Heidelberg University

Global Change and Globalization

Research group III:

Element Cycles and Socioeconomic Dynamics – Understanding Global Processes on a Local Scale (Canary Islands).

Natural element cycles and processes determine the natural volume and speed of elements moving through the biotic and abiotic spheres of the planet. Socio-economic dynamics determine the time, location, and intensity of human activities that provide additional mobilisation of the movements of these elements. Jointly, natural and socio-economic processes rearrange the patterns of what elements occur when and where in what amount. The starting point of the joint research group is the observation that the interacting dynamics of element cycles and socioeconomic processes are embedded in and increasingly impacted on by two large secular trends of our age, climate change and globalization.
While trends of climate change are well-documented and sophisticated models are available for future prospects on a global scale, downscaling the global phenomena of climate change and globalization to regional or even local scales has proven to be neither trivial nor accurate. Downscaling is indispensable, however, for assessing and calibrating any global model.

Interdisciplinary research approach.

Political and economic developments that made the islands undergo a severe transformation to monoagricultural land use (e.g. banana plantations) and tourism are being both challenged and amplified by changes in world trade rules, shifts in relative prices, and new patterns of income distribution brought about by globalization. This is environmentally important as mass tourism and extensive agriculture result in various important and interwoven problems: energy and water supply, waste management, pollution of water, air and soil, health risks for residents and tourists, stress on living habitats, etc. All these issues are interrelated. Furthermore, the Canary Islands are a hotspot of climate change with possible reorientation of atmospheric circulation and with sea level rise. The enormous transfer of dust from the Sahara to the Canary Islands, carrying important nutrients and pollutants may be significantly changed if the trade winds would be shifted to some degree due to climate change. This is also true for the hydrological system, since various islands totally depend on trade wind mediated/transported humidity.
The complex character of environmental issues is nowadays recognized as a multidisciplinary research challenge with interdependent variables. All fields are impacted by overriding scenarios such as climate change and globalization. Only by applying a holistic experimental and modelling approach involving a comprehensive set of disciplines within environmental sciences the results can be scaled up from a local scenario to a regional, trans-regional or global scale. A network of various natural and anthropogenic processes in an island environment is going to be unraveled to predict consequences if single variables (e.g. acidification, land use, agriculture, tourism etc.) are changing.


27th to 30th Sep. 2009: Project meeting and first joint field survey of the research group on Tenerife, Spain. The experts on geology, geography and botanic discussed the different research projects within the group intensively, planned further fieldwork for spring 2010 and got first impressions of the study area via various field trips all over the island. Moreover, they established future research cooperation with the University of La Laguna and the ICIA (Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias).

The participants of the first field survey of the research group "Element cycles and socioeconomic dynamics" at the peak of the Teide / Tenerife Island: (1) Prof. Dr. Heinfried Schöler, (2) Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund, (3) PD Dr. Ulrich Glasmacher, (4) Dr. Mike Thiv, (5) Prof. Dr. Marcus Koch, (6) PD Dr. Mario Trieloff, (7) Dipl.-Geogr. Sebastian Günthert and (8) Dipl.-Geol. Markus Heidak.

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Project 1:

Cycles of elements, nutrients and pollutants, and formation age of soil and sediments on the Canary Islands.
Ulrich A. Glasmacher, Markus Heidak (Research Group Thermochronology and Archaeometry), Bernd Kober (Research Group Isotope Geochemestry), Heinz Friedrich Schöler (Research Group Organic Biogeochemistry) and Mario Trieloff (Research Group Geo- and Cosmochemestry), Institute for Earth Sciences.

