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The colloquium is held during the lecture period on Wednesdays between 14:15 and 15:30. Please find the upcoming colloquium talks in the schedule.

Contact: Dr. Philipp Sacher

Iron-Sulfur Minerals Indicate the Earliest Life on Earth (2024-05-21, DB)

Certain minerals in deep-sea hydrothermal vents could indicate bacterial activity from billions of years ago, which is crucial for understanding the origins of life. This discovery was made by the Universities of Tübingen and Göttingen, and their findings have been published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. Hydrothermal vents have existed for at least 3.77 billion years and could potentially support life on other celestial bodies in our solar system, as the extreme conditions of these systems are believed to be the birthplace of the first organic compounds and life forms.

“To understand how life originated, we aim to trace the evolution of microorganisms back billions of years,” explains doctoral student Eric Runge. Researchers search for biosignatures, traces of life, in the oldest rocks on Earth, with pyrite in a distinctive framboidal form being particularly promising. “Framboidal pyrite only forms when magnetite is produced by iron-reducing bacteria,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Kappler (University of Tübingen). Experiments show that the crystal forms of biologically and non-biologically formed pyrite differ significantly.

The study of biosignatures is also relevant to the search for life on other planets. “Hydrothermal vents similar to those in our deep sea might also exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus,” says Prof. Dr. Jan-Peter Duda. Such studies provide a foundation for recognizing potential signs of extraterrestrial life.

Images: ‘Black smokers,’ hydrothermal vents in the deep sea, emit volcanically heated fluids rich in dissolved metals and sulfur. These environments are oases of microbial activity in the deep sea (MARUM).

Runge, E., Mansor, M., Chiu, T.H. et al. Hydrothermal sulfidation of biogenic magnetite produces framboid-like pyrite. Commun Earth Environ 5, 252 (2024). 10.1038/s43247-024-01400-z

Study demonstrates the biological origin of 3.5 billion-year-old carbonaceous matter (2024-02-21, DB)

To learn about the first organisms on our planet, researchers must analyze the rocks of early Earth. These are only found at a few locations worldwide. The Pilbara Craton in Western Australia is one of these rare sites: here, rocks dating back approximately 3.5 billion years emerge, containing traces of the microorganisms that lived at that time. A research team led by the University of Göttingen now provides new insights into the formation and composition of this ancient biomass, offering a glimpse into the earliest ecosystems of Earth.

Using high-resolution techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) and Near-Edge X-ray Absorption Fine Structure Spectroscopy (NEXAFS), the researchers examined carbonaceous particles found in barite rocks. This enabled them to gain crucial information about the structure of the microscopic particles and demonstrate their biological origin. It is likely that the particles sedimented in the water body of a volcanic crater (caldera) at that time. Additionally, a portion apparently was transported and altered by hydrothermal waters in the subsurface of the volcanic system, indicating a turbulent deposition history. Furthermore, from the analysis of various carbon isotopes, the researchers concluded that different types of microorganisms already lived in the vicinity of volcanic activity, similar to today's geysers in Iceland or hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.

The study not only sheds light on the Earth's past but is also interesting from a methodological perspective. Lead author Lena Weimann from the Geoscience Center at the University of Göttingen explains: "It was very exciting for us to combine various high-resolution techniques and derive connections to the origin and deposition history of organic particles. As our findings demonstrate, even extremely old material can yield original signals of the first organisms."

Photos: (L) Rock exposed at the surface of the Pilbara Craton: gray barite rock below, with stromatolites above, reddened by oxidation. (R) Lena Weimann in the lab (J.-P. Duda & G. Hundertmark).

Weimann, L., Reinhardt, M., Duda, J.-P., Mißbach-Karmrodt, H., Drake, H., Schönig, J., Holburg, J., Andreas, L.B., Reitner, J., Whitehouse, M.J., Thiel, V., 2024. Carbonaceous matter in ∼3.5 Ga black bedded barite from the Dresser Formation (Pilbara Craton, Western Australia) – Insights into organic cycling on the juvenile Earth. Precamb. Res. 403, 107321. 10.1016/j.precamres.2024.107321

Inauguration of the new GoeLEM Equipment Center (2024-02-21, DB)

The Faculty of Geosciences and Geography is renowned for its expertise and excellent analytical equipment, utilized by numerous researchers at the University of Göttingen and beyond. Over the past three years, the Geoscience Center at the University of Göttingen has established a modern infrastructure for an equipment center dedicated to light and electron microscopy. The facility includes an electron microprobe, a high-resolution scanning electron microscope, and additional electron and light microscopes. In addition to imaging techniques and electron diffraction, the focus of methodological application lies in the quantitative micro-area analysis, encompassing natural samples such as minerals, as well as modern materials.

