A climate compass for the course of global warming


Professor of atmosphere, greenhouse gases and climate Sander Houweling argues during his inaugural lecture that we need the exploration of the atmosphere to get a grip on the course of global warming. "Monitoring the atmospheric composition is essential to achieve the climate goals." Energy generation and food supply lead to global warming. This is generally known, as is the desire to limit the warming at the end of this century to a maximum of two degrees Celsius. Houweling: "Achieving this goal is a big challenge. Science can offer support in this. The ultimate check of whether we are on the right track is through atmospheric measurements. In this way, evaluation and monitoring takes place on the basis of what is happening now and can be measured. So far, we mainly look at what people say is done and what is written down in reports." Read more (in Dutch)

Early hominins died out due to climate change


An international team of researchers, including VU Earth scientist Didier Roche, made a climate reconstruction in Southeast Africa. It seems that one of the early hominins, an avid herbivore, has died out due to increasing drought. The reconstruction of the hydro-climate (the interactions between water and climate) of the past 2.14 million years is published this week in Nature. The authors suggest that climate changes that have taken place in South East Africa may have played a role in early hominins formation, particularly in the extinction of Paranthropus robustus. Read more (in Dutch)

Vidi grant for Sander Veraverbeke


Researcher Sander Veraverbeke receives a Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) worth 800.000 euros. Veraverbeke is conducting research into forest fires. With the Vidi grant, he will study how forest fires create opportunities for tree species to advance northward, and how this affects the landscape and climate. He will do research in northern regions such as Alaska, Canada and Siberia. Especially in Siberia (Russia) relatively few measurements have been made, so these data are desperately needed. In these regions, forest fires are mainly caused by lightning, and due to climate change there is more lightning, and therefore more fires. "Moreover, the high North is warming up faster than the rest of the Earth", explains Veraverbeke. "This causes more fires, and ensures that the ideal climate zone for northern tree species is located more northerly. So where some thirty years ago only coniferous forest could grow, can now grow deciduous forest. And where previously nothing grew, the tundra, there is now more and more coniferous forest. "

Accurate determination of new life after meteorite impact possible


An international research team, including VU geologist Jan Smit, researched very clean cores of the Yucatan crater in Mexico. Analysis of these cores indicate very precisely when and at what rate life on earth recovered from the meteorite impact 66 million years ago. The cores come from the inner ring of the crater at Yucatan, which was created by the Chicxulub impact - the meteorite that hit our earth and meant the end of the dinosaurs. "Especially the last 60 centimeters of the lower part of the drill core of 900m length is interesting," says Jan Smit. Read more (in Dutch)

Models meet data: implementing land management in Earth System Models


Besides the burning of fossil fuels it is land use that drives man-made climate change. But to capture land use in climate models we require a sufficient basis of process understanding and data. In a new study a team of scientists led by Han Dolman (Earth Sciences VU) and Julia Pongratz (Max Planck Instuitute for Meteorology) , including Sebastiaan Luysaert (Ecological Sciences, VU) and Richard Fuchs (Earth Sciences, VU) show that some forms of land use are much easier to implement in Earth system models than others. Read more

Individual diamonds dated for the first time


VU Earth Scientists were able to date precisely, for the first time, a characteristic type of diamond using individual garnet mineral inclusions to show that half of them were billions of years younger than previously thought. Janne Koornneef, Michael Gress and Gareth Davies publish this today in their paper ‘Archaean and Proterozoic diamond growth from contrasting styles of large-scale magmatism’ in Nature Communications. Diamonds are categorised by the mineral inclusions trapped within the carbon crystal structure that give clues about the conditions under which they formed. Harzburgitic diamonds, the subject of the study, form associated with very large amounts of melting of the deep Earth. Read more

ERC Starting Grant (1,7 million) for Janne Koornneef


Earth Scientist Janne Koornneef was awarded an ERC Starting Grant worth 1.7 million euros, of which 200 thousand euro is earmarked for instrumentation. The grant is awarded for her proposal ‘Quantifying Recycling Fluxes of Earth Surface Materials and Volatiles in Subduction Zones using Melt Inclusions’, in short: ReVolusions. With this grant Koornneef will study specific processes of plate tectonics. Read more

