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ERC Advanced Grant of the European Research Council for Geochemist Friedhelm von Blanckenburg

Prestigious award includes 2.3 million euros

№ 061/2022 from May 02, 2022

Geochemist Prof. Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg, a scientist at Freie Universität Berlin and head of Section 3.3, Earth Surface Geochemistry at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centrr for Geosciences, has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The grant is worth 2.3 million euros over five years. With its ERC Advanced Grant format, the European Research Council enables outstanding established scientists to conduct pioneering research. The ERC grant-funded project DEVENDRA ('Deciphering the Effect of Vegetation and Erosion on basalt and carbonate weathering by Novel Denudation Rate Approaches') will start in January 2023 and run for five years. Its focus: a new isotope geochemical method to measure the rate at which basalt and carbonate rocks are transformed into soil by weathering and then get eroded.

In a natural cycle, the chemical weathering of rocks on the Earth’s surface draws down atmospheric carbon dioxide. Before human intervention and industrial CO2 emissions, weathering balanced CO2 emissions from volcanoes and, via Earth’s greenhouse effect, maintained temperatures that allowed life to thrive on Earth for billions of years. Basalt and carbonate rocks are particularly crucial in this balance because they are weathered efficiently. Feedbacks operate between the weathering of these rocks and climate, and their most important controls are thought to be water flow, erosion rate, and vegetation growth. Deciphering these controls requires methods that measure their speed.

The aim of DEVENDRA, dedicated to the pioneer of cosmogenic nuclide geochemistry Devendra Lal (1920 – 2012), is thus to establish a novel method as Earth’s surface weathering “speedometer”: The rare isotope beryllium-10 is produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere and is rained out from the atmosphere at known rate – the clock. At the same time stable beryllium-9 is released by weathering. The ratio of both isotopes is the “speedometer.” This new method will be used to calibrate – using globally-distributed soil profiles and catchments of differing climate and erosion rate – the laws that govern weathering and CO2 drawdown in these rocks. The outcomes will serve as input to global weathering models of Earth’s carbon cycle on geological time scales, to predict the trajectory of anthropogenic CO2 in coming centuries, and to estimate the potential for withdrawing excess industrial CO2 from the atmosphere by artificially-enhanced weathering of basalt powder that could be applied to fields, for example.

Friedhelm von Blanckenburg studied geology at Technische Universität Berlin and earned his doctorate in isotope geochemistry at ETH Zürich. After that he spent five years as a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge Universitäy and two years at Oxford University (England). For four years he was a lecturer at the University of Bern (Switzerland) and nine years a professor of geochemistry at Leibniz Universität Hannover (Germany) before taking up his position at GFZ Potsdam and Freie Universität in 2009.

About the ERC

The ERC is the premier European funding organization for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants, and Synergy Grants.

ERC Advanced Grants allow exceptional established research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields or other domains.

Scientific Contact:

Prof. Dr. Friedhelm von Blanckenburg, Department of Earth Sciences, Institute of Geological Sciences, Malteserstr. 74-100, 12249 Berlin, Email: fvb@gfz-potsdam.de and fvb@zedat.fu-berlin.de