The equipment center provides researchers from all faculties with analytical opportunities for the high-resolution characterization of materials and their chemical properties down to the sub-nanometer range. The total costs amounted to approximately three million euros, with the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture supporting the investment with around 1.2 million euros.

The installation of the latest equipment, a field emission scanning electron microscope, is now complete. Thus, the Goettingen laboratory for correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (GoeLEM) is fully operational and ready for use. Let's celebrate!

For this reason, a festive colloquium took place on February 7th. Metin Tolan (President of the Georg-August University), MD Rüdiger Eichel (Head of the Department of Research, Innovation, Europe at the MWK), Prof. Dr. Christoph Dittrich (Dean of the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Geography), and Prof. Dr. Andreas Pack (Director of the Geological Center) gave speeches. Finally, Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller delivered the keynote speech: "GoeLEM - Visions, Perspectives, and Possibilities of Correlative Electron Optical Analysis." The local newspaper "Göttinger Tageblatt" reported on the event.

International Symposium on Quartz and Glass (2024-01-22, DB)

The QUARTZ-2024 symposium will bring together geoscientists, mineralogists, petrologists, material scientists, and sedimentologists, as well as economic and mining geologists and processing engineers with a special interest in quartz and other silica types like chert and glass. The latest results from a broad spectrum of ongoing research on quartz will be presented and discussed. We emphasise the importance and the economical and ecological sustainability of quartz as a resource material for the glass production, because of its particular economic importance in Germany. A panel discussion at the symposium will focus on that theme and will combine geoscientific as well as material scientific aspects.

Registration and further information:

New pieces discovered in the cradle of life puzzle (2024-01-22, MR)

An international research team led by Dr. Manuel Reinhardt (University of Göttingen/Linnæus University) unravels new key findings about the earliest life forms on Earth. In rock samples from the Barberton greenstone belt, Republic of South Africa, the researchers were able to find evidence of an unprecedented diverse biological carbon cycle established around 3.42 billion years ago. This proves that ecosystems hosted complex microbial communities already at these ancient times.

Microorganisms represent the earliest life forms on our planet, indicated by morphological and geochemical traces preserved in ca. 3.5 billion year old rocks. However, evidence to reconstruct early life on Earth is scarce and often highly disputed. It is still not clear when and where life emerged and when early microbial communities diversified.

By analyzing well-preserved carbonaceous matter and associated mineral phases the researchers found geochemical fingerprints of different microbiota, including phototrophs, sulfate reducers, and likely methane cycling microbes. This spectacular finding highlights that ecosystems in the Paleoarchean Era (3.6–3.2 billion years ago) already hosted complex microbial communities. The results have now been published in Precambrian Research.

“Our study opens a rare window into early ecosystems on Earth. We did not expect to find traces of so many different metabolisms. It was like finding the needle in the haystack”, says Dr. Manuel Reinhardt, first author of the study.

A highlight of the study is the combination of macro- and micro-scale analytical techniques to robustly identify the ancient biosignatures in the rock material.

“In early life science, it is crucial to have supporting evidence from various angles to clearly identify indigenous biological traces and distinguish them from potential later contamination”, Dr. Reinhardt adds.

“The discovery of organic matter particles in primary pyrite crystals and the direct micro-analysis of carbon and sulfur isotopes therein gave us the rare opportunity to distinguish individual microbial metabolisms”, explains Dr. Henrik Drake, Linnæus University, senior author of the study.

“By combining these data with petrographical evidence we were able to pinpoint the roles of different microbes in the cycling of carbon in the Paleoarchean ecosystem”, Reinhardt concludes. “This study marks a significant leap forward in our understanding of the Earth's ancient microbial environments and opens new avenues for future research in the field of paleobiology.”

Photo: Drill core sample from the Barberton greenstone belt used in the study. The dark layers contain carbonaceous matter that originates from Paleoarchean microorganisms (Manuel Reinhardt).

Reinhardt, M., Thiel, V., Duda, J.-P., Hofmann, A., Bajnai, D., Goetz, W., Pack, A., Reitner, J., Schanofski, M., Schönig, J., Whitehouse, M.J. and Drake, H. (2024) Aspects of the biological carbon cycle in a ca. 3.42-billion-year-old marine ecosystem. Precamb. Res., 402, 107289. 10.1016/j.precamres.2024.107289

New study including GZG researchers shed light on unique fibre structure, evolutionary history and combating invasive species (2023-12-14, DB)

Zebra and quagga mussels, which belong to the Dreissenid family, are freshwater invasive species widespread throughout western Europe and North America. They present a significant danger to native ecosystems by competing for resources. Using a fibrous anchor called a byssus, Dreissenid mussels also cause biofouling by attaching persistently to underwater surfaces and for example block the intakes of power stations and water treatment plants. A research team led by McGill University in Canada and Göttingen University in Germany discovered that a rare genetic event, occurring over 12 million years ago, played an important role in shaping one of Europe and Canada’s most damaging invasive species. Their research also sheds light on how mussel fibres could inspire the development of sustainable materials in the future. Their findings were published in PNAS.

