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Biosphere-Geosphere interactions: Linking climate change, weathering, soil formation and ecosystem evolution


This project aims at a detailed multidisciplinary study of the initial phase of weathering to obtain a gain a better understanding of the processes occurring at the biosphere-hydrosphere-geosphere interface. We are also developing new geochemical tools to study weathering and soil formation processes. The results will be integrated in a numerical hydrological watershed model. The long-term goal is to improve our understanding of basic processes and improve our ability of up-scaling to larger watersheds and to forecast changes in the hydrology and element fluxes of whole watersheds with changing climate. The main part of the field research is carried out in the forefield of the Damma Glacier, in Canton URI.

P.I. and Project Coordinator: Stefano Bernasconi, Geological Institute, ETH Zürich

The Project is structured in 5 Subprojects:

  1. Quantification of organic carbon fluxes and dynamics at  watershed scale
  2. Characterization of the biochemical interactions between microorganisms and mineral surfaces and their influence on mineral dissolution rates
  3. Assessment patterns of community succession of higher plants and soil organisms and the ecological interactions between higher plants and microorganisms in developing strategies for the acquisition of nutrients in particular N, P and K
  4. Development of novel isotopic tracers for chemical weathering to characterize and quantify element fluxes such as Ca, Fe and Si isotopes
  5. Assessment and modeling of past, present and future thermal and hydrological conditions of a glacier forefield, which are the driving forces for the chemical, physical and biological processes

Third-party funding projects associated with BigLink:

SoilTrec: Soil TRansformations in European Catchments.

In this FP7-EU project the the BigLink field site is one of 4 european soil observatories which form, with the US based soil observatories related to the Critical Zone Exploration Network CZEN and the National Critical Zone Observatory Program one site locate in the People's Republic of China a worldwide network of soil observatories for the study of the life cycle of soils. The project is coordinated by Steve Banwart, University of Sheffield. 

Read the press release of the EU Commision for further information

Project duration 2009-2014

For further information contact Stefano Bernasconi.

Compound-Specific Radiocarbon Analysis of Lake Sediments: A New Tool for Dating and Reconstruction of Carbon Dynamics of Soils Through the Holocene

In this SNF Project we are applying the compound-specific radiocarbon analysis of individual organic compounds to reconstruct the long-term buildup of organic matter in soils. Through the analysis of the radiocarbon content of soil-derived hydrocarbons we are determining the rate of soil organic carbon build up around various lakes during the last 15 to 20 000 years.

Project duration: June 2008-May 2011

P.I's Stefano Bernasconi, Rienk Smittenberg, Irka Hajdas.

For more information contact Stefano Bernasconi.

Effect of cyanide-mineral interactions on granite weathering in a glacier forefield.

This SNF project focuses on the effects of microorganisms on dissolution rates of minerals based on field and experimental data. Fresh and weathered rock material will be studied systematically with respect to proton- and ligand-promoted dissolution, considering cyanide as well as the organic ligands oxalate and salicylate.

P.I.'s Gerhard Furrer, Helmut Brandl (Uni ZH), Michael Plötze.
Project Duration: Mai 2009 - April 2012
for more information contact. Gerhard Furrer

Climate change and hydropower production

In this interdisciplinary project research teams from WSL (Mountain Hydrology and Torrents), Univ. Bern (Hydrology), ETH Zürich (Atmosphere and Climate, VAW Glaciology, Centre of Energy Policy and Economics) and Univ. Zürich (Physical Geography) investigate the effect of a changing climate on the Swiss Hydropower production.

Project team: Manfred Stähli, Massimiliano Zappa, Mélanie Raymond Pralong, Jan Magnusson, Tobias Jonas, Dieter Rickenmann, Jens Turowski, Alexander Beer

for more information contact : Manfred Stähli

Mycorrhizal functioning of Salix helvetica in soils of different developmental stages

This SNF project focuses on the identity and function of mycorrhizal fungi associated with the roots of Salix helvetica on the glacier forefield and how this change with soil development. In particular, the role of different mycorrhizal fungi (arbuscular and ectomycorrhizal) on the acquisition of phosphorus and nitrogen from different soil pools will be quantified along the soil chronosequence.

PIs: Jan Jansa, Emmanuel Frossard

Ph.D: student Monika Welc

Project duration: 2009-2012

For more information contact: Jan Jansa

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