Director's Research Group

In close cooperation with the working groups of the department "The Land in the Earth System" the Director’s Research Group focuses on the role of the land surface and the terrestrial biosphere in the Earth system. Key questions are: Does the interaction between terrestrial biosphere, atmosphere and ocean amplify or stabilize global climate change - or is this interaction important only for regional and local climate? Does the biosphere - geosphere interaction lead to abrupt climate and vegetation change? How does anthropogenic land use and land cover change alter the climate? 

(Graphic credit: Dominique Donoval, MPI-M)

Plant diversity of ecosystems in arid environment like Sahara and Sahel has changed over the past several thousand years. A mathematical model suggests that plant diversity may stabilise climate – ecosystem interaction thereby leading to more gradual, fluctuating decline of taxa (coloured lines), instead of abrupt vegetation and precipitation change.   (Claussen et al., Nature Geoscience, 6, 2013).

Current Research Projects

  1. Abrupt or not abrupt? How did the Sahara develop in the past and in the future? Did the Sahara spread slowly, or did the Sahara expanded abruptly? Could the Sahara become green again? Which processes affect the stability of the atmosphere - vegetation system in this region?
  2. How does land use affect the climate of Northern Africa? How do climate change, land use change and conflict affect each other?
    (CliSAP project with Jürgen Scheffran, Univ. Hamburg)
  3. Today, tropical forests cool the climate, boreal forests warm the climate. Does this general statement hold also in a warm ice-free climate of the early Eocene, some 55 million years ago?