Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

The Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena conducts research into global material cycles and the associated chemical and physical processes. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen are four elements that are crucial to life whose compounds are transported by plants, animals and microorganisms and distributed via the air and water. The scientists in Jena seek to gain a better understanding of the complex interaction between the organisms in the soil and the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as the influence of humans on these natural processes. How do ecosystems react to various climate conditions, land-use practice and species diversity? To this effect, scientists at the Institute compare historical data with current observations from field experiments and measurement campaigns in order to draw conclusions on the future adaptability of organisms. They also work closely with the Max Planck Institutes for Meteorology in Hamburg and Chemistry in Mainz.


Hans-Knöll-Str. 10
07745 Jena
Phone: +49 3641 57-60
Fax: +49 3641 57-70

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Global Biogeochemical Cycles

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Dark taiga under threat through climate change
Boreal coniferous forests could see increased occurrences of fire as a result of global warming, with deciduous trees becoming more dominant in the future more
Competitive advantages in global forest ecosystems
Characteristic plant traits dictate which trees will prevail in the competition for resources in a location more
Flourishing vegetation increases carbon dioxide amplitude
The difference between the annual minimum and maximum concentrations of carbon dioxide (the amplitude) is increasing as plant productivity improves, particularly in northern ecosystems. more
Turbines weaken wind energy

Turbines weaken wind energy

September 04, 2015
Large wind farms with a high density of installed capacity slow down the wind and generate less electricity than previously thought more
ATTO inauguration ceremony in the Brazilian rain forest
The Brazilian National Institute of Amazonian Research, the University of the State Amazonas and the Max Planck Society are opening a 325 meter high measurement tower in the Amazon rain forest more
Climate change: Savannahs are causing fluctuations in the carbon balance
Variations in the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by semi-arid ecosystems are causing fluctuations in the global carbon balance more
Eukaryotes: A new timetable of evolution
The first single-celled organisms with a nucleus originated more than a billion years later than biogeochemical evidence had previously indicated. more
No blank cheques

No blank cheques

February 17, 2015
Ten years ago, on 16 February 2005, the Kyoto Protocol came into force. more
Biodiversity conservation is defeated by deer
The potential contribution of forest conservation areas to avoid species losses is very low, or even negative, as long as wildlife ruminants overgraze the protected areas more
Not enough land in sight!

Not enough land in sight!

November 21, 2014
If we would like to meet our future requirements in terms of arable land while also protecting the climate, land management will become increasingly important more
Carbon, linger on!

Carbon, linger on!

September 25, 2014
Researchers paint a new picture of carbon in land ecosystems and stress that precipitation is an important climate factor in the carbon cycle more
Max Planck Research Prize for Chris Field and Markus Reichstein
The research prize, endowed with 750,000 euros for each winner, will be awarded in Berlin on November 13, 2013. more
<p>Extreme weather events fuel climate change</p>

Extreme meteorological events and global warming: a vicious cycle?

The breath of the Earth

The breath of the Earth

August 14, 2013
The amounts of carbon dioxide and other trace gases that vegetation and soil exchange with the atmosphere affect the climate in a variety of ways. Markus Reichstein and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena are analyzing this complex structure. more
The tower in the Taiga

The tower in the Taiga

April 08, 2013
High-precision measurement technology and a steel construction nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower are allowing scientists in Siberia to gain an ever greater understanding of climate change. The research of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry with ZOTTO would be inconceivable without Russian partners. more

Sometimes it takes a while for a person to find their vocation. Henrik Hartmann, for example, didn’t attend university until he was at an age when others have already earned a doctorate. Today, the forestry scientist heads a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena. And the things he experienced prior to studying were no less exciting.

Life on Earth stagnated for billions of years in the stage of primitive single-celled organisms. Only when cells acquired a nucleus did things really take off, leading to diversification and the dazzling variety of life forms we see today. Christian Hallmann and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena are investigating how, when and where that happened.
Biodiversity provides many ecological advantages. Using large-scale field tests, Gerd Gleixner and Ernst-Detlef Schulze, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, carry out research on biodiversity in meadows and forests, and explore its impacts on ecosystems and the Earth’s carbon balance. Their studies also yield surprising insights into the factors that really serve the purpose of species protection.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

3/2014 Environment & Climate
Plants and soils play an important role in the global carbon cycle and in the Earth’s climate, not least because they absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. Yet little is known about how global warming affects these natural sinks. Susan Trumbore, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, has dedicated her research to this subject, and even enjoys getting her hands dirty in search of answers.
The amounts of carbon dioxide and other trace gases that vegetation and soil exchange with the atmosphere affect the climate in a variety of ways. Markus Reichstein and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena are analyzing this complex structure – with the aid of a global network of measuring stations and new data analysis methods.
Our planet is at work: The sun drives the wind, the waves and the water cycle. Plants store the energy from light in sugar, supplying the fuel of life. Geothermal forces knead the earth, while the moon and the sun primarily keep the oceans in motion. Axel Kleidon and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena are investigating how much energy flows in these processes and how much of this could be used on a sustainable basis in order to satisfy mankind’s energy needs.

