Microbial carbon dynamics in the climate system


Microbial communities of the terrestrial surface and subsurface drive the formation and consumption of the greenhouse gases (GHG) CO2 and CH4. They are thus key reagents of climate-induced feedbacks on our Earth surface capable both of accelerating and mitigating Global Change. For projecting how microbes react and adapt to climate change, we seek and characterize microbial sources and sinks of GHG, quantify their process rates, and study their functional and taxonomic response in space and time. We assess microbial controls on near-surface greenhouse gas fluxes and provide a microscope on the microbial carbon turnover in the terrestrial, organic rich subsurface. Our focus is thereby on areas which are highly relevant for the terrestrial carbon cycle such as permafrost regions and peatlands. We apply and establish molecular tools such as high throughput sequencing and metagenomics and combine this with process rate measurements, biogeochemistry, bioinformatics, and multivariate statistics, to uncover and map microorganisms of Earth’s interior. Our data also serve to constrain carbon-pool models.

Scientific key questions

  • What are climate-relevant microbial sources and sinks of greenhouse gases at the Earth’s surface and in the subsurface?
  • How will these sources and sinks respond to Global Change in terms of microbial community composition, function, abundance and activity?
  • What is the timing of these structural and process-related changes and how do they synchronize?

Study sites

  • Lena Delta, polygonal tundra and ancient permafrost sediments of Siberia, Russia
  •  Alaska, thermokarst lake sediments and ancient permafrost,  US
  • Herschel Island, soils and shallow permafrost deposits, High Canadian Arctic
  • Finnmark and Svalbard, arctic and subarctic peatlands, Norway
  • Northeastern German lowlands (degraded and rewetted fens of the TERENO-NE observatory), Germany



Dr. Christian Knoblauch, Institute of Soil Science, University Hamburg, Germany

Prof. Mette Marianne Svenning, Arctic University of Norway, Norway

Dr. Alexander Tøsdal Tveit, Arctic University of Norway, Norway

Prof. Katey Walter Anthony, University of Fairbanks, Alaska, US

Dr. Paul Overduin, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany

Dr. Jens Strauss, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany

Dr. Joanne Heslop, Queen's University, Canada

Dr. Elizaveta Rivkina, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino, Russia

Prof. Torsten Sachs, German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany

Dr. Gerald Jurasinski, University of Rostock, Germany

Prof. Alex Anesio, University of Bristol, School of Geographical Sciences, UK

Dr. Gary Barker, University of Bristol, UK

Dr. Catherine Larose, Université de Lyon, France

Prof. David Pearce, Northumbria University, UK

Prof. Birgit Sattler, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Dr. Beat Frey, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Switzerland

Dr. Carsten Jacobsen, mBioInform, Denmark

Prof. Nina Gunde Cimerman, University of Llubljana, Slovenia

Dr. Cristina Purcarea, University of Bucharest, Romania

Dr. Oddur Vilhelmsson, University of Akureyri, Iceland

Dr. Florian H. H. Brill, Dr. Brill + Partner GmbH, Germany

Prof. Janet Rethemeyer, University of Cologne, Germany

Dr. Tomáš Hájek, University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic

Dr. Kai Mangelsdorf, German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany

Prof. Liane G. Benning, German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany

Priv. Doz. Dr. Judith Schicks, German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany

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