press release, 15. June 2020

Understanding water cycles better with a view from above

UFZ establishes new department for remote sensing

On June 1, Prof. Jian Peng took up the W3 professorship "Remote sensing of the water cycle" as a joint appointment of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Leipzig. He comes from Oxford University and will head the new Remote Sensing Department at the UFZ. This is the tenth joint appointment of the UFZ and the University of Leipzig.

Prof. Dr. Jian Peng Photo: private
Prof. Dr. Jian Peng
Photo: private

Remote sensing methods are used to obtain information about processes on and above the earth's surface from a distance. This is usually done using remote sensing sensors installed on satellites or aircraft. Some research groups of the UFZ have been using remote sensing methods for many years, for example to study the effects of climate change and land use changes on vegetation. "With the establishment of the new department 'Remote Sensing’ under the leadership of the Earth system scientist Prof. Jian Peng, this competence at the UFZ will be strengthened and extended to other areas", says Prof. Sabine Attinger, who heads the Research Unit of Smart Models and monitoring at the UFZ. Among other things, research is to be conducted into how temporal and spatial variability of water and energy flows can be precisely described and what influence climate change has. In particular, the effects of the complex properties of the earth's surface on energy and water flows will be investigated in greater detail. 

The new head of the UFZ department will focus his research on the development of modelling and monitoring methods. He is relying on ground-, air- and satellite-based remote sensing techniques with which various parameters such as vegetation, soil moisture or evaporation can be analysed on different spatial and temporal scales. "Our aim is to develop a coherent framework for monitoring and modelling terrestrial exchange processes. The UFZ is ideally equipped for this, because it offers an excellent environment for interdisciplinary cooperation," Jian Peng says.  The expected results could, for example, be used for two models developed at the UFZ - the hydrological model system mHM, which can be used to better predict the consequences of climate and land use change on the environment, and the forest model FORMIND, which can use climate and soil data to simulate the growth of individual trees up to a resolution of 20 metres and the dynamics of forests.

Prof. Jian Peng's research has so far relied on satellite-based remote sensing to observe the Earth's water cycle and to better understand the spatial and temporal variability of hydrological processes. He has developed for example new approaches to quantify components of the hydrological cycle such as soil moisture, evapotranspiration and precipitation from satellite observations. Among other things, he succeeded in combining several data sources in order to spatially resolve satellite data on soil moisture very precisely. 

Prof. Jian Peng, born in 1986, received his doctorate from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg in 2013. There he continued his research as a postdoc before moving to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 2015 and to the University of Oxford in January 2018. He is editor and guest editor of several scientific journals and has received numerous international awards, most recently in 2019 the Remote Sensing Young Investigator Award of the Swiss scientific publisher MDPI, which publishes more than 200 journals and open access journals.

The new professorship is embedded in the Remote Sensing Centre for Earth System Research (RSC), which is currently being jointly founded by the UFZ and the Faculty of Physics and Geosciences at the University of Leipzig. The aim is to strengthen basic and application-oriented remote sensing research. The RSC comprises a total of four professorships. They cover the topics soil and vegetation, remote sensing modelling approaches, geo and ecosystem analysis and water cycles.

Further information

UFZ press office

Susanne Hufe
Phone: +49 341 235-1630

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, ecosystems of the future, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, the effects of chemicals in the environment, modelling and social-scientific issues. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the Federal Government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With some 39,000 employees in 19 research centres, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation.
« back