Diamond’s 2-billion-year growth charts tectonic shift in early Earth’s carbon cycle


A study of tiny mineral ‘inclusions’ within diamonds from Botswana has shown that diamond crystals can take billions of years to grow. One diamond was found to contain silicate material that formed 2.3 billion years ago in its interior and a 250 million-year-old garnet crystal towards its outer rim, the largest age range ever detected in a single specimen. Analysis of the inclusions also suggests that the way that carbon is exchanged and deposited between the atmosphere, biosphere, oceans and geosphere may have changed significantly over the past 2.5 billion years. Read more

NWO Grant for Jan Willem Erisman


Jan Willem Erisman receives a NWO GO for his research project ‘Nitrogen deposition and its impact on drought stress and carbon exchange’. As a consequence of agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels nitrogen is discharged to the atmosphere, which highly disturbs the nitrogen cycle on earth. Various studies show that increased nitrogen deposition - deposition of nitrogen from the air on a surface - affects the carbon cycle and the response of vegetation to drought. Read more

NWO Grant for Pieter Vroon


Pieter Vroon receives a NWO GO for his project proposal ‘Development of integrated trace element and stable isotope models of fractionation during planetary core formation’. Major- and trace-elements and stable isotopes of for example, silicon and sulfur, are distributed between liquid silicate mantle and the metallic core during the formation of the metallic core of planets and moons.  In this study, the distribution of stable isotopes of sulfur and silicon and that of the various major- and trace-elements will be measured for the first time under identical experimental conditions of pressure, temperature and chemical composition. Read more

NWO Grant for Ko van Huissteden


Ko van Huissteden receives a NWO GO for his project proposal ‘Quantifying shallow and deep permafrost changes using radar remote sensing’. Climate change thaws permafrost (permanently frozen soil) in the north of the Eurasian and North American continent. This leads to soil instability, threatening of the infrastructure in arctic regions and it accelerates the decomposition of organic matter in the soil, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Read more

New paper: Modelling the Anthropocene


An international group of authors lead by Peter Verburg has published a paper that outlines how our methods to simulate future environmental change can account for the dominant role of human activity in shaping the Earth. The dominant role of human activity on the Earth surface has, for many, been reason to call our era ‘the Anthropocene’. The dominance of human activities on the global environment, and ultimately on our own well-being, puts new requirements on the ways of doing research. Traditional approaches to analyze and represent environmental systems in simulation models to explore future changes in our environment no longer suffice. Read more

Less sea ice induces more methane emissions in Northern tundra’s


Earth scientists Frans-Jan Parmentier, Ko van Huissteden (Earth and Climate cluster) and others discovered a clear interaction between the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic sea and rising methane emissions on land. Although the notion of such a relationship existed already for some time, the paper Rising methane emissions from northern wetlands associated with sea ice decline now presents more solid proof. The Arctic is rapidly transitioning towards a seasonal sea ice-free state, perhaps one of the most apparent examples of climate change in the world. This dramatic change has numerous consequences, including a large increase in air temperatures, which in turn may affect terrestrial methane emissions. Read more

2014 warmest year according the statistics


According to the State of the Climate report seven important climate variables broke records. Ocean surface temperatures were the warmest in 135 years of records; the concentration of the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere was highest; and for Europe, 2014 was by far the hottest year on record – more than 20 countries broke their national temperature records. Han Dolman (Earth and Climate, Earth Sciences) is one of the co-editors of the report. Read more

260.000 Euros for Mars Research


The Netherlands Space Office funds a PhD position at the VU University department of Earth Sciences to research Mars. The research proposal of Gareth Davies, Jessica Flahaut and Wim van Westrenen (Geology & Geochemistry cluster) is one of the ten proposals that the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) finances, with a total of 2,4 million Euros. The project focuses on determining the physical and chemical properties of the earliest crust of planet Mars. Read more

