Collaborative projects

Members of the IGMG are currently involved in several large-scale collaborative projects, involving Research Partners in Germany and abroad. Find out more about these Research Endeavors here.

Current Projects

Geological processes occur in and on the Earth over a range of timescales that form a nested, hierarchical structure. Determining the durations of processes that occur on the shorter end of this time-spectrum has been a challenge. The tools of diffusion chronometry have emerged as a very promising method to provide solutions in many situations.

High temperature magmatic systems provide an excellent natural laboratory for developing and calibrating these tools because various kinds of observations from monitoring volcanoes are able to provide cross checks on the results. Subsequently, the newly developed and refined tools may then be applied to a much wider range of geological and planetary settings. This project aims to bring together field geologists, experimental scientists, theoreticians and modellers from geosciences as well as neighbouring fields of physics and materials science to advance this development. Some of the main objectives of the current phase of the proposal for this research unit are: the measurement of missing diffusion parameters in some critical systems such as  pyroxenes and plagioclase, exploring the recently discovered role of isotopic fractionation at high temperatures due to diffusion, calibrating phase relations to enable the setting of boundary and initial conditions in high resolution diffusion models and exploring the role of textural evolution. These will be accompanied by the development of user-friendly codes and other tools that incorporate the advances. The developed tools will be tested in different field settings.

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Mechanized tunneling is a highly automated construction process that has proven itself to be suitable for use in a wide range of different geological and hydrological conditions. Its application ranges from urban tunnels driven below sensitive structures with low ground cover to deep alpine tunnels characterized by large ground pressures and high overburdens. However, problems inherent in the mechanized tunneling process, such as its lack of adaptability to unexpected changes in geological conditions, uncertainties in a priori soil information and the complexity of machine-soil interactions present significant challenges in both the planning and construction of tunnels. As a result, tunnel boring machines only reach approx. 30% of their theoretical production capacity during typical tunnel drives. In response to the continuously expanding application range of mechanized tunneling to different geological conditions, the trend towards larger machine diameters, increasing safety requirements and the need to minimize tunneling-related risks, the project, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from civil- and mechanical engineering, computational mechanics and the geosciences, aims to explore and describe the dominant factors and essential processes and interactions that influence safety and efficiency in mechanized tunneling. During its first two research periods, the methods developed by the project based on the synthesis of computer-oriented modeling, experimental investiga-tions and digital planning, have proven extraordinarily successful in answering these questions. Circumstances that could previously only be described in simplified empirical manners can now be explained using well founded physics-based models, which open new perspectives for the better management and optimization of current design, construction and logistics processes.While research during the first two funding phases was focused on the tunneling in soft ground, the proposed research in the third funding period will additionally concentrate on tunneling in difficult geological conditions that today set the limits on the application range of mechanized tunneling. Among other topics, research will be concerned with understanding the as yet unexplored factors that control tunneling processes in expansive soils as well as with the design of novel deformation-tolerant tunnel linings to be used in such situations. From interdisciplinary research between material scientists and geophysicists, essential insights will be gained into the wear of excavation tools and the efficiency of excavation in such difficult geological conditions. Simulation and risk models for the excavation, advancement and logistics processes developed in the SFB 837 will enable improved, environmentally-friendly and low-risk planning and construction processes. 