The researchers collected material from zebra and quagga mussels in Germany and Canada to investigate how these mussels stick to surfaces. Researchers at McGill used a variety of techniques to characterise some of the materials properties of the byssus thread to better understand how this biological material allows the animal to attach itself with such resilience to almost any underwater surface. Researchers in Göttingen identified and sequenced a gene that codes for a byssus thread protein that makes the distinctive silken fibres, performed the structural modelling of the protein and carried out analyses that clarified its evolution. During his involvement in the project Professor Daniel J. Jackson observed Dreissenid mussels in Germany’s Northeimer Seenplatte lakes. He explains, “It was shocking to see how abundant they are there. This shows how invasive the quagga and zebra mussels are, and how they can completely dominate certain habitats.”

The researchers discovered that a previously undocumented evolutionary event contributed to Dreissenid mussels’ resilience and success as an invasive species. Jackson explains, "More than 12 million years ago, it is likely that a single bacterium transferred foreign genetic material into a single mussel endowing its descendants with the ability to make these fibres. Given their crucial role in mussel attachment in freshwater habitats, this horizontal gene transfer event supported the harmful global expansion of these mussels.” This research, marking important progress in the understanding of invasive mussels and their attachment mechanisms, could offer potential solutions to mitigate their damaging environmental and economic impact.

In addition, the research advances understanding of the mechanisms of biofouling and sheds light on how mussel fibres could inspire the development of sustainable materials. The researchers found that the building blocks of the fibres were massive coiled-coil proteins, the largest ever found. These proteins, structurally similar to those found in human hair, were found to transform into silk-like beta crystallites through the simple application of stretching forces by the mussel during formation. This method of fibre fabrication is much simpler than spider silk formation, potentially offering an easier route toward biotechnological manufacture of sustainable fibres – an industry currently dominated by artificial spider silks. Professor Matthew Harrington, McGill University Department of Chemistry, explains: "Dreissenid byssus fibres, which resemble spider silk structurally, could inspire future development of tough polymer fibres, contributing to more durable and sustainable materials typically used in textiles and technical plastics.”

Photo: Dreissenid byssus morphology. Figure from the manuscript.

Simmons, M., Horbelt, N., Sverko, T., Scoppola, E., Jackson, D. J., Harrington, M. J. (2023) Invasive mussels fashion silk-like byssus via mechanical processing of massive horizontally acquired coiled coils, PNAS, 120, e23119011, 10.1073/pnas.2311901120

Cover of Geochemical Perspective Letters showcases first-author paper by student from the Geobiology Team Göttingen (2023-08-29, DB)

Congratulations to Jorinel Manuel Domingos, an MSc student and a valuable member of the Göttingen Geobiology Group. His first-author publication about pyrite growth has made it to the front cover of the prestigious journal Geochemical Perspective Letters.

J.M. Domingos, E. Runge, C. Dreher, T.-H. Chiu, J. Shuster, S. Fischer, A. Kappler, J.-P. Duda, J. Xu, and M. Mansor (2023): Inferred pyrite growth via the particle attachment pathway in the presence of trace metals. Geochemical Perspective Letters, 26, 14-19, 10.7185/geochemlet.2318

Photo: Cover of Vol. 27 of Geochemical Perspective Letters. False colour image of lab-synthesised pyrite crystals with diverse sizes and morphologies. Colours reflect different inferred growth stages: from the green/cyan microframboids to yellow octahedral crystals to red pyrite “roses”. Images such as this and others provide insight into mineral growth via the particle attachment pathway, which affects how trace metal distributions and mineral morphology can be used as biosignatures and environmental proxies (credit: Jeremiah Shuster)

Jan-Peter Duda awarded visiting professorship at Northwest University (2023-05-15, DB)

We are delighted to announce that Prof. Jan-Peter Duda has been awarded a prestigious visiting professorship at Northwest University (NWU) in Xi'an, PR China, in recognition of his exceptional contributions and expertise in early life and deep-time geobiology. In addition to the visiting professorship, Jan-Peter Duda has been appointed as an overseas academic expert at the 111 Center Early Life & Environments at NWU.

The news was officially conveyed by a delegation of esteemed visitors from NWU, which included Prof. Shaocong Lai (Vice President NWU) and Prof. Dongjing Fu. They recently visited Göttingen to personally inform Jan-Peter Duda about the appointment and to discuss future collaborations in research and teaching.

