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Miguel Dario Mahecha Ordoñez – this is the melodious name of Leipzig University’s new Professor of Modelling Approaches in Remote Sensing. Rector Professor Beate Schücking recently presented Mahecha with his certificate of appointment. He comes from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena and will begin his work in Leipzig in the upcoming summer semester.

“I would like to thank the Rector and the team from Leipzig University and the Saxon Ministry of Science for their commitment, which made it possible to bring forward my appointment as professor,” Mahecha wrote on Twitter. “The party’s cancelled, but I am still looking forward to meeting the geography students,” he added.

Born in the German city of Erlangen, Mahecha studied geoecology in Bayreuth and at the University of Exeter. Before that, he spent one semester studying Logic and Philosophy of Science in Leipzig. In his dissertation at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena and ETH Zurich, which examined land-atmosphere carbon dioxide exchanges, he used methods and models from artificial intelligence to understand global biogeochemical cycles. At the Max Planck Institute, where he has worked since 2006, Mahecha heads the group “Empirical Interference of the Earth System". He coordinated the BACI project, which ran from 2015 to 2019 (“Detecting Changes in Essential Ecosystem and Biodiversity Properties – Towards a Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index”).

“The rapid development in computer science towards fully automated methods that detect anomalies in complex data is also a crucial step in environmental research,” he said shortly before the project ended last year. “The project succeeded in combining radar and optical data that contribute to, for instance, determining biodiversity patterns in European forest ecosystems,” said the press release issued by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry.

We interviewed Miguel Mahecha:

What is it about your field of research that fascinates you? What are you most interested in?

Although we now know a lot about climate change, there is still a great deal of uncertainty. In particular, we know little about how the world’s ecosystems and their dynamics will change. Our hope is that we will obtain valuable information from the increasing monitoring of our ecosystems with satellites and sensors on the ground. So we are working on interpreting these sources of information. One focus of my work is, for instance, to understand how climate extremes affect ecosystems and their services.

Can you briefly name some of the focal points that you want to set in your teaching?

Our working group wants to help make geography students fit for these “data-intensive” times. Using free software and open data, we want to look at and answer current questions in environmental sciences on large spatial scales together with students.

Will you be teaching this summer semester?

Yes, we’ll start in the summer semester. Due to the current situation, initially with remote learning. I’m confident that this can work. But we are very much dependent on the enthusiasm of the students and ask for patience if everything does not go smoothly right away.

Please finish the following sentence: “For me, Leipzig University is ...”

... the place to be if you work in modern environmental research. Together with the supra-regional German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig University offers ideal conditions, which I am very much looking forward to.

What are your hobbies?

If I have time for anything other than work and my children, which is rarely the case, then there’s my cello, garden, sports, ...

Do you have a motto in life that helps you through difficult phases?

As we can see right now, there is unfortunately no simple answer to this question. Every difficult phase probably needs its own motto.