Climate Buried in the Soil

MPR 4 /2009 Environment & Climate
Most people associate the term climate with atmosphere, but there are also important processes that take place in the soil. These have been largely neglected in climate models to date.

Survival through Diversity

MPR 2 /2008 Environment & Climate
More than 480 different sections of meadow in the Saale
valley near Jena form the test area for a unique biodiversity experiment.
No job offers available

The competition of plants and soil microorganisms for important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus is a key determinant of the amount of carbon that can be stored in land ecosystems. Combining new laboratory experiments and improved numerical ecosystem models generates new insights into the intricate effects of this nutrient limitation for the future development of land carbon storage. This research contributes to a better understanding of the effects of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission of climate.


To spend or not to spend, that is the question.

2017 Hartmann, Henrik
Climate Research Ecology
Plants harvest energy from sunlight and store it in chemical compounds. These substances are the primary food source for other life forms and make plants the basis of all life on Earth. Plants also play an essential role in regional and global element and energy cycles and buffer changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from anthropogenic sources. Like small business companies, they have to manage and allocate resources to optimize fitness and survival. In the research group Plant Allocation, novel methods are developed and employed to derive plant resource management strategies. more

The carbon cycle from a different perspective

2016 Marshall, Julia
Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology
Satellite measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) promise an improved understanding of the carbon cycle due to their higher spatial coverage. Measurements of atmospheric concentrations of CO­2 are interpreted with the help of inverse techniques in order to estimate fluxes between the surface and the atmosphere. However, fluxes derived using satellite measurements show significant systematic difference compared to those using surface-based measurements. These differences need to be understood in order to properly exploit this promising new data stream. more

From bacteria to humans: Reconstructing early evolution with fossil biomarkers

2015 Hallmann, Christian Olivier Eduard
Earth Sciences Evolutionary Biology
Life on Earth is surprisingly old. After the formation of our planet, about 4.5 billion years ago, the Earth was a hostile place without solid crust, essential water and with regularly occurring meteorite impacts. After the first stabilization of environmental conditions and the condensation of liquid water, it didn’t take long for the first life to appear in the form of primitive unicellular bacteria. The Max Planck Research Group Organic Paleobiogeochemistry studies how life evolved from its first occurrence to the complex ecosystems that surround us today. more

Global plant traits – a biodiversity database for Earth system sciences

2014 Kattge, Jens; Wirth, Christian (Max-Planck Fellow, Universität Leipzig)
Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology Plant Research
The traits of living organisms define their interaction with the environment and are an essential basis of ecological research. At the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry the TRY initiative has united and consolidated worldwide collections of plant traits in a global database and makes them available for further research. The improved usage of plant trait data is expected to promote a paradigm shift from species- to trait-based ecology. Moreover, it facilitates accounting for biodiversity aspects in Earth system sciences. more

Climatic extreme events - do they affect the global carbon cycle?

2014 Mahecha, Miguel D.1; Zscheischler, Jakob1,2; Frank, Dorothea1; Reichstein, Markus1
Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology

The consequences of climate extremes on the carbon cycle of land ecosystems are not yet fully understood. However, it is becoming apparent that climate extremes tend to trigger a disproportionately high release of carbon dioxide (CO2). Current research in the department “Biogeochemical Integration” at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry aims at estimating the relevance of this phenomenon at global scales.

The Earth works like a power plant generating energy out of its planetary drivers. This energy maintains the winds in the atmosphere, ocean currents, and global biogeochemical cycles such as the hydrological cycle. The laws of thermodynamics set the limits to the rates by which these forms of energy are generated and thereby limit the forms of energy that could potentially be used as renewable energy. The global estimate shows that - except for solar and wind power - the natural generation rates of renewable energy are rather small and in the order of the human energy consumption. more

Soil Carbon Storage: How the thin skin of the Earth influences global biogeochemical cycles and climate

2012 Schrumpf, Marion; Trumbore, Susan
Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology
Soils are the largest terrestrial store of carbon and one of the most important natural sources of CO2 in the atmosphere. The process of soil organic matter decomposition helps determine soil fertility, and provides important sources and sinks of non CO2 greenhouse gases that influence climate change. The Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry investigates the sensitivity of soil carbon fluxes to environmental changes and how the interactions among vegetation, climate, soil organisms and soil properties determine soil carbon storage. more

