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The Tibetan Plateau is studied by several Senckenberg scientists.

Biodiversity and earth system dynamics


One hundred years ago, Alfred Wegener gave his lecture on continental drift and the formation of the continents at the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. The dynamics of the ‘System Earth’ have remained a focal point of research at Senckenberg to this day. What role did the planet’s geodynamic processes play in bringing about life? Finding answers to this question represents the basic aim of geoscientific research at Senckenberg.

Since Wegener broached his pioneering ideas, the geosciences have played a decisive role in research on the formation of planets and the development of living beings. They also make important contributions when it comes to natural hazard risk assessment, the evaluation of fossil and mineral resources and describing the history of our climate. Today, geoscientific research involves not only the Earth’s crust, its mantle and its core, but especially their extensive interactions with the atmosphere, the biosphere and the hydrosphere. The scientists take a variety of time scales into consideration, ranging from that covering the entire formation and development of our planet to the period in which humans have evolved.

The Earth: A dynamic System

Senckenberg aims to describe the dynamics of the total ‘System Earth’ with the aim of meeting the demands being made by increasingly interdisciplinary approaches to science. To this end, we have concentrated our research on three core topics:

  • The interactions between the Earth’s surface and the biosphere
  • The way the Earth has developed and early environmental conditions
  • The way the human race has developed in the course of major climatic fluctuations of the past few million years

Multifaceted: The Research Museum

One of the strengths of a modern research museum such as Senckenberg is its capacity to combine a variety of methods: The researchers use innovative analytical approaches such as isotopic geochemistry for dating or 3D computer tomography for high-resolution morphological analysis of fossils. At the same time they make use of and maintain geoscientific collections and research stations such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Messel with its unique stock of fossils. For instance, Senckenberg scientists were able to show that anomalously high water temperatures in the Pacific (the ‘El Niño’ effect) that prevailed 47 million years ago had an influence on the climate and the development of Central European ecosystems.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Mulch
Speaker