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.

Portraits of the three employees who contributed to the press release: Peter Hergersberg (left, beard and glasses), Iris Möbius (shoulder-length dark blonde hair) and Susanne Benner (pageboy cut, glasses).

Informationsdienst Wissenschaft (idw) honours the best scientific press releases of the past year.


The devastating storms, rainfall, heatwaves and droughts of the past year have become more likely and more severe as a result of global warming

Woman in a purple shirt stands leaning diagonally against stair railings, in the background a multitude of tree slices as decoration on the wall.

An interview with Susan Trumbore on the tipping points of the fragile Amazon ecosystem and why it helps to eat less meat.


At certain times in the year, more soot particles reach the Amazon rainforest from bush fires in Africa than from regional fires.

Max Planck researcher Stefan Wolff and German President Steinmeier stand on the railing of Atto's first platform. They are wearing climbing helmets and harnesses. In the background, the rainforest stretches to the horizon.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled with German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke to ATTO in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest

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In the political discussions about the energy transition, half-truths and untruths circulate – something that annoys Axel Kleidon. The physicist, who analyzes the Earth system from a thermodynamic perspective at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, contributes to the debate with scientific facts in an effort to help the energy transition succeed.

No animal, plant, or single-celled organism can do without nitrogen, but humans are putting more and more of it into circulation – with various consequences for health and the environment. Sönke Zaehle, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, is studying the nitrogen cycle and its relationship to the climate. The findings are important for environmental policy.

Over a trillion tons of carbon are sequestered in permanently frozen soils (permafrost), especially in the Arctic Circle. But this frozen ground is steadily thawing as a result of climate change. Whether or not this will lead to the release of large quantities of greenhouse gases is one of the vital unresolved questions in climate research. Mathias Göckede, who heads a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, is among those looking into this question and he has already come up with some surprising answers.

Climate change is devastating forests in Germany and other European regions. Our traditional understanding of which tree species can withstand heat and drought no longer holds true, which is why ecophysiologist Henrik Hartmann is calling for the creation of an interdisciplinary Institute for Forest Conversion. This new institute would provide scientific insights into how forests can be constituted to be able to withstand ongoing global warming.

Droughts, heatwaves, and floods – climate change is likely to make extreme weather and climate events such as these more frequent and more intense. Markus Reichstein, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, and his team are working on predicting the impacts of such events. Reichstein uses large volumes of data in conjunction with artificial intelligence to carry out this research, which he hopes will make societies more resilient to extreme climate events.

Why deserts are warmer

2023 Kleidon, Axel

Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology

Climate research is currently mainly carried out using complex models on powerful computers. We are going in the opposite direction and trying to explain the climate as simply as possible using basic physical principles. In doing so, we assume that the complex climate system can be described simply because it operates at its performance limit - it works as hard as it can to keep air moving. This explains, for example, why deserts are warmer than tropical rainforests and makes it possible to describe climate phenomena in a simple but physically sound way.


Tracking greenhouse gases: the HALO-CoMet missions 

2022 Christoph Gerbig, Michał Gałkowski

Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology Microbiology

The harmful greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) enter the atmosphere from both natural and man-made sources. The goal of the CoMet 2.0 Arctic mission with the HALO research aircraft in the summer of 2022 was to find out how much greenhouse gases the various sources actually emit. For this purpose, we equipped HALO with a system for the highly accurate and continuous in-situ measurement of carbon dioxide and methane. Our direct measurements of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere promise more accurate in-situ data than previous models. 


Threats to ecosystems from recurring extreme events

2021 Ana Bastos und Markus Reichstein

Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology

The frequency of extreme weather and climate events increases with each additional degree of global warming.  Such events impact key ecosystem function leaving legacies over several years. As the intervals between stress conditions shorten, the recovery time between two events is limited, threatening ecosystem stability. Remote-sensing is a valuable tool for monitoring vegetation condition and impact/recovery pathways associated with extreme events. Such information can provide important insights into management strategies to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.


The endangered skin we live on

2020 apl. Prof. Dr. Gerd Gleixner

Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology Microbiology

The life and survival of humans on Earth depends on the functioning of the outermost layer of our planet, the "Critical Zone." In the Anthropocene, human actions have interfered with the exchange of matter between organisms and ecosystems, threatening the functioning of the Critical Zone. We examine how biodiversity loss reduces continental carbon storage, accelerating climate change. The world of soil microorganisms is the focus of our interest, as this is where the molecular drive of global matter cycles is hidden.


Klimaextreme: Von der Detektion bis zur Vorhersage

2019 Mahecha, Miguel;  Reichstein, Markus

Climate Research Earth Sciences Ecology Microbiology

Climate extremes, in particular heat waves, droughts, and their combination are inevitably increasing as a result of climate change. But little is known about how these events affect the terrestrial biosphere, which ecosystem functions are severely affected, and what feedbacks this may trigger in the climate system. At the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry we are developing new methods for the detection of extreme events in heterogeneous data streams. Our results show, among other things, how differently various ecosystems can react to extreme events.

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