The research project will quantify the past, recent, and future element distribution in soils and sediments on the Canary Islands. Hereby, the influence of climate change and the impact of globalization revealed by the variation in time dependent environmental changes caused by humans on the island will be a major object. Special emphasis will be given to the quantification of the transport processes of selected inorganic and organic elements and gas species from volcanic rock through the soil and sediments into plants such as Laurisilva. Important for the understanding of the influence of long-term climate change is the determination of the soil and sediment minerals and the formation age of the newly formed minerals. Knowing the minerals and their formation age, it is possible to predict the climate dependent evolution of soil and sediments, and therefore, the evolution of inorganic elements and gas specious. As an important component for understanding the time dependent change of element and gas specious, plants and their ability of mineral formation, element storage or leaching have to be considered in the full description of climate dependent element and gas specious cycle.
Furthermore, understanding the geogenic in-situ element cycle allows determining and quantifying the anthropogenic and winding transported geogenic elements. In addition, elements in fertilizer will be considered that are induced into the Canary Island environment ot increase the productivity. The element cycle of these elements is partly depended on the interaction of the humans from the Canary Islands in relation to Globalization processes. We will select climate and plant sensitive main and trace elements and gas species to balance the element transport including elements introduced by fertilizer. The formation age of the newly formed minerals will be determined by different geochronological dating techniques such as 40Ar/39Ar, K-40Ar and (U-Th)/He. Cosmogenic nuclides will also allow determining erosion and erosion rates in the past. XRD and microscopic techniques will be used to determine the various minerals that bear the elements under investigation. Hereby, the minerals that form the volcanic rocks, the minerals of the soil and sediment profiles will be characterized.


17.th March to 14th April 2010: Tenerife fieldwork report by Markus Heidak

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Project 2:

The laurel forest: An example of relict biodiversity hotspots threatened by human impact and global change.
Marcus A. Koch, Anja Landau, Institute for Plant Science (HIP) and Mike Thiv, State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart.

Laurisilva or laurissilva is an endemic type of humid subtropical laurel forest found on several of the Macaronesian islands of the North Atlantic, including the Madeira Islands, the Azores and the Canary Islands. This vegetation is thought to represent a relic of widespread Pliocene subtropical forests. The forests are made up of laurel-leaved evergreen hardwood trees, reaching up to 40 meters in height. Many of the species are endemic to the islands and highly endangered. Consequently, they harbor a rich biota of understory plants, invertebrates, birds or insects. Laurisilva formerly covered much of the Azores and Madeira and parts of the western Canary Islands, but the forests have been much reduced in extent by logging, clearance for agriculture and grazing, and the invasion of exotic species. On the Canary Islands, roughly 60 km2 of laurisilva remain on Tenerife (nearly 7% of the territory), smallest areas on La Palma, over 20 km2 in Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, and relic areas in Gran Canaria. The laurisilva forests of Macaronesia are relicts of a vegetation type which originally covered much of the Mediterranean Basin when the climate of the region was more humid. With the drying of the Mediterranean Basin during the Pliocene, the laurel forests gradually retreated, replaced by more drought-tolerant sclerophyll plant communities. Most of the last remaining laurisilva forests around the Mediterranean are believed to have disappeared approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene, when the Mediterranean basin became drier and with an harsher climate, although some remnants of the laurel forest flora still persist in the mountains of southern Spain, north-center of Portugal and northern Morocco, and two constituent species (Laurus nobilis and Ilex aquifolium) remain widespread. The location of the Macaronesian Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean moderated these climatic fluctuations, and maintained the relatively humid and mild climate which has allowed these forests to persist to the present day.
The "ecological niche" of this vegetation type will be characterized by modeling approaches using temperature and precipitation and eventually trade wind influence as parameters focusing on Tenerife. This approach will require not only detailed knowledge on present-day distribution of the laurel forests but also its distribution prior massive man-made degradation during the last 50 years. Detailed maps on the maximum possible extension of this vegetation type under present-day conditions will result of the work. Further, biodiversity data should be collected from the literature to compare the different relict forest and characterize them independently. These data will be complemented by genetic data of species strictly associated with this vegetation type (target species, keystone species). Initially, Aeonium cuneatum will be selected, but if possible the study will also consider woody plants such as Laurus azorica. The genetic data will be used to calculate "past fragmentation", "actual gene flow" and/or "genetic isolation". In a last step a model of the changing distribution of the laurel forest under different temperature and precipitation scenarios reflecting global warming and/or direct human impact will be developed. Based on these data a predict of the magnitude of genetic erosion and loss of alpha-diversity should become possible.


