Funding Initiative „Experiment!“ by Volkswagen Foundation

Research Project: GeoBio-Interactions

Formica Pratensis PngWhy do red wood ants (RWA; Formica rufa-group) create large clusters and nest most successfully on top of seismically active, gas-permeable faults? The unusual distributional patterns of RWA occurrences cannot be explained by biologic factors alone. Project leader Dr. Gabriele Berberich (UDE) and her colleagues from Harvard University and TU Dortmund have planned a multistep approach to investigate GeoBio-interactions that is dynamic relationships between biotic (RWA activity) and abiotic (e.g., degassing processes of the deep subsurface, tectonic processes, earth tides, weather) processes in the seismically active East Eifel Volcanic Field (West Germany).

Funded by Volkswagen Foundation, Az 91 140,  Vwst Rgb 3 Cm

Further reading

Alternative concept for final storage of radioactive waste

An alternative concept for final storage of high-level radioactive waste



Based on the experiences gained in the project “development of an implementation concept to use former coal mines for underground pumped storage”, a new approach in regard to an alternative final storage system for high-level radioactive waste was developed by geologists of the Faculty of Biology of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

In Germany, research activities for a final storage of high-level radioactive waste are focused on Permian saline layers such as salt domes structures in the North-German Basin. Until now, flat saline layers in homogenous salt bodies seemed not to be suitable because of their depth and low height.

Alternatively, horizontal layers of clay and salt offer a good sealing against gaseous and aqueous fluids migrating from the deeper underground towards the surface.

Based on this, it is suggested to investigate sites beneath saline layers with sufficient height as a location for final storage of high-level radioactive waste. For such kind of storage the following geologic pre-conditions have to be considered:

  1. Sufficient thickness of salt layers (200 m height, stratiform composition and horizontal layering),
  2. depth of the saline layers up to 1000 m maximum,
  3. metamorphic/granitic bedrock providing possibilities for construction of stable caverns,
  4. no evidence of critical gas (CH4/CO2) concentration accumulating in future final storage,
  5. no or low seismic activity in the region,
  6. sufficient distance to large fault zones, and
  7. large distance to sub-recent volcanic fields.

Additionally, following spatial planning aspects have be taken into account

  1. low population density or rural area
  2. outside of protected areas
  3. transport connections to railways

On this basis, areas such as the South of Lower Saxony, the North of Hesse and Franken or the Thuringian Basin might be suitable. According to first analyses of drilling data and geologic maps available, the Thuringian Basin meets most of the pre-conditions, especially in the surrounding areas of the cities of Nordhausen, Mühlhausen and Stadtilm.

The suggested, alternative concept for a final storage is an addition to the models discussed by the AkEnd (2002). In Germany, a many-fold composition of bedrock and its covering layers provide investigation possibilities to implement such an alternative final storage system.


Participants of the R-statistic course “Ecological applications of spatial statistics – the case of red wood ants” held by Prof. Dr. Aaron Ellison, Harvard University

18.11. and 20.11.2015

Prof. Aaron Ellison, Harvard University

Guest Lecture

"Ecological applications of spatial
statistics ‐ the case of red wood ants"


Organisms are distributed non-randomly in space, and identifying patterns and processes that determine the spatial distribution of organisms is a central focus of much ecological research. Prof. Dr. Aaron Ellison from Harvard University introduced fundamental concepts of spatial statistics and their application to ongoing ecological projects involving the distribution and abundance of European red wood ants. Concepts of spatial autocorrelation; addition of spatial components into otherwise non‐spatial statistical models; and the development and analysis of basic statistical models for spatial point processes were covered. Students were introduced to methods and models used to analyse spatial data, which were provided by Dr. Gabriele Berberich and Prof. Aaron Ellison based on their common research project, by using the open‐source R software package and additional R libraries (spatstat and ggplot2).

This course, which took place on Nov 18 and Nov, 20 2015, included two 1.5‐hour lectures and two 3‐hour-long hands-on workshops. The course, organised and promoted by Dr. Gabriele Berberich, Department of Geology (UDE), was open to MSc. and Ph.D. students in biodiversity, biology, teacher training, geology, and climatology programs, and in courses in Environmental Toxicology and Transnational ecosystem-based Water Management. In total, 35 participants received a certificate.