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It is still an open question how Earth became the only known habitable planet. Most likely, a unique combination of processes during Earth’s early evolution was necessary to make Earth habitable, but these processes and their interplay are still poorly constrained. The three most critical aspects are (i) the compositions and sources of Earth’s building materials (ii) the Earth’s early internal processing into crust, mantle, and core and (iii) the evolution of the ocean-atmosphere system. In our quest to reconstruct how the Earth became a habitable planet and how its early surface system evolved through the interaction with the biosphere, we cannot employ current approaches from, e.g., biology, marine sciences or climatology, but rather need to rely strongly on Earth Science-based approaches to study the early geological and extraterrestrial sample record. This is necessary, because such samples provide the only vestige of Earth’s early evolution. Only through an interdisciplinary Earth Science approach we therefore can successfully address the key question as to what conditions were unique to planet Earth so that an environment favourable to the emergence and evolution of life could have developed. The history of Earth’s habitability is filed in the ancient rock record, and only sophisticated Earth Science methodology can read it. Until now, however, the planetary and early geological processes that made Earth the only known habitable planet could not be well addressed, as suitable sample materials and sufficient analytical tools were limited for a long time. This picture has dramatically changed since a couple of years, and new avenues for innovative research emerged. These include the increased availability of pristine old terrestrial and extraterrestrial sample materials, the development of novel analytical techniques and of experimental and modelling approaches that can simulate processes on the early Earth and in the early solar system in unprecedented detail. Within Germany, an internationally highly visible community developed in these fields just recently, largely driven by numerous new university appointments. Our SPP initiative “Building a Habitable Earth” therefore provides a timely opportunity for the German research community to play a leading international role in this new field. Our proposed SPP will be the first coordinated Earth Science based research program in Germany that will address the causes for Earth’s habitability from different angles. The SPP initiative includes different Earth Science disciplines such as geology, geochemistry, planetology, cosmochemistry, geobiology and geophysical modelling. Up to now, we know that the formation of the Earth comprises several critical steps. These involve the aggregation of smaller asteroids ca. 4.5 Ga ago followed by their amalgamation through giant collisions into a planet-sized Earth. These giant collisions triggered the formation of a deep terrestrial magma ocean that in turn caused segregation of the Earth’s metal core by ca. 50 million years after solar system formation. Already within the first 500 million years, the Earth’s first continents and oceans, as well as a dense atmosphere formed, possibly providing an environment conducive to the formation of the first primitive life forms. The evolution of more complex life took another 3 to 4 billion years and is closely related to the rise of free oxygen in the atmosphere and in the oceans. The early geological record is now known to range back to nearly 4.4 billion years when the oldest known minerals were formed. Extraterrestrial samples are mostly more than 4.4 billion years old, and they preserve information of the earliest chemical differentiation processes in our solar system. Central to the SPP will be the chemical inventory of the Earth, the chemical differentiation into a core, mantle, crust, hydrosphere and atmosphere, the chemical evolution and interaction of these reservoirs with the evolving biosphere, and their contribution to the formation of a life sustaining environment. The SPP will crosslink both established and young researchers and will also provide interdisciplinary training opportunities for young earth scientists, including summer schools. In addition, an SPP framework will guarantee access for the entire German Earth Science community to rare early terrestrial and extraterrestrial samples. The SPP wil also provide the opportunity for ore deposit researchers to study the genesis of economically important resources like Au, Fe, U and noble metals, many of which are bound to rock assemblages older than 2 billion years old.

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n the project, a hydraulically conductive fault that has already been penetrated by a borehole is to be used as a natural heat exchanger, thus avoiding hydraulic stimulation and significantly reducing the risk of induced seismicity. The goal of the research project at the Geretsried (Bavaria) site is to demonstrate the hydraulic effectiveness of proppants, which have not been used in deep geothermal applications to date. In combination with zoned acidification, these proppants are to be introduced into natural fracture zones of deep-seated carbonates and serve to develop a petrothermal site in Germany. With regard to the selection of suitable proppants, the harmlessness of the use of proppants from an environmental point of view is of particular importance. The joint project 'ZoKrates' is composed of scientific and economic partners, among which is also the field owner. The partners are Ruhr University Bochum, Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, GTN, G.E.O.S. and ENEX.

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Northwestern Europe (NWE) has to reduce CO2 emissions. One major source of CO2 is the production of electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels, which could be vastly replaced by using deep geothermal energy (DGE). However, the exploration of DGE in most NWE regions requires specific expertise and technologies in the complex geological situations (strongly faulted high permeable carbonates and coarse clastic rocks) that lie across the borders between Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the objective of DGE-Rollout to produce energy and reduce CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels through the increased usage of DGE in NWE for large-scale infrastructures requiring high-temperature heat supplies to cover their basic energy loads. This will be achieved by mapping and networking (WPT1), by the application of innovative decision, exploration strategies (WPT2) and testing for production optimization (WPT3). In two pilots (Balmatt, BE; Bochum, DE) production optimization will be tested by implementing high-temperature heat pumps and new cascading schemes from high (>100°C, big network) to low tempatures (>50°C, single enterprise) and to gain a CO2 reduction of 25 000 t/a. By realising further plants in DE, FR, BE, NL this will reach up to 160 000 t/a until 2022. It is estimated that 10 years after the project’s end, at least 1 600 000 t/a reduction will have been achieved. In the long term, it is expected to reach up to 7 000 000 t/a. Further activities will apply innovative decision and exploration strategies that cost less, reduce risks, are more reliable and will show a 3D Atlas of the complex geological situation as the spatial basis usable for DGE. To set the stage for increased public acceptance of DGE, tools, planning and legal conditions need to be evaluated and business models for enterprises undertaken. A network/cluster “NWE-DGE” will be set up to sustain the outputs and investments in the long term roll-out after the end of the project.

