastScape Interface that we are currently polishing for release. The Interface is designed to be coupled to a thermo-mechanical model but can also be used in any stand-alone Fortran, C, Python or Matlab code.

AGU Fall Meeting 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Benoît Bovy, Ruohong Jiao, Kim Huppert, and Xiaoping Yuan attended the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C., USA December 10 - 14. Benoît presented a short talk and poster "Xarray-simlab: a Python package to build, customize and run computational models interactively", Jiao presented a poster "Constraining 90 Ma landscape evolution model of Madagascar using erosional and sedimentary data", Kim presented an invited talk "The imprint of discharge variability on bedrock river incision on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i", and Xiaoping presented a talk "A new efficient, O(n) and implicit method to solve the stream power law taking into account sediment transport and deposition". In addition to presenting their research, Benoît, Jiao, Kim, and Xiaoping enjoyed hearing about the latest scientific results across the geosciences and catching up with the broader community (including members of Section 4.6 in a shared conference apartment!)

Visit from Michael Lamb, Caltech

Professor Michael Lamb visited the GFZ December 3 - 6. During his visit, Professor Lamb presented a lecture (co-hosted by sections 4.6 and 4.7) "Bedrock Canyons Carved by the Largest Known Floods on Earth and Mars" and met with scientists in our section and other sections across the GFZ.

Earth Surface Dynamics Lecture by Todd Ehlers, Universität Tübingen

Section 4.7 invited Professor Todd Ehlers to the GFZ December 3-4 to give the Earth Surface Dynamics (ESD) Lecture. The new ESD lecture series (co-organized by sections 3.3, 3.5, 3.7, 4.3, 4.4, 4.6, and 4.7) aims to bring together the broad range of researchers on Telegrafenberg looking at Earth surface processes. The goal for these talks is to be broad and accessible and deal with big, global topics, so that non-experts and specialists alike find them enlightening. Professor Ehlers's talk "Latitudinal Variations in the Influence of Vegetation on Catchment Denudation" was well attended by scientists working in research groups across the GFZ, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI). During his visit, Professor Ehlers also gave a specialized talk on “Formation of Topography by Seismic Slow Slip Events: The Olympic Mountains (USA)” in a workshop on links between tectonics and topography organized by our section. The workshop also featured talks by Professor Onno Oncken (“Seismic cycle and topography uplift at convergent plate boundaries - does it scale?”) and Dr. Pia Victor ("Exploring the seismotectonic significance of shallow triggered slip captured with the IPOC Creepmeter Array“) of Section 4.1. We enjoyed meeting with Todd during his visit.

Intern visit to our section

Gustav, the intern coming from local Humboldt-Gymnasium Potsdam joined GFZ from 26th November to 4th December, 2018. During that period, he spent some time in our section where we, in addition to giving him a brief intro of GFZ, our section and fascinating office building, introduced him to our main activities in a general sense. Also, we talked with him about our separate and group projects, about the importance of numerical modelling and showed him some basic data analysis tools and results.

COLORS Meeting in Pau

From Monday 26th November to Wednesday 28th November 2018, Xiaoping Yuan and Jean Braun attended a COLORS meeting at the R&D Total laboratory in Pau, France. We presented our latest results to our Total colleagues showcasing our recent advances in developing our FastScape landscape evolution models and its use to invert (in a Bayesian sense) geological data and, in particular, stratigraphic data. We were joined in our presentation by other members of the COLORS consortium from Toulouse, Rennes, Grenoble and Bergen.

Landscape Genomics

From November 26-30, 2018, Katherine Kravitz attended a course in Berlin on landscape genomics, a field that studies how the environment can modify the distribution of genetic diversity across a landscape. The workshop provided an overview of how to analyze environmental and genetic data in conjunction to study population structure and local adaptation. The attendees of the workshop spanned across many disciplines and had a wide variety of interest in different processes and external factors that impact environment and adaptation. It was a great way to learn some of the leading approaches and tools necessary to understand the link between landscape and biodiversity.

Visit from Nikos Theodoratos, ETH Zurich

Nikos Theodoratos, a PhD student at ETH Zurich, visited the Earth Surface Process Modelling group (formerly Section 5.5, now renamed 4.7) at GFZ on October 17-19, 2018 in preparation for his submitting a proposal to the Swiss National Foundation to obtain funding for a post-doctoral position in our section. During his PhD studies at ETH in Zurich, Nikos has written a very insightful paper (published in ESURFD) on the scaling of the Stream Power Law.

Following his visit, Nikos sent us the following message:

“Dear Section 5.5, Thank you for your hospitality and for the opportunity to present my work at your seminar! I especially appreciated the effort you put into connecting me with researchers from other GFZ groups and the University of Potsdam, which led to many discussions with very interesting people. Your office, located in an old observatory and surrounded by nature, is a very stimulating and fun place to work at; I really enjoyed my time there.

Warm regards, Nikos”

GeoMod2018 conference in Barcelona

From October 1-4, several members of our section (Jean, Igor, and Xiaoping) attended the GeoMod2018 conference in Barcelona, dedicated to the latest results of analogue and numerical modelling in Geosciences. The presenters' areas of expertise varied widely (e.g., tectonics, volcanic processes, surface processes, lithosphere dynamics, rock physics, and geofluids), and all were generally happy with their own work and the interesting feedback received.