4th to 25th January 2010: Fieldwork in Tenerife (participants: Dr. Mike Thiv, Anja Landau) to collect silica leave samples for genetic analysis of the two model species Laurus novocanariensis and Ixanthus viscosus. During the three weeks of field work, an exhaustive sampling of both species has been made for the most important parts of the island (Anaga, Teno and the area in between as well as the southern populations near Guimar). Connections with our cooperation partners Arnoldo Santos de Guerra and Alfredo Reyes-Betancourt (both ICIA – Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias) were established during meetings and several field trips.

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Project 3:

Carbonates as indicators for ocean acidification events.
Stefan Götz and Enric Pascual Cebrian (Research Group Quantitative Paleobiology and Carbonate Sedimentology), Institute for Earth Sciences.

One of the most serious problems related to anthropogenic CO2 release is the decrease of seawater pH due to hydrolysis of atmospheric carbon dioxide (Ocean Acidification: OA), which leads to a significant decrease of marine calcification rates. In times of rapidly growing coastal urbanizations which already are threatened by rising sea level, the deconstruction of natural storm barriers caused by decreasing accumulation potential of reefs and carbonate shelves is additional perceivable risk, specifically for islands and archipelagos. Moreover, OA also impacts marine food webs and alters the biodiversity and productivity of the oceans. OA probably increase coastal water pollution through reactivation of buried nutrients and a decreasing ability to compound pollutants. Research on this pressing scientific issue has to be multidisciplinary and includes research on OA events of the geological past. Their study provides important data about the response of diverse ecosystems to OA events, such as the ability of populations to undergo physiological and genetic (phylogenetic) adaptions. Unfortunately, the impact of past OAs is at present only poorly understood due to the lack of reliable proxies on pH fluctuations in fossil shallow marine benthic ecosystems.
Within the research project such a proxy will be developed by using the calcite/aragonite (C/A) ratios of benthic calcifiers. A new grinding tomography technique, recently established in Heidelberg, may allow for a precise measurement of these C/A ratios. Before applying this promising and potentially powerful new proxy in specific scientific projects, however, its natural variability and taxonomic bias needs to be tested.


12th to 17th Sep. 2009: Fieldwork and international project meeting in Maestrazgo, Spain: PD Dr Stefan Götz (1) and PhD student Enric Pascual-Cebrian (3) (Uni Heidelberg), diploma student Dominik Hennhöfer (5) (KIT), Prof. Ramon Salas (2) (Universitat Barcelona), Dr. Telm Bover Arnal (6) (Universität Bayreuth), Prof. Eulalia Gili (8), Prof. Antonio Obrador (7) and Diploma Student Manel (4) (Universitat Autonoma Barcelona) discussed sampling strategies in the field and arranged future research cooperation. Beside the already running Ex Ini II and the related DAAD "acciones integradas" projects, additional funding shall increase the research group. A proposal for a two year postdoc grant "Beatriu de Pinos" from the Catalanian government has been submitted. Figure was taken in Mid-Cretaceous carbonate platform sediments of the Aliaga anticline in the central Maestrazgo, Spain.

Fieldtrip from 12th to 17th Sep. 2009

6th to 12th Sep. 2009: Presentation at the 8th International Symposium on the Cretaceous System.The ISC, the most important international congress on the Cretaceous system, is held every four years, uniting more than 500 scientists from over 30 countries. S. Götz presented a lecture titled "Calcite/Aragonite ratios in rudist bivalves – a future proxy for Cretaceous ocean acidification events?". The lecture attracted much attention and additional international cooperation could be arranged.

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Project 4:

Growth, Conservation and Sustainability in a Globalized World.
Timo Goeschl and Larissa Weidert, Research Centre for Environmental Economics.

The link between environmental degradation and trade is one of the most debated aspects in international environmental policy. Due to their small size, less diversified economic activities, and transparent trade linkages, islands offer advantageous conditions for studying this relationship in detail. In the recent literature, island research has served both as a model of the deleterious impacts of autarchy on long-run sustainability and as a model of the damaging impact of trade on the natural environment. This inconclusiveness at the island level is unsatisfactory, but a result of the paucity of case studies and of data limitations within the existing case studies. Together, these circumstances prevent an exhaustive test of existing theoretical predictions and more robust prediction at higher scales. The proposed research will add to the existing research by examining the case of the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands offer a set of particularly interesting characteristics that lend themselves to closer examination: Much of the environmental pressure on the islands stems from two key industries, tourism and banana cultivation, that are also significant sources of income. Both of these industries represent hallmarks of specific globalization dynamics. Tourism is a service sector whose primary effect is a spatial shift of purchasing power. This spatial shift depends on low transportation costs and local infrastructure that can absorb additional demand. Banana cultivation on the Canary Islands is – on the other hand – a product of erstwhile trade restrictions in agricultural commodities that are increasingly under pressure on account of the global dismantling of tariffs and non-tariff trade restrictions under the WTO agreements. These industries compete for a number of natural resources such as water quality and quantity, but also form synergies in the area of landscape features that add to the attraction of the islands as a tourism destination.
This research will examine the subtle interplay of the agricultural and tourism sector in accomplishing sustainable growth paths for an island economy such as the Canaries. Building on the availability of high quality data on economic variables (GDP, import-export patterns, commercial coverage rate), economic policy measures (CAP changes replacing output subsidies with income subsidies) and environmental impacts (pesticide and fertilizer run-off; salinization), this research will build a stylized model of an island economy along the lines of Brander and Taylor (1998) and calibrate this model using empirical data. By doing so, the research will complement the existing literature on trade and the environment by validating theoretical hypotheses against high-quality data from an EU region and by developing and testing alternative causal mechanisms.

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Project 5:

Modeling and valuation of ecological impacts of land cover and land use changes on the Canary Islands.
Alexander Siegmund , Simone Naumann and Sebastian Günthert, Research Group for Earth Observation: Department of Geography at University of Education Heidelberg.

On account of its physical geographical characteristics, the island Tenerife is a popular destination for tourists, especially from European countries. Being in its infancy in the 1960s, the mass tourism increased from 1978 to 2008 almost tripled to about 5,3 million tourists a year. This development involved a social and economic change from an agrarian to a service based society. In fact in 2008 more than 78% of the people employed on Tenerife worked in the tourism sector, whereas in 1978 it was only 56%. These changes in the socioeconomic system lead not only to an increasing expansion of infrastructure based on land cover and land use changes (LCLU) but also to a spatial concentration of settlements. Because of the natural landscape assumption especially the coasts in the south of the island are predominant for mass tourism. The expansion of settlements (land consumption) and the increasing offer of work in these regions cause migration of the population from rural regions in middle and higher altitudes to the nearness of the tourist centres and the fallow of agricultural areas. The spatial dynamic of the new built-up infrastructure compromises the sensitive ecosystems of the island by minimizing, fragmentation and destruction. Especially the coastal vegetation and shrubbery vegetation (Tabaibal, Cardonal) are affected by the dynamics of increasing urbanisation and sealing.
On the basis of medium spatial scaled remotely sensed data the existing time series of land cover and land use change will be updated. Therefore an object-based classification of a current high spatial scaled satellite data scene has to be done followed by a change-detection analysis (postclassification). Taking into account the different driving forces for these changes a model will be set up to analyse and valuate the dynamics of impacts on different sensitive ecological areas, like for instance coastal vegetation and laurisilva. The intensive collaboration with the projects "Tourists and bananas trade-offs and synergies for island environmental management in a globalized world" and "The Laurel Forest: An example of relict biodiversity hotspots threatened by human impact and global change" is intended.

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