Photos: Pictures of Prof. J.-P. Duda receiving the honors from the delegation of NWU, Prof. Shaocong Lai and Prof. Dongjing Fu (J.-P. Duda).

Renas Koshnaw receives Postdoctoral Researchers International Mobility Experience (PRIME) fellowship from DAAD (2023-03-02, DB)

Renas Koshnaw joined the Göttingen Geoscience Center as a Humboldt Research Fellow in 2019, hosted by Jonas Kley and the structural geology department. Renas was born and raised in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He holds an MSc and PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the tectonic evolution of the Zagros Mountains and addresses topics ranging from lithosphere-scale geodynamics and thrust belt structure to sediment provenance, transport and deposition. One of his main interests is to constrain how the interplay of tectonic and surface processes has shaped the mountains and their foreland in the course of continental collision.

Renas is one of 25 individuals who were selected for the PRIME fellowship 2022/23 out of 133 applicants. He will spend 12 months conducting research abroad at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, where he will investigate the fate of the Neotethys oceanic slab located between the Arabian and Eurasian plates.

On another note, Renas recently wrote a public outreach article on the geology of the Zagros Mountains and his own research there in the new Kurdistan Chronicle magazine. You will find his contribution on page 45 of the pdf (p. 88 of the magazine). You may also want to check out other aspects of Kurdistan, its nature, culture and people in the new magazine!

Khuwakurk_ RenasKoshnaw
Photos: A picture of Renas Koshnaw and the Zagros Mountains (R. Koshnaw).

Cherts record cooling of the Earth over billions of years (2022-12-20, DB)

Researchers from the Sedimentology and Environmental Geology Department analyse oxygen isotopes in 550 million-year-old samples

Several billion years ago, the oceans were probably not as hot as often assumed, but were instead at much more moderate temperatures. This is the conclusion of a research team around Jun.-Prof. Michael Tatzel from GZG. The scientists analysed cherts, sedimentary rocks that form from seawater and the remains of silica-secreting creatures. Using these "time capsules", the team showed that the oxygen isotope ratios are determined by the cooling of the solid Earth and depend less on the temperatures of seawater. The results were published in PNAS.

How can it be that ancient cherts – between 3.85 and 2.5 billion years old – are so highly enriched with the lighter oxygen isotope (16O)? What information do these valuable time capsules actually record about the history of our Earth? To investigate this decades-old mystery in the geosciences, the research team examined circa 550 million years old cherts from southeast China. These samples document that after the deposition of sedimentary mud, the amorphous precursors of cherts recrystallise hundreds of metres below the Earth's surface, recording temperatures at depth – and not the temperature of the ocean above them. This finding sparked the idea that oxygen isotope ratios could depend on the heat flow from the Earth's interior – a completely new angle on the old mystery. When the flow of heat is higher, the proportion of 16O becomes higher, because recrystallisation takes place at higher temperatures. At the same time, seawater is enriched with 16O. This solves the puzzle of why there is a large proportion of the lighter oxygen isotope in ancient cherts: heat flow on the early Earth was approximately double modern values.

The calculated effect of heat flow on oxygen isotopes in cherts also means that the isotopically light Archean cherts are indicative of a temperate to warm climate on early Earth – hot oceans seem very unlikely. This conclusion is central to understanding the evolution of life on the young Earth. These new findings will open the door to some exciting new developments in the coming years, because understanding of the heat flow effect will allow more accurate reconstructions of seawater temperatures in deep geological time. In addition, this work provides the basis for new discoveries about the thermal-and tectonic history of ancient sedimentary basins.

Image: A photo of the 550 million-year-old cherts analysed in the study (M. Tatzel).

Tatzel, M., et al. (2022) Chert oxygen isotope ratios are driven by Earth’s thermal evolution, PNAS, 119(51), e2213076119, 10.1073/pnas.2213076119

Contact: Michael Tatzel

Press release

Five students received the Adolf von Koenen Award (2022-12-08, DB)

Since 2009 the Adolf von Koenen Award has been given every year to outstanding BSc and MSc theses and doctoral dissertations within Earth Sciences. Besides the prestigious distinction, the awardees also receive a financial donation, thanks to the Friends of Geosciences at the University of Göttingen Association. Due to the canceled award ceremony last year, the awardees of 2021 presented their work together with the 2022 awardees during the Nikolauskolloquium.