This spatial statistics course introduced to both the students and the research associates some new perspectives and views about spatial statistics and how to work with these powerful tools. Reactions from participants documented that there is a great need to provide lectures on spatial statistics in natural sciences. This international Guest Lecture programme provides a valuable opportunity for students to get insights into other teaching methods and techniques from international visitors. It is especially valuable for students who are not able to spend a semester or more abroad, as it allows them to get some international experience. 


2nd Workshop with Prof. Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard University

2nd Workshop on Red Wood Ants & Statistics, 19 – 22 May 2015



The „2nd Workshop on Red Wood Ants (RWA) and Statistics “, organised by G. Berberich (University of Duisburg Essen) and D. Klimetzek (University of Freiburg) was held from 19th  to 22th of May 2015 in Freiburg. Participants came from the University of Copenhagen (N. Sanders & I. del Toro), Harvard University (A. Ellison), University of Duisburg-Essen and the University of Freiburg. The focus of the workshop was laid on “statistical approaches and methods”. A field trip to the Black Forest illustrated the relation of spatial RWA nest distribution, tectonic elements and mineral springs. The basis of the subsequent presentations, discussions and planning of future activities had been methods and results concerning

  •  „Detection probability of RWA nests“ performed in April 2015 in the Black Forest and conducted by G. & M. Berberich (UDE) and D. Klimetzek (Univ. Freiburg) assisted by colleagues of the University Brasov (Romania),
  • Results of a double blind study „RWA and tectonics“ in Struer/Thisted-Klosterheden region (Denmark); Editors: I. del Toro/N. Sanders (Univ. Copenhagen) and G. Berberich & U. Schreiber (UDE),
  • “Soil gas analyses in areas with and without RWA and tectonics” in Germany and in the Czech Republic; Editors: G. & M. Berberich (UDE), D. Klimetzek (Univ. Freiburg).

Based on these excellent data sets and results, appropriate statistical models were calculated and discussed. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for fall 2015.


„Heidelberg Initiative for the Origin of Life“ (HIFOL)

Wednesday, 17. Juni, 17.15 Uhr; Auditorium INF 252 – Neuenheimer Feld, University of Heidelberg


  • Ulrich Schreiber (University Duisburg-Essen): Origin of Life in Tectonic Fault Zones of the Earth's Crust

  • Christian Mayer (University Duisburg-Essen): Periodic Vesicle Formation in Tectonic Fault Zones: An Ideal Scenario for Molecular Evolution

see also:

HIFOL Web site;

Origin of Life – Press release

Life Originated in the Earth’s Crust

This at least is what the geologist Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schreiber and the physico-chemist Prof. Dr. Christian Mayer of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany are convinced of. After having presented their theory and conclusive experimental findings on a Gordon conference in Galveston (Texas) and a conference of astrobiology in Nara (Japan), they now have submitted the results to the journal `Origin of Life and the Evolution of Biospheres´ for publication.

„It is the first model on the origin of life which includes a complete process leading from inorganic chemistry to a protocell where the problems of molecule formation, local concentration, driving force and membrane formation are being solved simultaneously” Prof. Mayer from the faculty of Chemistry says.

Further Information: Origin of Life

High-pressure phase equilibria apparatus

New CO2 high pressure system in operation


In April 2014, the newly acquired high-pressure phase equilibria apparatus (SITEC -Sieber Engineering AG, Switzerland) was put into operation. With a maximum operating pressure of 1000 bar and a maximum temperature of 200 °C, the conditions of an open water column in the upper crust of up to 10 kilometers can be modelled. CO2 that turns into the supercritical state (scCO2 - supercritical CO2) at 73.8 bar and 31 °C is of special interest. Supercritical CO2 possesses properties of both, the liquid and the gaseous phase. It is highly mobile, has a lower density than the liquid and dissolves very well organic compounds (e.g., caffeine from coffee beans).

