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The Chair for Modelling of Biogeochemical Systems is located at the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Freiburg and is headed by Professor Dr. René Orth.

About our Mission:



The understanding of the exchange of water, energy and carbon between the land surface and the atmosphere is the keystone to many of the fundamental challenges facing humanity.


We strive to improve the physical understanding of the Hydrology-Biosphere-Climate system through land surface modelling in combination with the analysis of Earth observations at continental-to-global scale.


The group’s research focuses on the interface of soil, vegetation, and atmosphere. The exchange and feedback processes acting there can affect weather and climate, food production, water availability, and hence economy and society.


In particular, our research is directed to contribute to
(1) better understanding of land-atmosphere coupling
Key examples: Denissen et al. 2022 & Li et al. 2022
(2) improved management of extreme events such as droughts and heat waves
Key examples: O et al. 2022 & Orth et al. 2022
(3) more accurate weather forecasts and climate projections
Key examples: O et al. 2020 & Ruiz-Vásquez et al. 2022


Key Publications

Ruiz-Vásquez, M., S. O, G. Arduini, S. Boussetta, A. Brenning, A. Bastos, S. Koirala, G. Balsamo, M. Reichstein, and R. Orth (2023)
Impact of updating vegetation information on land surface model performance
JGR-Atmospheres, 128(21), e2023JD039076, doi: 10.1029/2023JD039076

Li, W., M. Reichstein, S. O, C. May, G. Destouni, M. Migliavacca, B. Kraft, U. Weber, and R. Orth (2023)
Contrasting drought propagation into the terrestrial water cycle between dry and wet regions
Earth’s Future, 11, e2022EF003441, doi: 10.1029/2022EF003441

Denissen, J.M.C., A.J. Teuling, A.J. Pitman, S. Koirala, M. Migliavacca, W. Li, M. Reichstein, A.J. Winkler, C. Zhan, and R. Orth (2022)
Widespread shift from ecosystem energy to water limitation with climate change
Nature Climate Change, 12, 677–684, doi: 10.1038/s41558-022-01403-8

Li, W., M. Migliavacca, M. Forkel, J.M.C. Denissen, M. Reichstein, H. Yang, G. Duveiller, U. Weber, and R. Orth (2022)
Widespread increasing vegetation sensitivity to soil moisture
Nature Communications, 3959, doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-31667-9

O, S. and R. Orth (2021)
Global soil moisture data derived through machine learning trained with in-situ measurements
Sci. Data, 8, 170, doi: 10.1038/s41597-021-00964-1 [Download Dataset]

O, S., E. Dutra, and R. Orth (2020)
Robustness of process-based versus data-driven modelling in changing climatic conditions
J. Hydrometeorol., 21(9), 1929–1944, doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-20-0072.1

Full list of publications


Current Research


Bogdanovich, E., A. Brenning, M. Reichstein, K. De Polt, L. Guenther, D. Frank, and R. Orth (2024)
Official heat warnings miss situations with a detectable societal heat response in European countries 
IDJRR, 100, 1042056, doi: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2023.104206

Khanal, P., A.J. Hoek Van Dijke, T. Schaffhauser, W. Li, S.J. Paulus, C. Zhan, and R. Orth (2024)
Relevance of near-surface soil moisture vs. terrestrial water storage for global vegetation functioning
Biogeosciences, 21 (6), 1533-1547, doi: 10.5194/bg-21-1533-2024

Paulus, S.J., R. Orth, S.-C. Lee, A. Hildebrandt, M. Jung, J.A. Nelson, T.S. El-Madany, A. Carrara, G. Moreno, M. Mauder, J. Groh, A. Graf, M. Reichstein, and M. Migliavacca  (2024)
Interpretability of negative latent heat fluxes from Eddy Covariance measurements during dry conditions Biogeosciences, accepted

De Polt, K., P.J. Ward, M. de Ruiter, E. Bogdanovich, M. Reichstein, D. Frank, and R. Orth
Quantifying impact-relevant heatwave durations
Env. Res. Lett., doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/acf05e

Hoek van Dijke, A.J., R. Orth, A.J. Teuling, M. Herold, M. Schlerf, M. Migliavacca, M. Machwitz, T.C. van Hateren, X. Yu, K. Mallick
Comparing forest and grassland drought responses  inferred from eddy covariance and Earth observation
Agr. For. Met., 341, 109635, doi: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2023.109635 (2023).



Yu, X., R. Orth, M. Reichstein, M. Bahn, C. Reimers, U. Gomarasca, M. Migliavacca, D. Papale, and A. Bastos
Widespread but divergent drought legacy effects on gross primary productivity
ResearchSquare, doi: 10.21203/

Denissen, J.M.C., A.J. Teuling, S. Koirala, M. Reichstein, G. Balsamo, M.M. Vogel, X. Yu, and R. Orth
Intensified future heat extremes linked with increasing ecosystem water limitation
EGUsphere, doi: 10.5194/egusphere-2023-1925

BSc/MSc thesis and internship topics

  • How is the water cycle, specifically the partitioning of precipitation into runoff and evapotranspiration, affected by climate change?
  • What are the weather conditions associated with strong Google search interest in pollen and allergy?
  • Comparing ecosystem impacts of different types of drought; low surface soil moisture vs. low deep soil moisture vs. low precipitation vs. high vapor pressure deficit.
  • How important are soil moisture and vegetation for weather forecast accuracy in recent heat waves?


We are happy to welcome students in our group! If you are interested please send an email with your CV to .