Emerging Field Grant

The Emerging Field Grant of the Faculty of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy seeks to support members of the Faculty by stimulating and strengthening rather risky research within the key research areas in new emerging fields. The grant awards a pre-doc fellowship (since 2020 within the framework of the Vienna International School of Earth and Space Sciences).

Award Winners


  • Awarded project:  "On the path to the detection of another Earth: exoplanet characterization in the era of JWST", led by Dr. Sudeshna Boro Saikia, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manuel Güdel (both Department of Astrophysics) and Univ.-Prof. Aiko Voigt (Department of Meteorology and Geophysics) in cooperation with Ingo Waldmann (University College London, UK). In the course of the project, a Praedoc position will be created.

The first detection of an Earth-like atmosphere outside the Solar-system would be one of the biggest scientific achievements of this century. Until now, determining the atmospheric properties of small exoplanets has been very difficult due to limitations in instruments and atmospheric retrieval models. The launch of JWST has provided us with a unique opportunity to explore the parameter space of the smallest known exoplanets, such as super-Earths and mini Neptunes. The aim of this project is to take advantage of new instrumentation, and advances made in atmospheric modeling and new cutting-edge machine learning techniques, to uncover the atmospheric properties of super-Earths and mini Neptunes, a necessary step in our hunt for another Earth. In our sample we will include exoplanetary systems with a wide range of properties and evolutionary history. In order to determine the atmospheric properties of our targets we will apply atmospheric retrieval models to observations taken by JWST and ground-based instruments. Furthermore, we will incorporate machine learning techniques in our atmospheric retrieval pipelines to generalize the models.


The end of the Permian is marked by a devastating mass extinction. Among the earliest buildups in the Triassic are microbial bioherms (i.e., reef-like structures) dominated by a cementing bivalve, which is tentatively assigned to the genus Placunopsis. The paleoenvironmental context of the bioherms is not well understood and no in-depth comparison of these bioherms with other bivalve reefs in Earth history has ever been conducted. We will map the bioherms to understand their environmental distribution in relation to the paleocoastline and study their composition macroscopically and from thin sections. To resolve the taxonomy of Placunopsis, electron backscatter diffraction will be applied to the shells. Petrographic and geochemical methods will help to determine the impacts of phototrophic and/or chemotrophic microbial activity on the precipitation and accretion of the micrite. We will evaluate our findings in the context of the paleoenvironmental conditions after the end-Permian mass extinction, which is characterized by the absence of typical reef builders like calcareous sponges or corals. For generalizations about bivalve reefs, we will compare our findings to other bivalve reefs through Earth history.


Thunder created during lightning storms are among the most striking physical phenomena that are experienced by the general public. Yet, the mechanisms behind their generation and propagation remain unclear. Detailed insight into their mechanisms can be provided by infrasound, but infrasound recording stations have been sparse until recently.

In 2017 and 2018, striking observations have been made of infrasound propagating across Eastern Austria, using the seismological AlpArray network, e.g. as those generated by the explosion of the Baumgarten gas hub on December 12, 2017, and also from thunder, e.g. during the severe convective weather event on May 2, 2018 in Vienna. We propose to study thunder infrasound systematically, using the multi-year coverage of the AlpArray network, as well as infrasound stations, and to compare with the Austrian lightning detection system. This approach will provide insight into thunder generation, regional infrasound propagation in the Alpine region, and seismo-acoustic coupling.


  • Awarded project: "Elucidating natural colloidal processes by single-particle multi-element fingerprinting with ultra-high frequency spectrometry" led by Dr. Frank von der Kammer in the theme Nanogeosciences of the Department of Environmental Geosciences and under engagement of Pre-Doc Jan Schüürmann.

Over the last decade new analytical opportunities have emerged to investigate the role and functions of natural colloids and natural nanoparticles (particles in the size range from 1 to 1000 and 1 to 100 nanometers respectively) in environmental processes such as pollutant transport. Only a small fraction by mass, the large specific surface area of colloidal particles makes them an important part of the reactive surface area on the planet, with direct implications on pollutant scavenging and transport. The concepts and methods developed within the Nanogeosciences theme of the Department of Environmental Geosciences, along with novel instrumentation now available at the University of Vienna, enable us to gain  insights into these processes on a (formerly not accessible) highly sensitive and isotopically resolved single particle level. This project deals with the occurrence, formation and transformation of natural colloids and natural nanoparticles and the associated trace metals in soils, sediments, peat, surface waters and ice core samples that reflect influences from pre-industrial to current anthropogenic pollution, with sample sites ranging from pristine to highly contaminated areas. Overall the project strives for a better understanding of the anthropogenic impact on the environment by untangling the complexity of natural colloidal processes.

The term Anthropocene is widely used denoting changes on the Earth System that result from the influence of mankind on nature. The awarded project focuses on the growth of the anthropogenic influence in the urban environments of Vienna and it surroundings, so far not evaluated with regard to the Anthropocene context. The term Anthropocene Surge herein refers to the accelerating growth - forward, upward and downward - of urban artificial deposits under cities such as Vienna from pre-historic to historic time, especially during the last century and a half, ongoing and still accelerating in recent and future times, caused by a combination of human and geological forces. The project aims among others to develop a classification of anthropogenic sediments of Vienna, to map anthropogenic deposits of Vienna using GIS and to develop 3D models of anthropogenic stratal units, showing their present form as well as their development over time. As general approach the project strives to contribute to the stratigraphy of the Anthropocene by exemplifying the evolution of the anthropogenic sediments in Vienna.


  • Awarded project: "Numerical Modelling of Restless Caldera Volcanoes" of the research group Structual Processes led by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Bernhard Grasemann together with Dr. Martin Schöpfer, Privatdozent (Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology) and ao. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Theodoros Ntaflos (Department of Lithospheric Research) under engagement of Pre-doc Daniel Woodell

Calderas are volcanic depressions of 1 to 100 kilometers diameter that form through catastrophic subsidence of the Earth's crust as a consequence of the fact that a magma reservoir has been drained during a major eruption and that its roof founders. The structure of calderas is poorly understood, which major challenges for risk assessment. In the course of this Emerging Field Grant project, cutting-edge 3D computer simulations of restless calderas are developed, which give insight into volcanic depth processes. It is still unclear whether these simulations represent the natural development of calderas, but the new methodology could revolutionize the research area of volcano tectonics.


Our solar system and in particular present-day Earth are characterised by manifold conditions. How can these conditions help to reconstruct the distant past of the solar system and our Sun. This is a central question of the winning project of the Emerging Field Grant 2013. While the diversity of extrasolar planetary systems and their stars make a clear statement more difficult, model calculations are intended to provide information about the origin of our planetary environment.