Ruprecht-Karls-Universitšt Heidelberg

Institute of Environmental Physics

Institute of Environmental Physics


Institut für Umweltphysik
Im Neuenheimer Feld 229
D-69120 Heidelberg
Tel. + 49 6221 54-6350
Fax + 49 6221 54-64 05

About us


In Heidelberg, environmental physics continuously developed since the 1950s from the application of nuclear physics methods to environmental research, mainly driven by Otto Haxel. In 1975, this led to the foundation of the Institut für Umweltphysik (Institute of Environmental Physics), the first of its kind in Germany, in the Fakultät für Physik und Astronomie with Karl-Otto Münnich as its founding director.
From the start, the IUP focused on the underlying physics of a wide spectrum of environmental processes and less on specific applications in atmospheric sciences, soil sciences, hydrology, or oceanography. This turned out to be a major strength and it continues to distinguish the IUP from other large environmental research institutes. With this focus, the IUP attains great flexibility in its methods and is able to provide an environment where classical divisions between systems and disciplines can be overcome. For instance, we investigate boundary layers between compartments which determine the soil-atmosphere and ocean-atmosphere interactions. This direction of research is also adopted by large international programs, like the International Geosphere Biosphere Project (IGBP), which in recent times focus increasingly on investigation of interaction between compartments of the Earth system. With its firm rooting in physics, the IUP sees itself in an excellent position to recognize and investigate system properties of our environment and the interplay of its subsystems (atmosphere, cryosphere, soil, groundwater, oceans, ...).

Current Activities:

The IUP is a strongly experiment-oriented institution. Our current major fields of research are:
  • physical foundations of climate research (budgets of greenhouse gases, oxidation capacity of the atmosphere, radiation in the atmosphere),
  • consequences of global change on central cycles in the earth system (water, carbon), and
  • reconstruction of paleoclimate from a variety of environmental archives.
Our spectrum of methods still contains those developed from nuclear physics inheritance, specifically the analysis of 14C and various stable isotopes including noble gases. In addition, we employ an array of new techniques like spectroscopy (of the atmosphere) and imaging spectroscopy, remote sensing from ground-, air-, and space-borne platforms, time series analysis, as well as experiment- and process-oriented modeling and simulation.

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