How do liquids and gases migrate in marine sediments?

Geophysicist Dr. Christoph Böttner honoured with the BRIESE Award 2020 for his outstanding doctoral thesis.



The jury for the BRIESE Award for Marine Research 2020 honoured the outstanding research of Dr. Christoph Böttner from the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University (CAU) on the question of how fluids migrate in marine sediments. The migration of  liquids and gases such as methane has an influence on almost all processes on Earth and can also be relevant to the climate in many respects. In his research, Böttner combined methods from geophysics, geology and geochemistry in new ways to analyse the underlying geological processes in more detail. The award in value of 5,000 Euro is donated by the shipping company BRIESE Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG, with scientific consultation from the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW).

Fluids – liquids and gases, which follow the same physical laws – are important agents in almost all geologic processes on Earth. Although these processes occur in the Earth’s crust, they also affect the oceans above or the atmosphere. How the fluids get there depends on multiple factors such as the permeability or porosity of the ground, but also on the occurrence of geological structures such as folds, faults or fractures. In addition to these natural geologic features, human interactions with the seafloor, such as oil and gas extraction wells, are providing additional pathways. How exactly these migration pathways of fluids in marine sediments operate is still not entirely understood, and therefore forms part of the research of Dr. Christoph Böttner at the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University. “My motivation lies in the challenges presented to us by climate change,” said the marine geophysicist at the award reception in Warnemünde. “On one hand, large amounts of methane from sediments can reach the atmosphere through human activities, which should be systematically recorded for future climate calculations and should also be averted. On the other hand, a key technology for the containment of climate change relies upon removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in geological formations under the seafloor.”

Risks from carbon storage could be minimised

In order to be able to use such a technology safely and efficiently, it is essential to assess the risks – such as potential leakages – as accurately as possible. This also requires a fundamental understanding of the vertical migration pathways of fluids, according to the scientist from Kiel. As part of his research, Böttner also investigated gas leakages in the North Sea. In an area of around 20,000 square kilometres, he examined almost 2,000 decommissioned hydrocarbon wells and could prove which geological conditions increase the likelihood of unintentional gas leakage. He also researched submarine landslides and the role of fluid flow on the seismically active Hikurangi continental margin as well as fossil vent structures in Bulgaria.

New connections to a variety of scientific approaches

“In understanding the underlying processes, my holistic interdisciplinary and multiscale approach has proven to be particularly helpful,” said Böttner. This point was also particularly important to the jury in awarding the BRIESE Award: “The award winner’s work impresses through the outstanding combination of its core area, sediment acoustic surveys at sea, with a variety of other interdisciplinary data and scientific processes that he integrated in entirely new ways. It thereby achieves a scientific breadth that is highly remarkable.” The explanation goes on to say: “Additionally, with his studies, Christoph Böttner has succeeded to expand the understanding of natural fluid systems and shed light on the potential risk related with human interventions on the seabed such as drilling activities and CO2 storage.”

“The BRIESE shipping company is delighted that the award winner’s research has shed further light on such an important topic. The interdisciplinary approach fully utilises the potential of research vessels and shows the capabilities of these resources,” emphasised Klaus Küper, Head of the Research Vessel Department at the BRIESE shipping company, on the occasion of the 11th presentation of the BRIESE Award for Marine Research.

Information about the BRIESE Award Winner 2020

Dr. Christoph Böttner (born 1990) studied Physics of the Earth System at Kiel University (2010-2016). Inspired by the sea-based training at the university, lectures by the Club of Rome on the effects of climate change along with initial scientific experience with the Tsunami Early Warning System at the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, he soon focused on marine geophysical issues. In his Master thesis, he investigated active tectonic processes in the ocean offshore New Zealand, and their influence on slope stability and fluid flow.

For his doctoral dissertation, Christoph Böttner moved to the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel at the end of 2016. He completed this work in February 2020, with the title “Natural and anthropogenic fluid migration pathways in marine sediments”, receiving a grade of 1 with distinction (summa cum laude), supervised by Prof. Dr. Christian Berndt and Prof. Dr. Lars Rüpke of GEOMAR.

Since 2021, Böttner is a postdoctoral researcher in the Marine Geophysics and Hydroacoustics working group at the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University. Here, he has already initiated two successful research proposals together with interdisciplinary teams for the German research fleet. The BRIESE-Prize for Marine Research is donated by the shipping company BRIESE Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG (Leer/East Frisia), which is responsible for the management of medium-sized German research vessels such as the ELISABETH MANN BORGESE and the HEINCKE, as well as the larger research vessels METEOR, MERIAN and SONNE. The IOW provides scientific consultation for the award. Since 2010, awards have been presented annually to outstanding dissertations in marine research with results closely connected to the deployment of research vessels and the use and development of technology or data collection at sea.

Scientific Contact

Dr. Christoph Böttner
Marine Geophysics and Hydroacoustics Working Group
Institute of Geosciences, Kiel University
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU)

Dr. Kristin Beck
Media and Public Relations
Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW)

Sabine Kruse
Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG
Research | Forschungsschifffahrt
0491/92520 -164




Group picture with three men during an award ceremony
© IOW / K. Beck

The BRIESE Prize for Marine Research 2020, endowed with 5,000 euros, was awarded today at IOW to the marine geophysicist Dr Christoph Böttner from Kiel Christian Albrechts University (centre). Captain Klaus Küper (r.) from the BRIESE shipping company, IOW Director Ulrich Bathmann (l.).

Sunset photographed from a ship. In the foreground, measuring instruments and containers
© Christoph Böttner, Uni Kiel

The FS Maria S. Merian during the MSM63 exit to the central North Sea. OBEM (Ocean Bottom Electromagnetometers) in front of containers can be seen.

Original Publication / Dissertation:

“Natural and anthropogenic fluid migration pathways in marine sediments” URN (urn:nbn:de:gbv:8-mods-2020-00135-9), available at

Press contact
Friederike Balzereit
Science Communication Kiel Marine Science (KMS), CAU