PD Dr. Helge Niemann

Research Associate

Office room number 134
Bernoullistrasse 30
4056 Basel

Office phone
+41 (0)61 207 36 15

Research Interests

The interactions of life (the biosphere) with the planet (the geosphere) and its atmosphere are important processes maintaining the current habitual conditions on earth. However, since the industrialisation, atmospheric concentrations of green house gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have dramatically increased and human activities often result in the release of contaminants to the environment. As a biogeochemist, I am interested to identify and understand the controlling processes of greenhouse gas production and consumption. My particular research focus is on different modes of aquatic methanotrophy, which is mediated by microbes and constitutes a major sink for methane on earth. My research aims are to identify and to determine the distribution of methanotrophs by using lipid biomarker and stable isotope assays as well as basic molecular biological tools. Furthermore, I am interested in assessing fluxes and budgets by determining concentration gradients of important molecules involved in methane dynamics as well by measuring microbial activities with the aid of radio-isotope techniques. Study areas of interest encompass a wide range of marine and lacustrine environments. Similarly, I am intrigued by the capacity of microbes to metabolise unconventional carbon substrates, including methane but also other organic contaminants and the role of such unconventional carbon substrates in (microbial) food web structures.

In addition to the biogeochemistry of unconventional carbon substrates, I am also interested to investigate the potential of lipid biomarkers as proxy indicators and to apply these to geological archives such as lacustrine sediments. With the aid of proxy indicators, past environmental conditions (e.g. atmospheric temperature) can be reconstructed. This knowledge is is of paramount importance for our comprehension of recent and future climate variability.

Professional and educational carrier

  • Since Dec. 2007: Research Fellow at the Institute for Environmental Geoscience, University of Basel, Switzerland

  • July 2005 – Nov. 2007: Postdoc of the Microbial Habitat Group, Biogeochemistry Department; Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany.

  • Jan. 2002 – July 2005: PhD student of the International Max Planck Research School of Marine Microbiology (MARMIC), dissertation work at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (Bremen, Germany) with the conferred academic degree “Dr. rer. nat” (University of Bremen, Germany).

  • Sep. 99 – Sep. 2001:Completion of the Master course "ISATEC" (International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology) at the Center for Marine Tropical Ecology, Bremen, Germany with the conferred academic degree "Master of Science" (University of Bremen, Germany)

  • Sep. 1996 – Sep. 2001: Studies in natural sciences (general level in biology and chemistry; RWTH Aachen, Germany and University of Bielefeld, Germany) and marine ecology (advanced level; University of Bremen and Center for Marine Tropical Ecology, Bremen, Germany)


Annette Barthelt-Preis für Meeresforschung 2007 (award for junior researchers)

DFG Kurzzeitstipendium (short term scholarship)