Max Planck Gesellschaft

--- Former Research group ---

Now at the Biogeochemical Signals department

Link to the new website

Research group: Terrestrial Biosphere Modelling

Mission | Team | Projects | Publications | Tools | Collaborations


The Terrestrial Biosphere Modelling Group (TBM) aims at improving the understanding of the interactions of the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen (and phosphorus) at temporal and spatial scales for relevant for the Earth System. To accomplish this goal, the group develops and employs numerical models of terrestrial biosphere processes, and uses observational constraints obtained from biosphere monitoring or ecosystem manipulation to challenge model formulations. An improved representation of key (eco-physiological) processes, in particular those affecting nutrient availability and its role in ecosystem dynamics, is a key component of the group's research. The group investigates the consequences of the coupling of the terrestrial biogeochemical cycles for biogeochemical and biogeophysical interactions with the climate system.

left to right: Lin Yu, Jürgen Knauer, Jan Engel, Enrico Weber, Lucia Eder, Tea Thum, Sönke Zaehle, Silvia Caldararu, Melanie Kern, Karel Castro-Morales. (missing: Steffen Richter, Kerstin Sickel, Johannes Meyerholt)


Phone: +49.3641.57 - extension | E-mail: e-mail - at -

Name Position E-mail Phone Room
Sönke Zaehle Group leader szaehle ...6230 C3.015
Silvia Caldararu PostDoc scaldra ...6279 C2.024
Lucia Eder PhD student # leder ...6267 C1.020
Jan Engel Scientific Programmer jengel ...6279 C2.024
Martina Franz guest scientist mfranz ...*** ...***
Melanie Kern guest PhD student mkern ...6273 C2.020
Kerstin Sickel Scientific Programmer** ksickel ...6276 C2.006
Enrico Weber Scientist # eweber ...6274 C1.024
Hye In Yang PhD student # hyang ...6240 C1.004
Lin Yu PostDoc # lyu

Group members marked with * are equally member of the CCDAS cross-departmental research group. Group members marked with # are shared with the Soil Biogeochemisty group. Group members marked with ** are shared with other research groups of the department.

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Focus areas

  • Focus #1: Development and testing of novel formulations for key biospheric processes that affect the coupling of the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen (as well as phosphorus) and their feedbacks with the terrestrial energy and water balance (see for instance Zaehle et al. (2014) New Phytologist). Most of this works focuses on hte importance of trade-offs in resource investment determining plant growth, and rhizosphere processes determining the magnitude of soil-vegetation interactions. In this work, the assessment of uncertainty in model simulations due to uncertainties in model parameters or process formulations are a key activity.
  • Focus #2: Development of a series of tests (benchmarks) for terrestrial biosphere models to evaluate their capacity to simulate the effects of climate variability and recent climatic changes. This research focuses on intelligent ways to use observations from a variety of sources including site-level ecosystem monitoring, monitoring of atmospheric [CO2], and satellite-based estimates of vegetation activity (see for instance Dalmonech, D. et al. (2015).
  • Focus #3: Development of a framework for inverse modelling of the recent terrestrial biosphere dynamics (notably the carbon cycle) to reduce and quantify uncertainties in coupled carbon-cycle climate projections (see for instance Schürmann et al. (2016)). This research is executed as a cross-departmental research group CCDAS between the departments of biogeochemical integration and biogeochemical systems. The group's work is closely linked to the research in the department's model-data integration group.