Image: The Adolf von Koenen-awardees of 2021 and 2022. Right to left: Tom Baumgarten, President of the association “Friends of Geosciences at the University of Göttingen”, Nina Caroline Lindstedt, Anne Friedrich, Yu Pei, Kristina Sass, Dean of Studies Thomas Ptak and Jonas Kley. Awardee Carsten Benner could unfortunately not attend. Photo: L. Leschner

Nina Caroline Lindstedt's work (Bsc 2021) records slow sediment accumulation rates due to global sea level rise and connects the results to coastal protection in a cultural landscape. The work is praised for its outstanding sedimentological and engineering-geological results, rich illustration, and broad methodological approach. Moreover, her work successfully combined geoscientific facts and a cost/benefit analysis in coastal protection. (Supervisor: Dr. Matthias Deicke; co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Rainer Markgraf)

Anne Friedrich's work (BSc 2022) impresses with a well-structured and clearly communicated presentation of the experimental synthesis of opal. A successful combination of different analytical methods and the resulting data allowed her to gather compelling insights about opal genesis. Her networking and exemplary commitment to public outreach are reflected in the overall high originality of her work. (Supervisor: Dr. Kirsten Techmer, co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sharon Webb)

Kristina Sass (MSc 2021), in her impressive, very well-structured, linguistically clean, and perfectly illustrated work, has investigated the Permo-Triassic sandstones of southwestern Germany "by every trick in the book": she compiled existing heavy mineral data and U-Pb dating of zircons, supplemented them with her own analyses and thus created a comprehensive sedimentary history including provenance changes from the Zechstein to the Upper Buntsandstein. She put together the geologically and stratigraphically complex puzzle of what the study area represents using a multi-disciplinary and broad methodology. (Supervisor: Prof. Hilmar von Eynatten; co-supervisor: Dr. István Dunkl)

Carsten Benner (MSc 2022) has investigated recent sediment samples from streams in the „Nagssugtoqidian“ orogenic belt (Greenland, ca. 1870 million years old). He aimed to study the controversial paleo-proterozoic plate tectonics, suggested by minerals of ultra-high pressure metamorphism. After an all-around successful discussion of the topic, he presents the results of his analytically complex investigations. The analyses of nearly 38,000 heavy minerals and 1,800 garnets delivered indications of predominantly high-temperature metamorphism; nevertheless, the presence of minerals of the ultra-high pressure facies could not be excluded completely. The question remains exciting. (Supervisor: Jan Schönig; co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hilmar von Eynatten)

Yu Pei's cumulative PhD dissertation – clean, mature, and comprehensively documented and illustrated – is addressed one of the largest global-ecological problems in Earth's history: biological extinction events with bio-geochemical implications, the causes of which remain staggering and speculative. On the example of dynamic carbonate sedimentation around the Permian/Triassic boundary in southern China and the Germanic Basin, she has exhaustively recorded and described the changes from enzymatically-controlled to microbially-controlled carbonate production to organo-mineralization in the Triassic, thus providing another building block for understanding Earth-historical incisions. (Supervisor: Prof. i.R. Dr. Joachim Reitner; co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jan-Peter Duda)


Glowing fossils: fluorescence reveals colour patterns of earliest scallops (2022-10-28, DB)

Göttingen University geobiologist discovers diversity of patterns in 240 million-year-old seashells

UV light makes it possible to see intricate structures of fossils that are barely visible in normal daylight. This method has often been used on the fossilised seashells from the Earth’s current geological era to reveal patterns of colour that had long since faded away. Now, research by a scientist from the University of Göttingen shows that fluorescent colour patterns can even be found in shells that are around 240 million years old, from the Earth's Mesozoic Era. This makes them the oldest fluorescent colour patterns found so far. The results of this study have been published in the journal Palaeontology.
In fossils from the Mesozoic Era, traces of colour patterns are very rarely observed. However, the investigation with UV light of scallops from the Triassic period – right from the beginning of the Mesozoic Era – shows that colour patterns are preserved much more frequently than previously thought. UV light, which is invisible to the human eye, excites organic compounds in the fossils causing them to glow. This reveals a surprising variety of colour patterns: different variations of stripes, zigzags and flame patterns. The diversity of colour patterns is similar to those of today's seashells found on a beach.
However, the colour patterns of today's scallops do not show any fluorescence. "In the case of the Triassic shells, fluorescent compounds were only formed in the course of fossilisation through oxidation of the original pigments," explains Dr Klaus Wolkenstein from the Geosciences Centre at the University of Göttingen, who is currently carrying out research at the University of Bonn. Surprisingly, the fossil shells show different fluorescent colours, depending on the region where they were found. "The colour spectrum ranges from yellow to red with all the transitions in between, which suggests that there were clear regional differences in the fossilisation of these scallops," adds Wolkenstein.

Image: Different fluorescent colours in the fossil scallop Pleuronectites.

