Current climate and environmental changes are particularly dramatic in Earth’s permafrost regions. Observed Arctic warming also results in warming and thawing of permafrost in many regions and thus in the change of an important component of Arctic ecosystems. At the same time these changes cause feedbacks to the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere that can have regional and global impacts well beyond the permafrost regions and may thus directly affect our lives in central Europe.
The Permafrost Research Section therefore focuses its efforts on:

the observation and quantification of current periglacial processes and environmental changes and their causes in order to assess the modern state of permafrost and its future transformation.


  • Geological, cryo-stratigraphical, and paleoecological studies of permafrost and lake sediment cores as well as of natural exposures along sea coasts, river banks, and lake shores
  • Sedimentological, paleontological, biogeochemical, and isotopic analyses
  • Development of models to reconstruct past environments and dynamics of permafrost landscapes

the reconstruction of periglacial landscape dynamics over the past 200,000 years, providing indications of the spatiotemporal variability of environmental and climate change, ecosystem dynamics, and the carbon cycle in the Arctic.


  • Continuous measurements of hydroclimatic data  and permafrost temperatures
  •  Study of water and energy balances of typical permafrost landscapes
  • Large-scale and high-resolution remote sensing of landscape changes caused by permafrostdegradation
  • Numerical modelling of terrestrial and subaquatic permafrost characteristics and landscape dynamics under past, current, and future environmental conditions
  •  The study of permafrost characteristics using geophysical and field analytical methods
  • Quantification of sediment and geochemical fluxes due to Arctic streams and from coastal erosion
  •  Biogeochemical investigation of permafrost soils and deposits
  • Formation and release of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide through microbial and energetic processes in permafrost soils and periglacial landforms resulting from permafrost thaw

Our research provides an outlook on the future developments within the 23 million square kilometer large terrestrial permafrost region on the northern hemisphere as well as the extensive regions with submarine permafrost under shallow Arctic shelf seas.

Our section, now active in researching periglacial landscapes since 1992, is focusing on Arctic and Subarctic Regions in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Spitzbergen. Since 1998 we conduct regular geoscientific and ecological studies during the Russian-German ‘Lena’ field expeditions at the research station Samoylov Island in the Lena River Delta of Northeast Siberia. These studies include long-term observations of permafrost state, energy and water balances, and trace gas fluxes.

Siberian permafrost ecosystems in transition - over 25 years of joint research

Siberian permafrost and the ecosystems there are of global importance due to their interaction with the climate. For more than 25 years we have been researching the interrelationships between permafrost, biodiversity and climate in close and friendly cooperation. With joint Arctic expeditions, jointly operated observatories and laboratories, and a lively exchange of young scientists, we provide an internationally unique and recognised research contribution to one of the major challenges facing society.