Quantification of the global carbon cycle

2011 Rödenbeck, Christian; Badawy, Bakr; Heimann, Martin
Climate Research
The rise of the atmospheric CO2 concentration – primary cause of global climate change – is not only determined by anthropogenic emissions, but also by a number of natural processes in the oceans and the terrestrial vegetation. Projects at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena aim to quantify the role of these processes on the basis of various data streams, and to understand how they are influenced by climatic factors. more

Experimental biodiversity research – The "Jena Experiment"

2010 Christiane Roscher, Gerd Gleixner, Ernst-Detlef Schulze
Ecology Plant Research
The increasing loss of global biodiversity has generated concern about the consequences for ecosystem functioning. The relationships between plant diversity and ecosystem processes are investigated in the “Jena Experiment”, a large biodiversity experiment with grassland species. A central issue of this research is to contribute to a mechanistic understanding of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships, for which the analyses of species functional characteristics is a substantial prerequisite. more

Functional biodiversity research at the global scale

2009 Wirth, Christian; Kattge, Jens
Ecology Plant Research
How are ecosystem functions influenced by the loss of species diversity? How does the presence or absence of particular species affect biogeochemical cycles? The group ‘Organismic Biogeochemistry’ addresses these questions by compiling and analyzing global databases of functional plant traits and ecosystem properties. Three examples are presented to show that species identity effects may influence the carbon cycles at large scales and may thus be relevant in the context of climate change. more

Global observation and modelling of vegetation and biogeochemical cycles

2008 Reichstein, Markus
Earth Sciences Ecology
How does the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles react to climate variability? What are the main vegetation and soil processes involved? How can the different observation systems be used at various spatial scales to obtain improved diagnostic capabilities concerning the Earth System? The Biogeochemical Model-Data Integration Group at the Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena is dedicated to these and related scientific questions using a highly integrative approach. more

Quantification of optimal biospheric functioning and its impact on the Earth system

2007 Kleidon, Axel
Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences
The terrestrial biosphere is an integral component of the Earth system. Are there general principles which might explain and predict the functioning of the biosphere and its interaction with the Earth system? This question is central to the work of the biospheric theory and modeling group at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, and is addressed by using concepts from thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and optimality. After a brief description of the biosphere as a dissipative system, three examples are given to demonstrate the strength of these approaches. more
Quantification of greenhouse gas exchange between surface and atmosphere on regional scales is crucial for process understanding, but also for verification of greenhouse gas budgets in the context of emission trading. The combination of regional modelling and airborne measurements allows a rigorous assessment of the methods used in the quantification of trace gas fluxes, both with respect to the measurement strategy (measurement network design), but also with respect to the modelling approach (atmospheric transport modelling, biospheric modelling). The long term goal is the optimal integration of measurements within the modelling systems, taking unavoidable representation errors into account quantitatively. This presents a precondition for estimating the uncertainties associated with trace gas budgets. more

New approaches to paleoclimate

2005 Gleixner, Gerd; Sachse, Dirk; Radke, Jens; Werner, Martin
Climate Research Earth Sciences
The global climate system and its anthropogenic influences are key issues of earth system science. Currently new components, like terrestrial vegetation or marine biosphere are added to earth system models to improve climate predictions. Reconstructions of the palaeoclimate are essential to evaluate the model simulations and estimate the quality of the model predictions. Most promising are reconstructions of the terrestrial climate, as continental climate variability is much larger than marine variability. Unfortunately, in terrestrial records often suitable climate proxies are missing. Here we investigate if aquatic and terrestrial biomarkers, e.g. chemical fossils, from the terrestrial record can be used for direct climate reconstruction. Results of this project suggest that compound specific hydrogen isotope ratios of alkanes are emerging as a new palaeoclimate proxy. more

Dynamic Green Ocean Modelling

2004 Le Quéré, Corinne
Chemistry Earth Sciences Ecology
The most recent global models of ocean carbon cycling include representations of ecosystem processes, which are now seen as vital to a better understanding of basin-scale sources and sinks of CO2. Yet these representations are currently basic and many potential biogeochemical and biogeophysical feedbacks have not been incorporated. The Dynamic Green Ocean Project brings together physical-, chemical-, biological- and paleo-oceanographers with a common interest in modelling and its applications to Earth system problems, to develop a new, more comprehensive model of ocean ecosystem functionning in the past, present and future. Advances in observational and experimental ocean biogeochemistry as well as characterization of marine phytoplancton functional types (PFTs) are integrated into the broader context of ocean circulation and external nutrient supplies. more
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