GEO:N - Geosciences for Sustainability

The Earth is in a constant state of change. The objective of research in the geosciences, therefore, is to gain an understanding of both natural and anthropogenic changes. However, major societal challenges, from the Energy Transition to the supply of scarce resources, are also on the geoscientific research agenda. How can raw materials with limited availability be used efficiently under conditions of increasing demand? What role does subterranean geology play in terms of energy storage or permanent disposal? Which forecasting models can be used to counter the unpredictability and frequency of natural disasters? And how can the profusion of earth observation data being generated be used for these developments?
Geoforscher bei der Probennahme in Namibia (Achim Wehrmann)
Sampling at the Skeleton Coast, Namibia
photo: Achim Wehrmann

The geoscientific thematic areas are oriented toward both terrestrial and marine issues. Research in the geosciences will play a decisive role in terms of future raw material and energy needs. Subterranean geology is therefore acquiring increasing importance as a reservoir and storage facility, a source of energy (e.g. compressed air, water or methane), and a repository. The sustainable use of the subsurface requires research in many areas, e.g. geological exploration and the development of monitoring methods. At the same time, the demand for mineral resources, combined with the use and extensive exploration of the oceans as a source of those mineral resources, is increasing across the globe. Rare earth metals bound in manganese and phosphorus nodules on the deep-sea floor are already being exploited as important marine resources. However, the great interest in key technologies, for example in the semiconductor industry, for generators used in wind power plants, or for the production of mobile telephones, is in competition with interventions in the sensitive deep sea regions. We must not lose sight of the need to protect the ecosystems there and must therefore develop and use environmentally compatible methods for the extraction of raw materials according to the relevant international standards. In this context, geoscientific research assumes the key role of precautionary research, whereby geoscientists conduct interdisciplinary research with a focus on the principles of sustainability.

Due to the high degree of social relevance of geoscientific research, the involvement of the public is indispensable. It is imperative to offset competing interests for the use of subterranean regions with an orientation toward the protection and conservation of natural areas and the long-term safeguarding of the supply of raw materials. Research results must therefore be made transparent and comprehensible. Dialogue processes without prejudice as to the results will ensure that socially relevant groups are involved early on in decision-making processes.

The findings of research in the geosciences also provide the basis for an understanding of the complex and dynamic processes of our planet and the associated geohazards. The resulting natural disasters are usually associated with high losses of human life and property. While the damage caused by terrestrial earthquakes is mostly limited to specific regions, seaquakes and tsunamis can also cause damage on distant shores. These natural hazards originating in the sea are modified by geological, meteorological and hydrological events, and their impact can increase exponentially, for example, due to submarine landslides. Even though the causes of natural hazards emanating from the sea can not be eliminated, the extent of destruction they cause can certainly be reduced. Accordingly, geoscientific research has made important contributions to civil defense against natural disasters with the development of forecasting instruments and early warning systems.

Satellite-Based Earth Observation
Geoscientific research is based on earth observation and the geodata generated therefrom. Data for the exact measurement of the earth's surface as well as information on oceanic circulation, atmospheric processes and global land use can be obtained with satellite-based remote sensing. Comprehensive monitoring systems can be developed by means of a systematic comparison of satellite data with terrestrial and airborne measurements; these monitoring systems can be used, for example, in early warning systems for natural hazards.

GEO:N Geoscientific Research Program
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will introduce the principal focus of its geoscientific research funding program for the coming years with its new "GEO:N - Geosciences for Sustainability" program. The focus of the GEO:N program is on terrestrial and marine geosciences as well as geoscientific earth observation. Issues concerning the exploration and exploitation of subterranean geosystems and the early detection of natural hazards will be the thrust of the program which will also include a study of the paleoclimate and the environmentally sound development of geological resources.

GEO:N has an open structure which will enable current thematic fields to be identified over several years and the respective priorities reset accordingly. The program is intended to create stronger links between fundamental and applied geoscientific research and promote interdisciplinary research. GEO:N is part of the BMBF's "Research for Sustainable Development (FONA)" program.

Last update: 15.06.2017