Wolkenstein, K. (2022): Fluorescent colour patterns in the basal pectinid Pleuronectites from the Middle Triassic of Central Europe: origin, fate and taxonomic implications of fluorescence. Palaeontology, 65(5), e12625, 10.1111/pala.12625

Contact: Klaus Wolkenstein

Press release

Eric Runge receives the Paul-Ramdohr Award (2022-10-04, DB)

Eric Runge, a PhD researcher at the GZG, received the prestigious Paul-Ramdohr Award of the German Mineralogical Society (DMG), which distinguishes outstanding contributions by young scientists. Eric received the award for his excellent talk at the GeoMinKöln2022, entitled "The taphonomic fate of biominerals in hydrothermal sulfide systems – implications for the reconstruction of microbial life in deep time".

The research is part of an Emmy Noether Research Project led by Jan-Peter Duda, Professor of Geobiology at the University of Göttingen. The project is also associated with the Geomicrobiology Group in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Tübingen, led by Prof. Andreas Kappler.

Image: A photo of Eric Runge.

International Short Course on Sedimentary Provenance Analysis (SPA 2022) held at the Geoscience Center (2022-09-21, DB)

After a 2-years break due to the pandemic, the 10th International Short Course on Sedimentary Provenance Analysis (SPA) was held at the Geoscience Center of the University of Göttingen (GZG) from September 5 to 9, 2022. The course was well attended by 26 participants from 11 countries from five continents, among them 21 PhD students, 1 M.Sc. student, and 4 post-docs. The short course was organised by the Department of Sedimentology and Environmental Geology, and the lectures were given by István Dunkl, Keno Lünsdorf, and Hilmar von Eynatten (all GZG) as well as Gert-Jan Weltje (KU Leuven, Belgium) and Róbert Arató (National Academy of Science, Hungary) as invited guest lecturers.

The first day of the course was devoted to the principles of sedimentary provenance analysis, including an introduction to petrographic and geochemical bulk sediment techniques. At the ice-breaker on Monday evening, the participants got in touch with each other as well as the lecturers, along with some drinks and finger food. On the second day morning session, an introduction to heavy mineral analysis (HMA) was given along with an initial part on HM varietal studies. This was followed by an introduction to Raman spectroscopy in the afternoon, further elaborated by a demonstration of automation procedures and applications in HMA. On Tuesday late afternoon, the attendees were given the opportunity to present their own data, case studies, and problems during a poster session. The posters were available during the coffee breaks for the rest of the week to enhance further exchange among the participants as well as the lecturers. The third day addressed the full spectrum of HM varietal studies, including detrital geochronology and the interpretation of crystallisation vs. cooling ages. In the late afternoon, a laboratory tour was offered to the participants to demonstrate some of the technical and analytical facilities at the Geoscience Center Göttingen and how these techniques are handled by the operators. On the morning of the fourth day, we came back to bulk sediment provenance techniques focussing on a robust statistical analysis of compositional data, which provide a fundamental prerequisite for provenance modelling. On Thursday afternoon, low-temperature thermochronological techniques such as fission track and (U‒Th)/He analysis were introduced, followed by a lesson on the statistical treatment of detrital thermochronological and geochronological data. The final part on Friday morning was devoted to the presentation of various case studies along with a kind of ‘provenance quiz’. Most sessions throughout the course were complemented by small exercises in order to gain some practical experience and to demonstrate the huge potential of sedimentary provenance analysis in both academic research and the exploration for raw materials.

The course has been evaluated by the participants, and we received very positive feedback that encouraged us to start planning for SPA 2023. Financial support from the International Association of Sedimentologists (IAS travel grants) and the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft ‒ Geologische Vereinigung (DGGV) is gratefully acknowledged. Excellent administrative, as well as logistic support, was provided by GZG staff Ines Ringel and Anna Wolf.

Image: Participants and lecturers of the 10th Short Course on Sedimentary Provenance Analysis (SPA) at the University of Göttingen, held in September 2022.

Contact: Hilmar von Eynatten

Students from the Universities of Göttingen and Helsinki on a joint excursion in the tundra (2022-09-03, DB)

The interest in small plants and in the large tundra biome unites 30 students from the Universities of Göttingen and Helsinki, who studied plants, ecosystems, and land use conflicts of the Scandinavian tundra in a course led by Prof. Jouko Rikkinen from the University of Helsinki and Prof. Alexander Schmidt from the Geoscience Center Göttingen.

