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Information for Researchers No. 27 | 24 May 2016
Priority Programme “Mountain Building Processes in Four Dimensions (MB-4D)” (SPP 2017)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established a new Priority Programme entitled “Mountain Building Processes in Four Dimensions” (SPP 2017). The programme is designed to run for six years; the present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Scope: This Priority Programme forms an integral part of the international AlpArray mission to image the structure of the Alps from their surface down to several hundred kilometres depth in the mantle. It tests the hypothesis that reorganisations of Earth’s mantle during the collision of tectonic plates have both immediate and long-lasting effects on crustal motion, fault kinematics, earthquake distribution and surface evolution. It challenges conventional wisdom by recognising that linked processes between Earth’s surface and mantle beneath mountain belts can only be explained by integrating 3D imaging of the entire crust-mantle system with geologic observations and modelling to enable us to look both backwards and forwards in time, the 4th dimension. This requires a multi- and interdisciplinary approach that integrates geophysics, tectonics, petrology, geochronology, basin- and surface studies.

Proposals are invited for four research themes:

Theme 1: Reorganisations of the lithosphere during mountain building will help determine the origin of switches in subduction polarity, particularly to understand how tears in lithospheric slabs nucleate and propagate in time and space. A detailed view of these deep structures with innovative geophysical methods will yield fresh insight into the structure and rheology of the lithosphere, especially as it relates to the response of the surface to changes of lithospheric structure.

Theme 2: Surface response to changes in mountain structure on different time scales will shed new light on the debate over the competition of climate and tectonics during mountain building. It will take on the challenge of distinguishing the effects of deep-seated events (including slab-tearing and – breakoff) and surface processes (e.g., glaciation) on erosion patterns, denudation and uplift rates.

Theme 3: Deformation of the crust and mantle during mountain building will resolve the question of whether deep structure manifests early stages of mountain-building (subduction, collision) or primarily preserves the imprint of later events (indentation, lateral escape). Determining this will constrain rates of structural change in the crust and mantle, and help us understand how subducted continental and oceanic lithosphere are preserved during exhumation to the surface.

Theme 4: Motion patterns and seismicity will identify spatial and temporal patterns of faulting and seismicity to gain an overall motion picture from the present back in time. This theme is aimed at understanding whether earthquakes, and fault and ground motion are related to the structure of the Alps or if a new kinematic pattern is already being established in response to current tectonics.

The data base for these research themes is generated in activity fields which entail operation of the AlpArray seismic network covering the Alpine orogen both on land (activity A) and offshore-Liguria (activity B), as well as the deployment of two swaths of dense station networks crossing critically active areas of the Alps – the Apenninic and Southern Alpine orogenic fronts (activity C) and the transition between Eastern and Southern Alps (activity D). Geological studies in well-exposed areas involve integrated structural, petrological, geochronological and/or surface studies (activity E) and are complimented by numerical modelling and tectonic reconstructions to analyse the dynamics of the lithosphere (activity F).

Study area: The entire orogen is covered by the AlpArray network of seismic stations. Special emphasis is placed on the tectonically most active parts of the orogen where the aforementioned swaths of closely spaced seismometers will be deployed for high-resolution subsurface studies. The focus of the programme does not include earthquake prediction or engineering studies.

Linked investigations: We seek integrated geophysical-geological studies with direct relevance to one or more of the research themes. Therefore, projects proposals are expected to include at least two Principal Investigators from different disciplines (e.g., seismologist-tectonicist or -petrologist, geochronologist-geodynamics modeller). It is further expected that projects will show how realisation of themes is intimately tied to data acquired in one or more of the activity fields. Proposals can be submitted individually (single proposal with several investigators) or in groups (several proposals with clear links to each other).

Priority Programme roundtable meeting: A meeting to present, discuss and coordinate research proposals will be held at the Bildungsforum Potsdam on 5/6 July 2016 (details to be announced). Please register for the workshop by 1 June 2016 with lerch@gfz-potsdam.de with a copy to juliane.rohlmann@fu-berlin.de. Potential applicants are expected to fill out 1-page forms with a summary of their proposals no later than 24 June 2016 (available at the SPP 2017 website) and make a concise (5 minutes, 3 slides) presentation of their proposal.

Submission of proposals: The anticipated starting date of the projects is in the spring of 2017. Proposals must be submitted in English following the DFG guidelines via the DFG’s electronic submission system “elan” (select “SPP 2017”). Please make sure that all project applicants register at least two weeks before the submission deadline. In addition to submitting your proposal to the DFG, please send an electronic version (pdf format) to the coordinator, Mark Handy (mark.handy@fu-berlin.de). Deadline for proposal submission is 26 October 2016.

Further information

For detailed information please refer to the Priority Programme’s website:

DFG’s portal “elan”:

DFG’s forms and guidelines for Priority Programmes:

For further scientific information, please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

For administrative and formal inquiries, please contact at the DFG: