ERC Grant to Study Continental Climate Change Using Cyanobacterial Tracers

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Thorsten Bauersachs uses a climatic chamber to simulate the influence of changes
Thorsten Bauersachs uses a climatic chamber to simulate the influence of changes in water temperature on the growth of blue-green algae | Photo: Julia Siekmann, Kiel University

For his research on the use of cyanobacterial lipids as tracers for past continental climate change, Dr Thorsten Bauersachs, a researcher in the field of organic geochemistry and geomicrobiology, has been awarded a prestigious grant from the European Research Council (ERC). His ERC Consolidator Grant - an award for excellent young researchers and top research in Europe - is endowed with approx. 2.3 million euros. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, which form toxic blooms in lakes around the world, provide information on the magnitude and speed of climate change in Earth’s history. This data makes it possible to improve climate models for more precise prognoses of future climatic conditions. Dr Bauersachs obtained his project for Heidelberg University; he is currently with Kiel University.

Dr Bauersachs’s research focuses on microbiological processes in global element cycles, especially with respect to climate change in a geological context. In his ERC Consolidator project, "CYANITE - Cyanobacterial Glycolipids as Tracers of Continental Climate Change", the researcher investigates membrane lipids of cyanobacteria. Their composition adapts to prevailing water temperatures. Once embedded in sediments at the bottom of lakes and other bodies of water, the lipid signature is preserved over millions of years. To extract these signatures, Dr Bauersachs is developing so-called climate proxies - molecular tracers that allow him to precisely reconstruct climatic fluctuations in the geological past. Of particular interest are time periods that are considered analogues for modern global warming. These can be used to validate and improve simulations of past climates in order to refine prognoses on future climate changes.

Thorsten Bauersachs studied geology and palaeontology at the University of Cologne and received his PhD in geomicrobiology at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research on the island of Texel before joining the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University in 2010. In 2017, his work was recognised with the Pieter Schenck Award. The European Association of Organic Geochemists awards this prize to excellent young researchers whose research significantly advances the field of organic geochemistry.

The ERC Consolidator Grant is given to promising researchers whose own independent research group is in the consolidation phase. Scientific excellence is the main funding criterion.