Our section members presented their latest ideas, methods and results of numerical modeling of surface processes. For example, Jean presented "Efficient algorithms for the simulation of Earth surface processes", Igor showed his latest result of "Application of a model for point-wise prediction of stream flow statistics using climatic and geomorphologic data on Walnut Gulch (Arizona)", and Xiaoping presented the new method of sediment transport and deposition on land. They enjoyed very much the feedback to their presentations.

Thermo 2018 Conference in Quedlinburg

From 16-21 September, Jean, Audrey, Jessica, and Jiao attended the Thermo 2018 conference in Quedlinburg, Germany. This international conference is held every two years, focusing on the development in methodology and application of low-temperature thermochronology. There were many interesting and inspiring talks, posters, and discussions. The attendees from our section took the opportunity to present their current work.

Jean talked about the "time scale for orogenic growth and decay”. Audrey gave a talk on the “roles of erosion and isostasy in topography building” in the case of Cordillera Blanca, and presented new data and interpretation about the uplift and denudation histories of the Namibian passive margin. Jess gave an invited talk on the roles of erosion and mantle dynamics in the landscape evolution of southern Africa. After the main program of the conference, Jean gave a half-day course, introducing the new version of Pecube, a thermo-kinematic model to solve heat transport in the crust and invert thermochronological data.

Trip to Lausanne, June 2018

Our section spent the month of June in Lausanne, hosted by Prof Herman (Frédéric) at the Université de Lausanne (UNIL), a specialist in the study of glacier dynamics and glacial erosion. This was the second part of an exchange program partly funded by the Fondation Herbette. During the entire month, our section was fully integrated within the Lausanne group in the Geopolis building on the Unil campus.

We organized bi-daily short seminars (part of the now famous “Monique Seminar Series”) where each researcher presented an aspect of his/her current research and/or a novel technique he/she has developed. This served as a catalyst for further informal interactions, which, in some instances, led to formal collaborations through the setting up of common projects. Expertise was also shared on the use and development of numerical methods. The Lausanne group has much experience in the development of numerical models of glacier dynamics and glacial erosion. Several of Frédéric’s PhD students organized a two-day field trip to Zermatt and the Gorner Glacier. On the way from Lausanne, we travelled through the Rhone Valley where we discovered various geomorphological features. At several sites we dwelled in intense discussions about many topics such as the propagation of knickpoints, the relative efficiency of glacial vs fluvial erosion, or the circulation within Lake Geneva. On the second day, we visited the Gorner Glacier where Frédéric’s team explained the various field experiments they currently conduct there.

During our stay in Lausanne, several visitors joined us for a few days: Guillaume Cordonnier from Grenoble, Konstanze Stübner from Uni Potsdam, Eric Deal from MIT, Guillaume Baby from Rennes, Erika Erlanger from ETH, Olivier Beyssac from Paris and Simon Cox from Otago (NZ).

The visit led to the following collaborative projects/activities:

  • Development of an implicit method to solve the glacial erosion equations
  • Development of a TL/OSL model for incorporation into thermochronological (Pecube) software
  • Further development of a method to estimate ice thickness from ice surface geometry
  • Joint research project aimed at estimating an equivalent of Hack’s Law for glacier flow
  • Inversion of thermochronological data from the Andes ⁃ Validation of methods to interpret thermochronological data
  • Many interactions with other faculty/research staff at Unil outside of Frédéric’s group (ecologists, hydrologists, other geomorphologists, etc.)

The University of Lausanne is also ideally located along the shore of Lake Geneva. Members of the section really enjoyed it with regular swims, barbecues and runs along the lake shore, as well as many climbing excursions during the weekends. Weather was beautiful and allowed us to fully enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

(Foto: Jean Braun)

EGU annual meeting 2018

During April 8-13, most of our section members attended the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

The diversity of sessions provided something for every taste: members of the section were seen attending talks and posters on geomorphology, hydrology, geoinformatics, glaciology, paleontology, space science ... After all, one of the advantages of a large international conference is the broad expertise on display. Members of 5.5 displayed their own expertise in the form of poster presentations at the meeting. Most opted for a traditional format, while Benoit Bovy and Kim Huppert had to deal with the particular opportunities as well as challenges of an interactive poster presentation called PICO®. The presenters' experiences varied widely, but all were generally happy with their own work and the interesting feedback received.

Towards the end of the meeting, everyone enjoyed catching up with Frederic Herman's group from University of Lausanne: there were plans to be made for the group visit coming up in June. Check back in a couple of months to see if any came to fruition!

Erik Tamre (on behalf of Section 5.5)

Group Retreat, Belgium, October 2017

For our first group retreat, we spent a great weekend at the end of October in the Belgian Ardennes! We enjoyed walking across lovely landscapes such as the (wet) Haute-Fagnes plateau and the valleys of Semois and Ninglinspo, where we saw some interesting geomorphological features. We also visited the city of Liège as well as the Bastogne War Museum that immersed us into the Battle of the Bulge. Of course, we also enjoyed local food specialities and fine Belgian beers!

Section 4.7 Seminars


Next upcoming seminar:

The geomorphic impact of wildfire: from debris flow hazards to landscape evolution

  • Speaker: Dr. Luke McGuire, University of Arizona
  • Date: 18. April 2019, 13:30
  • Location: A27 (Großer Refraktor), Room 102


List of past and future seminars





Section Head

Jean Braun
Prof. Dr. Jean Braun
Earth Surface Process Modelling
Building A 27, Room 101
14473 Potsdam
+49 331 288-27520


Lukas Becker
Dr. Lukas Becker
Earth Surface Process Modelling
Building A 27, Room 108
14473 Potsdam
+49 331 288-27521