The first internationally linked course of the Ecosystem Management bachelor's program with another university took place in June at the Biological Station of the University of Helsinki in Kilpisjärvi in the extremely north-west of Finland. In addition to the study of the arctic and subarctic flora, the students focused on regional land use conflicts and other challenges in nature conservation. While most reindeer-herding Sámi families respect Malla National Park and adjacent special protected areas in the border triangle of Finland, Norway, and Sweden, others regularly herd a few hundred reindeer into these refuges. The effects of this far too high reindeer population on the lichens and birches are obvious. “The lichen cover can no longer regenerate, and there are practically no birch seedlings left. The next generation of these trees is completely missing here,” explains Jouko Rikkinen, who has been documenting the changes in the vegetation in the region for almost two decades. For comparative studies, the lecturers took the students to a neighboring region in Norway where the number of reindeer is low.

The situation in northern Finland is very complex. In addition to overgrazing, accidentally introduced plant species that can establish themselves in the tundra due to rising temperatures are also a problem. They are tracked and removed if possible, while the rarest tundra plants are constantly monitored, and some are even fenced off to keep the livestock away. The excursion was accompanied by unusually warm weather conditions of more than 30°C, which set temperature records for the region and neighboring northern Norway. "If climate change continues, certain bog types will disappear from this landscape in less than 50 years," says Prof. Henry Väre from the Botanical Museum of the University of Helsinki, who accompanied the course as a renowned expert on the local flora, while inspecting a permafrost-influenced bog. On the long journey of almost 3000 km, the Göttingen students documented the sequence of forest types from Central Europe to the tree line in the Scandinavian tundra, related them to climate data, and presented their observations to the Finnish students. "The exchange with the Finnish students, the unusual plant species, the endless days without nighttime darkness, and experiencing the midnight sun over the arctic landscape made the 'Arctic Plant Course' a very special experience," reports Charlotte Hennies, student of ecosystem management. The cooperation with the University of Helsinki is now to be permanently anchored in teaching and the 'Arctic Plant Course' firmly integrated into the ecosystem management curriculum - a novelty for this bachelor's program.

Image: Participants of the ‘Arctic Plant Course’ at the Biological Station of the University of Helsinki in Kilpisjärvi in north-western Finland (Photo: A. Schmidt).

Contact: Alexander Schmidt

Night of Science (2022-07-02, DB)

This week, the lucky winners of the "Geology/Mineralogy" prize puzzle were able to collect their prizes from the Faculty of Geosciences and Geography, which they won during the Night of Science on 9/7/2022 (Fig. 1). A. Abel and A. Friedrich (B.Sc. students of Geosciences) had presented their projects and A. Lohse (MSc student of Geosciences) reported about the recent volcanic eruption of Iceland in March 2021, which she could witness during an Erasmus stay at the University of Reykjavik (Fig. 2).

A look back in time to the origins of our solar system (2022-06-13, DB)

Researchers from the Geochemistry Department analyse a rock from the asteroid Ryugu

Researchers from the University of Göttingen are among the first in the world to have analysed rock samples from the asteroid Ryugu. Asteroids are remnants from the very beginnings of our solar system and, at around 4.6 billion years old, are about as old as the solar system itself. This means they provide a unique insight into the origins of the planets. The data from the Göttingen team show that Ryugu belongs to a special class of asteroids – to date, only a very few have ever been discovered. Their composition is similar to that of our Sun, making them important reference points for cosmochemistry. The results were published in Science.

The rock sample comes from the Japanese space mission "Hayabusa 2" ("Peregrine 2"), which was launched in December 2014. Three and a half years later, in the summer of 2018, the ion-propelled probe reached the asteroid 162173 Ryugu ("Dragon Palace"), which has a diameter of about 900 metres. In February and July 2019, it took more samples, which it then dropped in a capsule as it flew past Earth in December 2020. The probe had collected about five grams of rock. To collect this sample, the probe covered a distance of an almost unimaginable 5.4 billion kilometres." Only a small number of selected laboratories around the world received fractions of the sample for initial analyses. The scientists from Göttingen University got a sliver of 2.4 milligrams.

As Prof. Professor Andreas Pack explains: "We determined the isotopic composition of oxygen. It was a great privilege for us to carry out some of the first analyses of this material. The analysis was extremely demanding. It was simply not an option to make even the slightest mistake," says Pack. "But we have been working for years on refining our techniques for measuring the isotopes of oxygen and are now one of the leading laboratories in this field. The fact that we were chosen to analyse the Ryugu material confirms that we are always pushing at the boundaries of what can be achieved."

