Research area risk

The “Risk” research focus at the Department of Geography is situated at the interface between nature and society, enabling it to form a bridge between physical and geographical process research oriented toward the natural sciences on the one hand and human geography oriented toward the social and cultural sciences on the other.

Risk is a multifaceted term in today’s society, and an academic and scientific approach to tackling risk issues is now deeply embedded in many disciplines. In geography, risk issues form an integral part of research and teaching thanks to approaches borrowed from the natural and social sciences. Existing dangers and risks can be exacerbated further by alterations in the frequency and magnitude of natural processes on and below the Earth’s surface, a deterioration in the quality of ecosystems or socio-economic changes. These changes and intensifications can fuel conflict constellations and debates over risk. Systemic risks and multirisks triggered by cascading effects can aggravate existing risks and produce new ones with a global impact, necessitating new governance structures.

Picture from the Ahr valley after the flood disaster in July 2022, showing a completely destroyed bridge
© Christiane Stephan/GIUB

The “Risk” key field focuses on so-called natural risks (e.g. earthquakes, floods, storms), which include both extreme events and gradual processes (e.g. soil erosion, climate change and permafrost degradation, and the degradation of resources and ecosystem functions). It also looks closely at concepts of vulnerability and resilience, including risk elements and how different regions and societies are exposed to them. The various facets of the term “risk,” ranging from basic to applied research, are explored with the aid of theoretical debates, empirical surveys, spatial analyses and modeling.

The Department of Geography enjoys a long history of risk research across a large number of projects. These are funded by various institutions, including the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the European Union (EU) and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. They focus on flooding (recurrence intervals, designation of floodplains, management strategies), mudslides and rockfalls caused by climate change, an “Atlas of Vulnerability and Resilience,” landslides or permafrost degradation in mountainous areas. The demands that society places on risk management in spatial planning are also studied, as are health risks, pandemics and questions of food security. Depending on the project, the focus will lie on process research in physical geography, on discourse in the social and cultural sciences or on the interface between the two.

Risk research at the Department of Geography enjoys close links with other subjects at the University of Bonn and other working groups in the Aachen-Bonn-Cologne/Jülich (ABC/J) geoscientific research alliance that are active in the region. The department was a founding member of the HochwasserKompetenzCentrum flood competence center in Cologne and is a partner and/or member of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), the German Committee for Disaster Reduction (DKKV), United Nations University (Institute for Environment and Human Security), the United Nations organizations based in Bonn (United Nations Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the city of Bonn (Office for International Affairs and Global Sustainability), and institutes at its partner universities in Aachen and Cologne and the Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Contact Information

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Lothar Schrott

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