Nitrogen: too much of a vital resource


The WWF science brief with lead author Jan Willem Erisman (Professor Integrated Nitrogen Studies, Earth and Climate Cluster) provides an in-depth overview of the nitrogen challenge. It also explores options to decrease the negative impacts of excess nitrogen on biodiversity and ecosystems, while at the same time providing food security to a growing world population. Potential solutions comprise increasing nitrogen use efficiency in agriculture, reducing waste in the food chain, promoting diets with less animal protein in developed countries and a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Read more

Discovery of a new type of seamount chain in the Pacific Ocean


Nature Geoscience article reports a new kind of volcanic chain that might link plate tectonic events around the margins of the Pacific to the unique bend in the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain. Ocean islands, seamounts and volcanic ridges are thought to form above mantle plumes – hot upwellings that probable rise from the core-mantle boundary. Yet, this mechanism cannot explain many volcanic features on the Pacific Ocean floor and some might instead be caused by cracks in the oceanic crust linked to the reorganisation of plate motions. Read more

EU grant of € 9.95 M for Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure


Gareth Davies (Geology and Geochemistry, Earth Sciences) is one of the coordinators of the Advanced Infrastructure, Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (EPN2020-RI) that has been awarded €9.95 M by the EU.The RI will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across Europe. Its Transnational Access activities will provide access to world-leading laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found on planetary bodies as well as specific analogue field sites for Mars, Europa and Titan. Read more

Ontbossing in kaart gebracht


Richard de Jeu (Aarde en Klimaat) onderzocht met internationale collega’s hoeveel koolstof er wereldwijd in vegetatie is opgeslagen de afgelopen 20 jaar. Ze zagen in deze periode vooral een verlies in de tropische bossen door ontbossing, maar ook een groei in de boreale bossen en savannen. Vanaf 2003 was echter een sterke vermindering van de ontbossing van tropische bossen te zien en een groei van bossen in China en Rusland. Lees meer

PNAS-artikel over invloed van exploitatie van veengronden op klimaatverandering


Veengronden op het noordelijk halfrond zijn belangrijke gebieden voor koolstof opslag (tot wel 500 gigaton). Door exploitatie en daarmee gepaard gaande waterstandsdaling kunnen deze koolstofvoorraden als CO2 in de atmosfeer terecht komen en een belangrijke bijdrage aan de broeikasgasbalans leveren. Maar het effect van natte veengronden op de broeikasgas balans is tweeledig, omdat er ook methaan (zo’n 30% van de totale methaanemissies op aarde) wordt uitgestoten. Methaan is een veel krachtiger broeikasgas dan CO2. De methaanemissies zullen juist verminderen bij exploitatie van veengronden. Lees meer

Ocean currents complicate reconstructions of past climate


Reconstruction of the past ocean water temperature, based on shells of micro-plankton from the ocean sediment, to study past climates, has to take into account the transportation of these shells by currents. Paolo Scussolini, climatologist (Institute of Environmental Studies), and Frank Peeters, marine palaeontologist (Earth and Climate cluster), are part of an international team of researchers that reconstructed the displacement of floating microscopic animals, the planktic foraminifera, in the ocean. Using state-of-the-art computer models of ocean circulation they could simulate, for the first time, the provenance of fossil foraminifera: what they dubbed the “footprint” of a sediment core. Read more

Carbon release from the ocean helped to end the Ice Age


A release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the deep ocean helped bring an end to the last Ice Age, according to new collaborative research in UK, Spain, Australia and The Netherlands. Published in Nature, February 12th, the study shows that carbon stored in an isolated reservoir deep in the Southern Ocean re-connected with the atmosphere, driving a rise in atmospheric CO2 and an increase in global temperatures. The finding gives scientists an insight into how the ocean affects the carbon cycle and climate change. “These results will help to better understanding the dynamics of human-induced CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere since the ocean is an important carbon sink and the largest reservoir of carbon on our planet’ commented co-author Patrizia Ziveri (Earth and Climate Cluster). Read more