Key Projects

Ongoing activities

Past Projects (recent)

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Key publications

Knauer, J., Zaehle, S., Reichstein, M., Medlyn, B. E., Forkel, M., Hagemann, S., Werner, C. (2017). The response of ecosystem water-use efficiency to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations: sensitivity and large-scale biogeochemical implications. New Phytologist, 213(4), 1654-1666. doi:10.1111/nph.14288.
Schürmann, G.J., Kaminski, T., Köstler, C., Carvalhais, N., Voßbeck, M., Kattge, J., Giering, R., Rödenbeck, C., Heimann, M., Zaehle, S. (2016) Constraining a land-surface model with multiple observations by application of the MPI-Carbon Cycle Data Assimilation System V1.0 . Geoscientific Model Development, 9, 2999-3026. (doi:10.5194/gmd-9-2999-2016)
Meyerholt, J., Zaehle, S. (2015) The role of stoichiometric flexibility in modelling forest ecosystem responses to nitrogen fertilization. New Phytologist (online early; doi: 10.1111/nph.13547)
Medlyn, B.E., Zaehle, S., et al. (2015) Using ecosystem experiments to improve vegetation models. Nature Climate Change, 5, 528-534. (doi: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2621)
Dalmonech, D., Zaehle, S., Schürmann, G., Brovkin, V., Reick, C., Schnur, R. (2015) Separation of the effects of land and climate model errors on simulated contemporary land carbon cycle trends in the MPI Earth system model v1. Journal of Climate, 28, 272-291 (JCLI-D-13-00593.1).
Zaehle, S. et al. (2014) Evaluation of 11 terrestrial carbon–nitrogen cycle models against observations from two temperate Free-Air CO2 Enrichment studies. New Phytologist, 202, 803-822. See also the related commentary by G. Bonan
Zaehle, S., Dalmonech, D. (2011) Carbon-nitrogen interactions on land at global scales: Current understanding in modelling climate biosphere feedbacks. Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainability 3, 311-20; 10.1016/j.cosust.2011.08.008.
Zaehle, S., Friedlingstein, P., and Friend, A.D. (2010) Terrestrial nitrogen feedbacks may accelerate future climate change. Geophysical Research Letters, 37, L01401: doi:10.1029/2009GL041345.

Follow link for a complete list of publications by the research group.

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  • OCN model. The dynamic global vegetation model OCN is a model of the coupled terrestrial carbon and nitrogen cycles (Zaehle and Friend, 2010; Zaehle et al., 2010, GBC), derived from the ORCHIDEE land-surface model (Krinner et al. 2005). It operates at an half-hourly time-scale and simulates diurnal net carbon exchanges and nitrogen trace gas emissions, as well as daily changes in leaf area index, foliar nitrogen and vegetation structure and growth. The main purpose of the model is to analyse the longer-term (interannual to decadal) implication of nutrient cycling for the modelling of land-climate interactions (Zaehle et al. 2010, GRL; Zaehle et al. 2011). The model can be run off-line, driven by observed meteorological parameters, or coupled to the global circulation model LMDz (Marti et al. 2005).
  • Jena Scheme for Biosphere Atmosphere Coupling in Hamburg (JSBACH). JSBACH is the land surface model of the MPI Earth system model. It is jointly developed by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry. The model operates at a half-hourly time-step and simulates carbon dynamics and biogeophysical interactions with the climate system. Together with FastOpt, CCDAS is developing a data assimilation system for JSBACH based on the adjoint version of the code for fast and efficient data assimilation.
  • The group uses the High Performance Cluster at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and super computer of the German Climate Computing Centre (DKRZ) called blizzard.

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Former Team Members and Guests

Name Position
Jürgen Knauer PhD student
Johannes Meyerholt PhD student
Dr. Karel Castro Morales PostDoc
Dr. Gregor Schürmann Postdoc
Dr. Kristina Luus Postdoc
Dr. Christoph Köstler Postdoc
Dr. Maarten Braakhekke Postdoc
Dr. Tea Thum PostDoc / Visiting Scientist from FMI, Helsinki
Dr. Daniela Dalmonech PostDoc
Steffen Richter Scientific Programmer
Ying Sun Visiting PhD student (University of Texas, Austin, US)
Goll, Daniel Visiting PhD student (MPI Meteorology)
Thomas, R Quinn Visiting PhD student (Cornell University)
Chang, Chao Ting Visiting PhD student (Centre de Recerca Ecologica i Aplicacions Forestals)
Lihui Luo Visiting PhD student (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

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