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2 PhD positions in Physical Geography, Netherlands


The Department of Physical Geography seeks 2 PhD candidates for the project ‘Piping in practice – Quantifying how subsurface heterogeneity affects piping processes below dikes using combined 3D subsurface composition and groundwater flow models’, which is funded by STW.

Piping is a process of seepage-induced transport of sand underneath river dikes that can lead to failure. Prediction of piping hazard at delta scale is difficult because it demands detailed knowledge on composition of the natural substrate below the dike, e.g. grain size distribution, sorting and layering and on the way seepage water flows through this via preferential paths. This project aims to identify locations of increased piping-hazard below river dikes of the Dutch delta. The methods involve improved and extremely detailed mapping of substrate below dikes throughout the delta, experimental modelling of water flow through different substrate compositions and sedimentary structures, measurement of hydraulic characteristics of the subsurface at field test locations, and full-3D hi-res numerical modeling of the piping process. This will result in faster and more cost-efficient identification of locations at hazard of piping and better-informed assessments of dike stability, needed to maintain safety standards along 100-kms of dikes. The project involves 2 PhD projects, and contributes to the Utrecht University Focus area ‘
Future Deltas'. 

PhD candidate 1 will focus on schematisation and prediction of subsurface characteristics from a geological and geomorphological perspective. PhD candidate 1 will:

  1. assess the hydrogeologic subsurface properties relevant for piping;
  2. develop a method to link the pertinent properties to the subsurface architecture of the Rhine-Meuse delta using coring data and 3D subsurface models of TNO and Deltares.

PhD candidate 2 will focus on the efficient incorporation of subsurface characteristics into a 3D groundwater model and assessment of subsequent seepage erosion. PhD candidate 2 will

  1. parametrize for piping relevant subsurface and hydrological characteristics to be used in the 3D groundwater model and assessment models for dike stability;
  2. perform quantitative model calculations regarding groundwater flow and pipe formation as function of subsurface architecture, dike geometry, and water levels;
  3. explore uncertainties and relevant scenarios in line with those used in water practice.

Together the candidates will develop a GIS indicating potential locations of piping underneath river dikes based on detailed information and knowledge of subsurface composition and hydrological characteristics and resulting groundwater flow.


Both candidates will closely collaborate with experts and stakeholders in Deltares, TNO-Geological survey of the Netherlands, Rijkswaterstaat, Water Boards, the Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA), Arcadis, and Lievense-CSO.











We seek candidates with a strong motivation for scientific research, keen interest in translating scientific findings to practical applications, in the fields of deltaic subsurface geology and subsurface characterization (candidate 1) and 3D high-resolution groundwater modelling (candidate 2) and subsurface stability (candidate 1 and 2).

Candidate 1

  • has a MSc degree in Physical Geography, Sedimentology or a closely related discipline;
  • has knowledge of subsurface geology resulting from morphodynamic processes in lowland rivers and floodplains at centennial to millennial scales;
  • has experience in managing field-data, GIS map data, and computer simulation data;

 Candidate 2

  • has a MSc degree in Physical Geography or Geohydrology or a closely related discipline;
  • has knowledge of 3D groundwater modelling, geohydrological field experience and preferably knowledge of geomechanics;
  • has experience with complex modelling problems and preferably with high-performance computing

 Both candidates

  • are able to work across different disciplines of physical geography, sedimentology, hydrology and process modelling;
  • have excellent scientific writing and planning skills;
  • are enthusiastic team players;
  • are able to communicate the main research results to professional end users.

 The candidates are expected to be fluent in English, both spoken and written. Candidates who do not speak or understand Dutch are expected to be able to communicate in Dutch at a professional level within two years of the appointment.











You are offered a 12-month full-time position with - at good performance - the prospect of a phased extension by a maximum of 36 months (in total 4 years full-time). The salary starts with €2,174.- gross per month in the first year and increases to €2,779.- gross per month in the fourth year of employment at full-time appointment.


The extent of these positions is 38 hours per week (1.0 fte). The salary is supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition we offer a pension scheme, a collective health insurance and flexible employment conditions. Conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. More information: terms of employment.


About the organization



A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions, Life Sciences and Sustainability.


The Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and anthroposphere. With a population of 2,600 students (BSc and MSc) and 600 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organization. The Faculty is organized in four Departments: Innovation, Environmental and Energy Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, and Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning.


The Department of Physical Geography conducts research and teaching and is partly responsible for the BSc and MSc programme Earth Sciences. Within the department of Physical Geography, the research group Coastal Dynamics, Fluvial Systems & Global Change (CFG) carries out top-quality fundamental research that focuses on the natural and human-induced morphodynamics and sedimentary processes, patterns and products in coastal and fluvial environments, and their response to global change.



Further Information

Application Deadline : 20 August 2016

2 PhD positions in Physical Geography : PDF

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Posted on 2016-08-16 04:06:05

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