Niels Hovius has been appointed provisional Scientific Director of the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam (GFZ). This was decided by the GFZ Board of Trustees in its regular autumn meeting on November 13th.
The 56-year-old geoscientist from the Netherlands took over from Reinhard Hüttl from November 16 until further notice. At the end of October, Hüttl was released from his position as Scientific Director at his own request.
Background are alleged compliance violations for handling funds reported by an anonymous whistleblower. According to information from the Tagesspiegel, the alleged irregularities in the use of funds do not directly affect the GFZ. The four-eyes principle was not violated there, and the funds in question were not administered at the GFZ.
GFZ has informed the public prosecutor
The GFZ had informed the Neuruppin public prosecutor’s office about events. According to the GFZ, a lawyer at the geological research center has meanwhile sent the public prosecutor a “comprehensive brief” on the matter.
In addition to the now dormant GFZ board position, Reinhard Hüttl holds numerous other offices and positions, including on the board of the German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech, as a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, as a member of the supervisory board of the BMW Group and as head of the Research Center for Landscape Development and Mining Landscapes (FZLB) at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU). At the BTU, Hüttl holds the professorship for soil protection and recultivation, which, according to the university, has been suspended for ten years.
No irregularities known at acathech or BMW
At acathech, nothing was known that there were irregularities there. According to BMW AG, the allegations have nothing to do with Hüttl’s work for the Munich car manufacturer. A response from the Lausitzer FZLB was still pending at the time of going to press. Hüttl announced on October 23 that he was personally interested in a “quick and unreserved investigation” of the allegations.
The now appointed acting Scientific Director, Niels Hovius, came to the GFZ from the University of Cambridge in 2012 and heads the Geomorphology Section. His professorship is a joint appointment with the University of Potsdam.
The main focus of Hovius’ work is the dynamics of the earth’s surface, in particular erosion processes and their effects on the earth system. Niels Hovius studied in Utrecht and did his doctorate at Oxford University. Further career stages took him as a postdoc to Ireland and the USA and as a visiting professor to France, Norway and Switzerland.
New territory for geoscientists
In the near future, the GFZ will primarily focus on bringing life to the new research program “Earth in Transition – Preserving Our Future”, said Hovius. “Over the past few years, we at the GFZ have worked together to design this ambitious and unique program together with colleagues from six other Helmholtz centers.”
The concrete implementation of the cross-center research approach from January 2021 means new territory. “But nothing excites geoscientists more than breaking new ground.”
The program with the English title “Changing Earth – Sustaining our Future” brings together several thousand researchers from seven centers in the Helmholtz research area Earth and Environment.
It has nine topics, each of which is processed by at least two Helmholtz centers. The GFZ is in charge of two topics: “Restless Earth” and “Georesources”. The Potsdam center is significantly involved in three other topics: “Atmosphere”, “Ocean and Cryosphere” and “Future Landscapes”.
In addition, the GFZ contributes large scientific infrastructures, for example regional observatories, satellite missions or the earthquake monitoring network “Geofon”.