The plant is used for reactions, as they can be executed under prebiotic conditions in the upper continental crust following the models for the origin of life. These include the formation of vesicles, the coupling of amino acids to long peptide chains (and ultimately enzymes) and the formation of nucleotides as components of DNA and RNA.

The apparatus includes a reaction chamber of 36/50 ml as an observation cell, a cold light source and a colour camera system to represent the phase states on a monitor. Pressure generation of commercial CO2 is done by hand by means of a very fine adjustable hand screw press. An additional gas can also be transferred via the second connection into the cell. Sampling is carried out under pressure. Both the liquid and the supercritical phase can be sampled separately.


Workshop with Prof. Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard University

1st Workshop on Red Wood Ants, Tectonics, Geogenic Gases & Statistics, 2 – 8 May 2014

The „1st Workshop on Red Wood Ants, Tectonics, Geogenic Gases & Statistics“, organised by G. Berberich (University of Duisburg Essen) and D. Klimetzek (University of Freiburg) was held from 2nd  to 8th of May 2014 in Freiburg and Essen on the occasion of the visit of  Aaron M. Ellison, Senior Research Fellow in Ecology and Professor in the departments of Biology and Environmental Conservation at Harvard University. Participants came from the Charles University of Prague, University of Duisburg-Essen, Technical University of Dortmund, the University of Freiburg and the University of Heidelberg. During the Workshop at the University of Freiburg (May 5th) the focus was laid on statistical approaches and methods; the topics “Red wood ants, geogenic gases and tectonics” were treated at the University of Duisburg Essen (May 6th). Field trips to the Lake of Constance, Black Forest and the volcanic fields of East- and West-Eifel gave the participants ample opportunities for interesting and fruitful discussions. This allowed the development of further interdisciplinary approaches that will bring the project a major step forward leading to the second workshop that will be held in early spring 2015.

Two invited talks

"Origin of Life" – Gordon Research Conference

From 12. to 17. Jan. 2014  the Gordon Research Conference "Origin of Life" ( took place in Galvestone/Texas. Christian Mayer (Physical Chemistry) and Ulrich Schreiber (Geology) presented the developed model of the origin of life along deep reaching tectonic faults of the early crust.

Basalt 2013 - 24.- 28.04.13 Görlitz

EGU2013 & Basalt 2013

Why does the Size of the Laacher See Magma Chamber and its Caldera Size not go together? – New Findings with regard to Active Tectonics in the East Eifel Volcanic Field

At the EGU2013 and the Basalt2013 we presented our new findings of the tectonically active Neuwied Basin. Our results of gas-monitoring in mineral springs and mofettes show a split of the East Eifel volcanic field into two parts. Research on analyses of tectonics has revealed a 105° trending strike-slip fault („Laacher See Strike-slip Fault“) cutting the South of Laacher See and through the mofette field in the river Lahn. Regional strike-slip faults in combination with block rotation and uplift and a tectonic movement rates of 1 mm/year could have provided the voids for the magma chambers of the Wehrer Kessel and the Laacher See Caldera. Analogue models show that regional strike-slip regimes (including Riedel shears, chamber-localised graben fault, and a partial Y-shear) play a decisive role for caldera formation. Our research findings suggest that due to the slow movement rates of active tectonic faults, an estimated 18 km3 magma chamber within the brittle fracture section of the earth’s crust beneath the Laacher See cannot be confirmed yet. Additionally, the size of the Laacher See caldera with a volume of approx. 0.5 km³ (with regard to the pre-eruptive surface) is not compatible with the postulated eruption volume of more than 6.3 km³ magma and country rock. Therefore, an order of magnitude smaller magma chamber stretched over a longer vertical crustal section can help to better match the given tectonic movement rates and the size of the caldera.

See the poster:

Abstract: (Klick on "Abstract and excursion guide volume")

EGU2013 – 07.-12.04.13 Vienna

EGU2013 - Press Conference

Red wood ants bioanomalies prior to earthquakes are an important step towards the understanding of GeoBio processes but cannot predict earthquakes

13.04.2013 At the EGU2013 press conference on April 11, 2013 we reported our early findings of red wood ant (RWA) bioanomalies (suppression of the nocturnal rest phase and daily activity, continuing of the standard daily routine not before the next day) that have been recorded and analysed for several earthquakes with magnitudes of up to about 3.