Amsterdam Water Science consortium receives AAA funding


The Amsterdam Water Science consortium has received start-up capital from the Amsterdam Academic Alliance (AAA). These funds will give VU University Amsterdam (Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences) and the University of Amsterdam (Faculty of Science, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics) the opportunity to develop a coherent research and degree programme in collaboration with research institutions, government agencies and businesses in the Amsterdam area. Read more

Oldest ever engraving discovered on 500-year-old shell


About half a million years ago, Homo erectus on Java was already using the shells of freshwater mussels as raw material for tools and as a “canvas” for an engraving. Archeologists, among who are VU researchers Dr. José Joordens en Prof. Jan Wijbrans, report on this in Nature (3 December 2014). The discovery provides new insights into the evolution of human behaviour. Read more

Jean Baptiste Lamarck medal for Wolfgang Schlager


Wolfgang Schlager is Emeritus Professor of Marine Geology/Sedimentology at the department of Earth Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. He will be awarded the Jean Baptiste Lamarck Medal by the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for his outstanding contributions to the Earth Sciences. Read more

Eddy Moors Endowed Professor of Water and Climate


As from 1 September 2014, Eddy Moors has been appointed Endowed Professor of Water and Climate at VU University Amsterdam. The chair will be embedded at the Earth and Climate cluster of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences. Eddy Moors currently heads the department Climate Change and Adaptive Land & Water Management at Alterra (WageningenUR). He will work at the VU for one day per week. Read more

Climate hydrologist Diego Miralles receives NWO Veni grant


Diego Miralles has been awarded a prestigious Veni grant from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). With this grant NWO gives talented researchers the opportunity to develop their ideas during three years. The grant amounts to a maximum of 250.000 Euros and will enable Miralles to expand the research on land effects on climate within the Department of Earth Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. Read more

Niels Andela and Guido van der Werf publish article in Nature on CO2 uptake by savannahs


Around a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit is taken up by vegetation on land; this is a kind of natural ‘service’ which mitigates climate change. In 2011, however, the uptake was much greater, equalling almost half of our emissions. An international team of scientists including Guido van der Werf and Niels Andela (Department of Earth Sciences, Earth and Climate cluster) has investigated why this happened. They report in the authoritative journal Nature that the savannahs in the southern hemisphere were largely responsible for the increased uptake of CO2 in 2011. Read more

New Light on Heul Girl Murder Case


Prof. Gareth Davies and Dr. Laura Font (cluster Deep Earth and Planetary Science) are collaborating with the cold case team of the police in Utrecht and the Netherlands Forensic Institute to help in the identification of the Heul girl (Heulmeisje). In 1976, she was found murdered and partly decomposed in the parking lot ‘De Heul’ near Maarn. New multi-isotope studies at VU University Amsterdam show that she probably grew up in Germany in the Eifel region. Read more

Richard de Jeu wins 2012 Boussinesq Award


Richard de Jeu (cluster Earth and Climate) gained the Boussinesq award for his development of global soil moisture and evaporation products. After he pioneered the derivation of soil moisture from passive microwave satellites, he has recently developed a new merged 30-year product of global soil moisture dynamics that uses the best characteristics of several earlier products. This is a landmark development that is already finding its way and use into climate and hydrological studies. Importantly all this data is open access and publicly available. This is incredibly important in current climate and other sciences. Read more

Two NWO Veni grants for Deep Earth and Planetary Science cluster


Micha Ruhl and Jessica Flahaut have been awarded a Veni grant by NWO. Two researchers from the Deep Earth and Planetary Science cluster in Earth Science haven been awarded a Veni grant by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Read more

FALW researchers in cold case forensic team


Researchers Laura Font and Gareth Davies use state-of-the art isotope geochemistry techniques to help in the identification of unidentified bodies in Amsterdam.Laura Font and Gareth Davies (Forensic Science Research part of The Deep Earth and Planetary Science group) are collaborating with the cold case team from Amsterdam-Amstelland Police to help in the identification of unidentified bodies found over the last 30 years in Amsterdam. The cold case team has re-opened about 90 cases. Read more