ERC-funded Young Investigators Group

European Research Council awards grant to Potsdam-based AWI researcher

The SPACE project: New perspectives on the space-time structure of climate changes
[21. December 2017] 

How is the global climate connected to regional variations in temperature and precipitation? And what is the possible range of future climate variations? To help find answers to these questions, Dr Thomas Laepple will receive 1.5 million euros over the next five years from the European Research Council (ERC) to support his Young Investigators Group SPACE. Together with a five-member team, the climate researcher from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Potsdam will work to combine modern observational data with analyses of paleo-climate archives.

To date, the relationship between the spatial and the temporal scale of climate variations is basically unknown, and accordingly has rarely been used in the reconstruction of the climate evolution. But, according to Thomas Laepple, “This type of analysis offers us a valuable opportunity to better estimate and understand local climate variations.” In the context of his current Helmholtz Young Investigators Group ECUS, Laepple combines climate archives and climate models. To do so, he analyses such disparate types of archives as ice cores, corals and sediment cores and interprets e.g. biological and chemical climate indicators, such as the distribution of pollen or the fossilised remains of microorganisms in connection with current or past temperature readings.

“In SPACE, our goal is to blend the insights gained from observational data and climate archives, to estimate the spatial patterns of climate variability” says Thomas Laepple. His team will initially focus on refining current methods and will analyse e.g. sediment cores that were all collected within the same vicinity in order to better account for local effects. The researchers will then draw on modern climate data from weather stations, and on climate models, to investigate variations that take place between years and decades. Explaining his team’s approach, Laepple relates, “Next we’ll gradually work our way back to the time-period of 1,000 to 10,000 years ago, for which the data from sediments, corals and ice is much sparser. After that, our focus will shift to periods that were colder (the last Glacial Maximum – ca. 18,000 to 21,000 years ago) or warmer (the last interglacial – ca. 117,000 to 128,000 years ago), the goal being to determine how the variations depend on the mean climatic conditions.”

His research is intended to provide more accurate insights into the link between the global climate and regional variations. In this regard, certain central questions need to be answered: does the climate become more stable or more variable during warmer periods? What amplitude of variations should we expect to see in the future, and what is the origin of these variations? To what extent are these variations naturally occurring, and to what extent have they been sparked by human activities? How homogeneous was climate change in the past, and how homogeneous will it be in the future; will temperatures rise around the globe, or will there be various small-scale, regional differences? By addressing these and other key questions, the project and its outcomes will provide the basis for developing future climate adaptation strategies.

The European Research Council (ERC) awards the largest and most prestigious individual grants in Europe. The Young Investigators Group SPACE is one of 390 European projects, hailing from all disciplines, that received funding in connection with the ERC’s 2016 call for proposals.





Thomas Laepple


Folke Mehrtens


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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.