This is our old webpage, which we keep here for reference. Our new webpage is located here.
Our research aims to understand how the whole Earth functions as one complex system that is strongly shaped by interactions, what the role of life is within this system, and how humans alter it.
It is based around two central themes:
- The first theme is to use and apply the physical theory of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to Earth system processes and interactions, specifically regarding the generation, dissipation and conversions of free energy, the part of energy that is able to perform work. If it were not for continuous work being performed by Earth system processes, motion, chemical reactions, and dynamics would come to a halt. In our research we aim to understand how this free energy is generated within the Earth system, from heat to motion to geochemical cycling, and how life contributes to, interacts with, and alters these transformations. Recent examples for this research are:
- How does life affect the Earth’s interior dynamics?
- What are the limits to wind power as a renewable energy resource?
- How was the chemical free energy generated to drive the emergence of life?
- The second theme is biodiversity as a central concept to describe life and its effect of biogeochemical cycling. One of the fundamental aspects of life is that it is inherently diverse. It has many ways to do things”, and it is able to adapt and evolve to environmental change. In our research, we aim to account for this complexity by using optimality approaches and approaches that are able to represent aspects of diversity. Examples of our recent research are:
- How is vegetation biodiversity related to climate?
- Which role do geologic processes, climate and vegetation play in cycling phosphorus?
We work mostly with theory, simple models and more complex, numerical simulation models, focussing mostly at the large- to planetary scale. We do not do field or laboratory work. Theoretical work focuses mostly on how thermodynamics is applied to Earth system processes, while numerical simulation models, such as models of the climate system or terrestrial vegetation, provide our testing grounds for our research. In our group, we develop the JEna DIversity (JEDI) model, a global vegetation model that explicitly represents diversity of vegetation functioning.
We are a so-called Max Planck Research Group (MPRG) and as such an independent unit hosted within the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry. Besides the group leader, Dr. Axel Kleidon, the group currently consists of 3 postdocs, 7 doctoral students, one master student, and support staff (partially shared).
Most of the group’s activity is funded by the Max Planck Society, a non-profit organization funded primarily by German federal research funds and which is devoted to conduct basic research. This source of funding with ʻno strings attachedʼ allows us to perform research without prejudices, preconceptions, or personal, financial, or political conflicts of interest. Because our research is often high risk and goes against the established wisdoms and preconceptions in the field, the base funding that we receive from the Max Planck Society provides an ideal work environment to perform our research.