Yokoyama, T., et al. (2022) Samples returned from the asteroid Ryugu are similar to Ivuna-type carbonaceous meteorites, Science, 10.1126/science.abn7850

Contact: Andreas Pack

Press release

Algae reveal clues about climate changes over millions of years (2022-05-16, DB)

Göttingen University scientists identify and investigate algae which register seawater temperatures of the warmest months

Organisms adjust their cell walls according to environmental conditions such as temperature. Some adaptations involve changes in lipids which may still be preserved long after the rest of the organisms has been degraded. Researchers at the University of Göttingen studied a specific group of lipids called long chain diols which are found in sea sediments all over the world, and which can be preserved for millions of years. The researchers discovered that these lipids are produced by an, until now, unknown group of marine eustigmatophyte algae which evolved before the currently known species originated. This finding changes our understanding of the composition and evolution of these algae, as previously they were considered to consist of a relatively small group of mainly soil and freshwater species. In addition, the researchers show that a ratio of these distinctive lipids, known as the Long chain Diol Index, can be used to reconstruct summer sea surface temperatures from the past.


Rampen S. W., Friedl T., Rybalka N., Thiel V., (2022) The Long chain Diol Index: A marine palaeotemperature proxy based on eustigmatophyte lipids that record the warmest seasons, PNAS, 119, e2116812119, 10.1073/pnas.2116812119

Contact: Volker Thiel

Climate fluctuations, volcanism and geochemical transport between rain, soils, volcanic ash, and the fjords ecosystems at the end of the world (2022-04-15, DB)

A research group led by Prof. Dr. G. Wörner of the Department of Geochemistry and Isotope Geology of the Geosciences Center has worked in a long-term collaboration with Prof. Dr. Rolf Kilian in the inaccessible fjord and island zone of the southernmost Patagonian Andes in Chile to reconstruct the climate history in this region. Rolf Kilian died in May 2019 in a tragic accident during fieldwork in Patagonia. Now, the important work of a jointly supervised PhD student and an extended working group could be published in high-ranking international journals (Klaes et al., 2022a; Klaes et al., 2022b). The work is based on extensive soil analyses and, most importantly, detailed geochemical analyses on an approximately 4500-year-old stalagmite. This stalagmite is the southernmost limestone deposit of this type ever found and, based on its fine stratification, allows geochemical analyses with high temporal resolution and to reconstruct changing climate and chemical processes at the Earth’s surface. This is because the compositions of the sub-millimeter thick layers reflect environmental conditions and the climate-controlled input of chemical substances from the surrounding soils and rocks over thousands of years in the past. As a completely new finding, remnants of volcanic dust from eruptions of nearby volcanoes were found in the soils and even in the stalagmite from the cave. The volcanic input can also be proven by geochemical anomalies in the stalagmite (e.g. incorporation of sulphur) and can even be assigned to individual explosive volcanic eruptions of the geological past by dating the stalagmite layers. These volcanic deposits are of fundamental importance for the chemical processes in the moors and have a particularly strong effect under the influence of the extreme precipitation in the region. Together with detailed studies of organic and mineral components embedded in the stalagmite, new insights into the effects of eruptions of different sizes on the Magellanic peatland ecosystem could thus be clearly documented and better placed in time. Volcanic input provides nutrients and thus makes a critical contribution to aquatic bioproductivity in adjacent fjord ecosystems. This input, in turn, is directly related to the extreme climatic conditions prevailing in the region and their past fluctuations in a complex set of processes.

Klaes, B., Wörner, G., Kremer, K., Simon, K., Kronz, A., Scholz, D., Mueller, C. W., Höschen, C., Struck, J., Arz, H. W., Thiele-Bruhn, S., Schimpf, D., Kilian, R. (2022a): High-resolution stalagmite stratigraphy supports the Late Holocene tephrochronology of southernmost Patagonia. Commun. Earth Environ. 3, 23. 10.1038/s43247-022-00358-0

Klaes, B., Wörner, G., Thiele-Bruhn, S., Arz, H. W., Struck, J., Dellwig, O., Groschopf, N., Lorenz, M., Wagner, J.-F., Baeza-Urrea, O., Lamy, F., Kilian, R. (2022b): Element mobility related to rock weathering and soil formation at the westward side of the southernmost Patagonian Andes. Sci. Total Environ. 817, 152977. 10.1038/s43247-022-00358-0

Geothermal energy for the campus: New video on EU-project MEET and our activities within it (2021-11-11, AP)

A short video giving a general overview on the EU-project MEET has just been released. The new approach of "Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS)" focuses on the exploitation of the subsurface heat trapped in any geological setting in an effort to make geothermal heat available essentially everywhere. The Göttingen campus is one of the demonstration sites having an existing heating district system, but a very limited knowledge of the unconventional target horizon and its geological setting, "Folded and thrusted Variscan metasediments". In an interview, Bernd Leiss and Ali Abdelkahlek from GZG´s structural geology department and the Universitätsenergie Göttingen GmbH explain our approach and show first results. Our commitment is in line with a statement of the prospective new government of Germany 2021 in its coalition agreement: “We want to intensify the usage of geothermal energy by improving the data situation and by evaluating a success risk insurance for geothermal wells”.

Contact: Jonas Kley