Prof. Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg

Prof. Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg
Section Head
Building E, Room 220
14473 Potsdam
+49 331 288-2850
+49 331 288-2852

Function and Responsibilities:

  • Head of GFZ Section 3.3: „Earth Surface Geochemistry“
  • Professor of the Geochemistry of the Earth Surface, Freie Universität Berlin

Research Interests:

Friedhelm von Blanckenburg explores the Geochemistry of the Earth's surface by inorganic isotope geochemical and mass spectrometric methods.

Previously he has dealt with deciphering the processes in the interior of the Earth, such as the origin of granitic rocks in collisional mountains. This led him to propose the so-called "slab breakoff" hypothesis. He then turned his isotopic tools onto ocean sediments to determine the transfer of erosion products into the oceans.

Today he deals with the quantification of processes at the Earth's surface. As one main tool he uses cosmogenic nuclides. These rare clocks of the Earth surface allow the quantitative, physically-based analysis of landscape development and its interaction with the environment and with tectonic processes. A focus of his work is set on the mechanisms of pre-anthropogenic erosion processes. He developed approaches for measurements of „paleo-erosion and weathering rates“. Cosmogenic nuclides in terrestrial and ocean sediment time series disclose the magnitude of variations in late-Cenozoic and glacial-interglacial erosion and weathering rates.

The second area of ​​research is the high-precision determination by mass spectrometric methods of the small shifts in the relative abundances of the isotopes of metal  and metalloid elements such as Li, Mg, Si and Sr. With his group he uses these new systems to track the massive biogeochemical fluxes at the Earth's surface – and  follow them from the rock to soils and into plants, and from there into river water and eventually into the oceans. These isotopic systems fractionate if they form a) secondary minerals in weathering; b) these elements are taken up by plants. Emphasis is on 1) field studies in the so-called "critical zone"; 2) the determination of the isotopic fractionation factors in inorganic and biological systems; 3) the development of suitable methods for in situ determination of isotope ratios at the micro scale by means of femtosecond laser ablation; 4) the creation of mass balance models that simulate these processes.

Towards knowledge transfer he explores the potential contributions of metal isotope methods to biomedicine. He was the first to demonstrate that the isotope ratios of iron evolve along the human food chain.

Watch Friedhelm von Blanckenburg`s Science Movies:

EarthShape: The Skin of theEarth – Where Life Meets Rocks
IsoNose: Isotopes and MassSpectrometry
Weathering: Why is Soil onEarth?


  • 1991-1995: Postdoc in Isotope Geochemistry, University of Cambridge, England
  • 1995-1997: Senior Research Assistent, University of Oxford, England
  • 1997-2001: Lecturer, University of Berne, Switzerland
  • 2001-2008: Professor of Geochemistry, University of Hannover
  • 2008-Date: Professor of Geochemistry of Earth Surface Processes, GFZ Potsdam and FU Berlin, Head of Section 3.3 at GFZ Potsdam


  • 1985: Degree ("Diplom") in Geology, Technical University of Berlin
  • 1986-1990: Ph-D in Geochemistry/Geochronology, ETH Zürich


Coordinator: European Union Marie Curie Inititial Training Network "IsoNose" Isotopic Tools as Novel Sensors of Earth Surface Resources 

Co-Coordinator: DFG (German National Science Foundation) Priority Program (SPP) "Earthshape": Earth Surface Shaping by Biota (with Todd Ehlers, U Tübingen)

Editorial Activities:
  • Principle Editor „Elements“ (ab 2016)
  • Editorial Board „American Journal of Science“



  • Member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (2009)
  • Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal of the European Geosciences Union (2010)
  • Member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (2015)
  • Fellow of the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry (2016)
  • Fellow of the American Geophysical Union AGU (2018)

Publications – Researcher ID: K-4711-2013