DSEBRA - the German (Deutsches) Seismological Broadband Array - forms a key part of AlpArray, a ground-breaking European project to achieve major breakthroughs in our understanding of mountain-building processes in the Alps (Activity A). DSEBRA is Germanys big step into the emerging era of large-aperture, high-density and long-term seismological broadband arrays that serve as geo-telescopes for probing the depths of Earths dynamic interior. The detailed images provided by such multi-component research instruments will vastly improve our understanding of both, localized and fast deformation phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic activity, and large-scale and slow processes such as mantle flow. The new technology has already produced astonishing results in North America (US-ARRAY) and promises to do the same within AlpArray and in further targeted studies in Europe and around the world.DSEBRA is the instrumental heart of this SPP (MB-4D) and is conceived as a single array instrument of 100 mobile, broadband stations which can be deployed either alone or in conjunction with other stations to form even larger arrays. Thus, DSEBRA is the ideal, long-term counterpart to the German instrument pool (GIPP) which is already shared by many researchers in Germany for short-term experiments, usually lasting from weeks to a maximum of one year, and the permanent German Regional Seismic Network (GRSN).The AlpArray Seismic Network will be the densest seismic array ever deployed on the scale of an orogen. It comprises about 600 land-based seismometers spaced at c. 30-40 km that will cover the greater Alpine region. These stations will be augmented by ocean-bottom seismometers in the Ligurian Sea (LOBSTER, Activity B) and dense swaths located at key sites of lithospheric reorganization (Activity C and D). Newly developed seismic imaging methods based on full waveform inversion and inverse scattering can unleash their full potential for imaging when applied to the unprecedented, high-quality data from AlpArray. AlpArray is therefore an ideal platform for testing and further developing these innovative seismological methods. It will also provide new insight into hitherto unanswered questions on the deep structure and active dynamics of mountain belts, including their relationship to surface processes (Research themes 1 and 2).DSEBRA's mission only begins with SPP-2017 (MB-4D) and AlpArray. Afterwards, it will serve as the core instrument for other innovative German initiatives conducted in concert with international, multi-disciplinary projects. These could include long-term deployments in the European-Mediterranean region or participation in follow-up initiatives to the current North-American EARTHSCOPE project such as the "Subduction Zone Observatory". To conclude, DSEBRA will propel Germany to the forefront of international geophysical and geodynamic research.

The goal of this proposal is to foster interdisciplinary solid-earth research during the second three-year phase of 4D-MB. Special focus is on controversies that have arisen as the international AlpArray seismic experiment draws to a close and processed data are becoming available for interpretation.The proposal entails two components: (1) An administrative arm that will facilitate bringing together scientists in collaborative groups that address their research interests and the main themes of 4D-MB; (2) a research arm that delves into processes underlying the so-called Neogene Orogenic Revolution, the explosive expansion and indentation of the Alpine mountain belts that began in late Paleogene and Neogene time. Keeping these two components together will require hiring a highly qualified early career scientist (postdoc) for the duration of the second phase of the priority programme.The research arm above is but one of three interdisciplinary working groups (WGs) that replace the four activity fields of the first phase in order to integrate the broad spectrum of geosciences in 4D-MB (see descriptions submitted separately):WG A: Neogene Orogenic (R)evolution – from bottom to top & back in timeWG B: Bridging models of Alpine Deformation and Sedimentary SystemsWG C: Active Tectonics at the Alps-Dinarides TransitionMeasures proposed to network projects in 4D-MB include (1) annual November meetings of all PIs and early career scientists (70 people), and including invited guest speakers; (2) small, freely schedules workshops (10-20 people) for working groups; (3) annual three-day short courses on specialized topic or themes aimed at early career scientists; (4) 5-7 day field trips across the Alpine orogen that highlight relationships between deep-seated and surface processes.All of these measures are continuations of successful initiatives in the first phase of 4D-MB. Further to this, members of 4D-MB will step up their already notable efforts to collaborate with AlpArray members across Europe and beyond. Several initiatives have been proposed for Collaborative Research Groups within AlpArray, adding to the impressive number already founded and/or co-founded by members of 4D-MB.As 4D-MB enters its second phase, we are looking ahead to establish a sustainable culture of collaboration between specialized branches of the geosciences. At this writing, efforts are underway to initiate new European projects in other tectonically active regions of the world.

Past Projects


Sonderforschungsbereiche (SFB) sind Förderungsinstrumente der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft für die Grundlagenforschung an Universitäten. Ein Sonderforschungsbereich umfaßt eine Gruppe von Wissenschaftlern aus verschiedenen Disziplinen, die sich in der Regel an einer einzigen Universität zusammenfinden, um sich für eine Zeit von bis zu 12 Jahren einem bestimmten aktuellen und anspruchsvollen Forschungsthema zu widmen. Die Förderung erfolgt in Hinblick auf innovative Forschung mit qualitativ hochwertigen Ergebnissen innerhalb dieser interdisziplinären Konstellationen; sie ist einem strengen Begutachtungsverfahren unterworfen.

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In dem Sonderforschungsbereich "Formgedächtnistechnik" (SFB 459) arbeitet eine interdisziplinäre Gruppe aus Ingenieur- und Naturwissenschaftlern zusammen. Ziel ist, das Gebiet Formgedächtnistechnik auch unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Produktinnovation und im Bereich anspruchsvoller Anwendungen im Maschinenbau und in der Medizin voranzutreiben.

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