Our research program 2021–2027

"Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future"

7 Helmholtz Centres, 7 years – 1 program: „Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future“

Participating Helmholtz Centres

Grafik: Helmholtz-Forschungsprogramm 2021 - 2027: "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future"

Climate change, the extinction of species, environmental pollution, and geological risks are among the greatest challenges of our time. In the program "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future", the UFZ and the six other Helmholtz Centres of the Research Field "Earth and Environment" are researching our natural environment – from the land surface and the oceans to the most remote polar regions.

After all, it will only be possible to plot a course into a sustainable future with in-depth knowledge of the Earth system, innovative technologies, strategic solutions, and recommended actions for policymakers. In the joint program "Changing Earth - Sustaining Our Future", the UFZ combines its expertise with that of the participating partner centres.

We have therefore organized our research areas into nine topics as well as numerous cross-cutting activities and alliances. Our aim is to pool the knowledge generated through this work and promote cooperation between Helmholtz Centres and with national and international partners. To make sure that our research findings are brought to public attention and are able to influence developments in society, we have set up a synthesis and communication platform.

Five of the nine topics are decisive for our research at the UFZ, two of which are coordinated at the UFZ. As an environmental research centre, we contribute our expertise to program research in the natural, engineering and social sciences as well as the infrastructure we operate in the six UFZ research units "Ecosystems of the Future", "Water Resources and Environment", "Chemicals in the Environment", "Environmental Engineering and Biotechnology", "Smart Models / Monitoring" and "Environment and Society".

The seven Helmholtz Centres involved in the research program "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future" 


Our nine Topics in the program „Changing Earth“

Icon Topic 1 Atmosphere

The Atmosphere in Global Change 

Coordination: KIT
Speaker: HaPe Schmid, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | FZJ | GFZ | HEREON | KIT

Topic 1: Atmosphere - more ...

Icon Topic 2 Ocean and Cyrosphere

Ocean and Cryosphere during Climate Change

Coordination: AWI
Speaker: Gerrit Lohmann, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | GEOMAR | GFZ

Topic 2: Oceans and Cryosphere - more ...

Icon Topic 3 Restless Earth

Living on a Restless Earth: Towards Forecasting Geohazards

Coordination: GFZ
Speaker: Fabrice Cotton, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: GFZ | GEOMAR 

Topic 3: Restless Earth - more ...

Icon Topic 4 Coastal Systems

Topic 4: Coastal Transition Zones under Natural and Human Pressure

Coordination: HZG
Speaker: Daniela Jacob, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | HEREON | UFZ

Topic 4: Coastal Zones - more ....

Icon Topic 5 Future Landscapes

Landscapes of the Future: Securing Terrestrial Ecosystems and Freshwater Resources under Natural Dynamics and Global Change

Coordination: UFZ
Speaker: Bernd Hansjürgens, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | GFZ | HEREON | UFZ

Topic 5: Landscapes of the Future - more ...

Icon Topic 6 Marine Life

Marine and Polar Life: Sustaining Biodiversity, Biotic Interactions, Biogeochemical Functions

Coordination: GEOMAR
Speaker: Ute Henschel-Humeida, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | GEOMAR

Topic 6: Marine and Polar Life - more ...

Icon Topic 7 Bioeconomy

Towards a Sustainable Bioeconomy – Resources, Utilization, Engineering and AgroEcosystems

Coordination: FZJ
Speaker: Harry Vereecken, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: AWI | FZJ | KIT | UFZ

Topic 7: Sustainable Bioeconomy - more ...

Icon Topic 8 Georesources

Georesources for the Energy Transition and High-tech Society

Coordination: GFZ
Speaker: Sarah Gleeson, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: GEOMAR | GFZ |  UFZ

Topic 8: Georesources - more ...

Icon Topic 9 Healthy Planet

Healthy Planet - Towards a Non-Toxic Environment

Coordination: UFZ
Speaker: Rolf Altenburger, Contact / Beate Escher, Contact
Participating Helmholtz Centres: UFZ

  Topic 9: Healthy Planet - more ...


Cross-cutting activities and alliances

The Helmholtz Earth and Environment research field has initiated numerous cross-cutting activities and alliances in order to draw different research areas together, promote key profile-building topics, and develop networks with other scientific partners in Germany.

For example, in the Helmholtz Climate Initiative, which spans the whole of the Helmholtz Association, 15 Centres from all six research fields are focusing on the two priorities of Net-Zero 2050 (mitigation) and Adaptation to Extreme Events (adaptation). In the mitigation cluster, we aim to prepare scientific contributions toward a road map that will outline how Germany can reduce its CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050 and how we can actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In the adaptation cluster, our objective is to identify adaptation options in many areas of life, such as health, agriculture, energy supply, and transport. Nine of our Centres are also contributing their expertise as part of the Helmholtz Regional Climate Change Network (REKLIM) in order to develop Earth system models that take account of the interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, biosphere, land surfaces, and soils. These models make it possible to analyze regional changes in the climate in the past, present, and future more precisely. The models are sought-after, for instance, by decision makers in need of a sound scientific basis for their political and socioeconomic actions. A further important task of REKLIM is to take this knowledge from the field of climate research into the public domain. For example, this includes meereisportal.de – the information and data portal concerning sea ice – the Drought Monitor for the whole of Germany, and the German Regional Climate Atlas. Some of our Helmholtz Centres are collaborating in nine further cross-cutting activities, where they are investigating subjects such as remote sensing, geoenergy, bioeconomy, and the issue of resilient urban areas.

The cross-topic cooperation of scientists in the Helmholtz Earth and Environment research field also takes many forms. In one example, we use flexible and Mobile Earth Observation Measuring Systems (MOSES) to investigate how extreme events influence the long-term development of Earth systems and environmental systems. This work helps us to provide answers to burning questions: What impact do heat waves have on the water supply, vegetation, and air quality? How do floods change terrestrial ecosystems and coastal zones? How do ocean eddies influence energy distribution and food chains in the oceans?

In further interdisciplinary Helmholtz collaborations, we focus on environmental monitoring and the effects of changes in the climate and in land use on terrestrial environmental systems (TERENO), on Earth system modeling (ESM), and on linking up a range of data from atmospheric, ocean, and terrestrial research (Digital Earth).

We also cooperate with the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association, and numerous universities as part of the German Marine Research Alliance (DAM) and the German Earth System Alliance.

Cooperations and activities with UFZ participation

Cooperations across Research Fields (CARFs)

  • REKLIM: Regional Climate Change and Humans
  • Helmholtz Climate Initiative on Climate Adaptation and Mitigation
  • Resilient Urban Spaces
  • Remote Sensing
  • Geoenergy
  • MACE: Mainstreaming Environmental Assessment for Complex Exposure
  • JL-ExaESM: Exascale Earth System Modeling
  • BmE: Bioeconomy meets Energy
  • Nuclear Repository Research
  • ARCHES: Autonomous Robotic Networks to Help Modern Societies


Cross-Topic Activities (CTAs)

  • MOSES: Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems
  • TERENO: Terrestrial Environmental Observatories
  • ESM: Advanced Earth System Modeling Capacity Planned
  • DE: Digital Earth – Towards Smart Monitoring and Integrated Data Exploration of the Earth System
  • Extremes: Extreme Events in a Changing World


Science Alliances

  • DAM: Deutsche Allianz für Meeresforschung – German Alliance of Marine Research
  • DESA: Deutsche ErdSystem Allianz – German Earth System Alliance