The specific mechanisms for how and why they show such reactions need to be researched in in situ experiments and in close cooperation with biologists. An open question is whether RWA would react in the same way on earthquakes with higher magnitudes (M > 4), which have not occurred during our period of observation. This will be one topic of future research.

Although the investigation and results presented are promising, they are only a first step towards a completely new research complex. Long-term studies have to show whether confounding factors and climatic influences can clearly be distinguished. However, our early results suggest that it makes sense to consolidate and extend the research to determine a pattern for exceptional activity situations.

As clarified on the press conference, these studies are not provided for earthquake prediction, but are an important step towards the understanding of geobiological processes.

see also:

EGU2013 – 07.-12.04.13 Vienna

EGU2013 - Poster Presentation

Presentation of first findings of complex organic compounds in fluid inclusions of archaic quartz minerals

First analyses results of hydrothermal quartz minerals from the region north of Murchison, Australia, were presented at the EGU2013 conference in Vienna. They are from the Archaic Yilgarn craton and have different, partly unknown age. Samples from tectonic quartz veins and impact generated quartz of the Shoemaker crater revealed no unusual results, whereas the analysis of debris of quartz resulted from a conglomerate with a minimum age of 2.7 billion years, showed an amazing variety of organic volatile compounds. Possible formation processes are discussed similar to the Fischer/Troptsch-Synthesis, which were introduced by the published hypothetical model for the origin of life in tectonic fault zones in 2012 (Schreiber et al. 2012;

see poster:

see EGU2013-Abstract:


Energy reserves for the Ruhr Coal Basin

€ 1.3 million grants for energy reserve project approved


[23.11.2012] Project partners are research teams of the UDE and the Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB), as well as experts of the RAG Deutsche Steinkohle AG, DMT GmbH & Co. and Rhine-Ruhr Institute for Social Science Research and Political Consultancy (RISP).


The Working Group “Geology” is involved with a sub-project on the geological potential and the siting.


The Underground Pumped Storage Power Plants (UPP) is well underway: Preliminary investigations having already approved that mining shafts of the Ruhr areas are basically suitable for an environmentally friendly energy storage. Therefore the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia supports this project. With that, the feasibility study for the UPP is launched, perhaps a key element to further promote the expansion of renewable energies.

On 23.11.2012,  Udo Paschedag, State Secretary of the the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection, presented the subsidary note for the study of UPP to a consortium led by University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE).

The total funding for the concept comprises a total of approx. € 1.3 million for a 18 months project duration. With that the first phase of the two-phase project is funded.

Fig.1 Strike-slip faults provided pathways for waters and gases

New Project

Origin of Life in Deep-Reaching Tectonic Faults of the first Continents

The worldwide discussion on the origin of life encounters difficulties when it comes to estimate the conditions of the early earth and to define plausible environments for the development of the first complex organic molecules. 

A hypothetical model for the origin of life is proposed which will be used to design crucial experiments for the model’s verification. Because all proposed processes could still occur in tectonic faults at the present time, it may be possible to detect and analyse the formation of prebiotic molecules in order to assess the validity of the proposed hypothesis.


see also poster

Further information: 

Research Project

Underground Pumped Storage Power Plants (UPP)

The project is funded by the Mercator Research Center Ruhr, an initiative of the Mercator Foundation and University Alliance Metropole Ruhr.

Production facilities for renewable energies are usually time-dependent on environmental factors such as sun and wind. The generated power is not necessarily available when it is needed by the consumer. Underground pumped storage power plants (UPP) that can store energy until needed, can bridge this time lag.

Therefore, the Department of Geology, works in cooperation with the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management, the Department of Geotechnical Engineering and the Institute for Energy Systems and Energy Economics at the Ruhr University of Bochum on a Study on underground pumped storage power plants (UPP).