PhD Researcher (Two positions in Critical Zone research) via LinkedIn

KU Leuven

Leuven, Belgium 🇧🇪

Two PhD positions in Critical Zone research
Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium)

We are searching for two enthusiastic PhD students to become member of the LandSense research team: “Pushing the boundaries of Critical Zone research: Unravelling hydrological controls on carbon and nutrient fluxes by integrating proximal sensing, field measurements and smart modelling” ( LandSense is a collaborative project between the Georges Lemaître Center for Earth & Climate Research (ELI-C, Professors Veerle Vanacker and Kristof Van Oost) and the Environmental Sciences pole (ELI-E, Professors Sébastien Lambot, Sophie Opfergelt and François Jonard) of the Earth & Life Institute (UCLouvain, Belgium).
The LandSense project focuses on the spatio-temporal variation in soil hydrology and its controls on carbon and nutrients fluxes in hillslope-floodplain systems in both temperate and arctic regions. LandSense aims to improve the fundamental understanding of these key critical zone (CZ) processes and their interactions by collecting targeted measurements using advanced sensing methodologies (e.g., UAV-based sensors, geophysical instruments, LiDAR, spectroscopy) across spatial and hydrological gradients. This will be complemented with state-of-the-art chemical and isotopic characterizations, giving insights into the genesis and dynamics of the soil mantle. These observational insights will then be used to study process-feedbacks and inform coupled and integrated models of the CZ.

PhD 1: CZ controls on the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of soil respiration in a coupled floodplain-hillslope system. The PhD student will quantify the variable nature and strength of relationships between soil CO2 fluxes and CZ surface environmental factors. The PhD will conduct research to (i) understand how the CZ structure, morphology and composition set the boundary conditions for shorter timescale soil respiration and (ii) discern the shorter-term effects related to soil moisture/temperature regimes, wet-dry cycles, aeriation and solution chemistry. To this end, high spatial and temporal data will be collected based on the combination of in-situ sensors and proximal (UAV) sensing.

PhD 2: Smart integrated modeling of key CZ processes. The PhD student will develop a new metamodeling framework of the CZ based on a smart combination of a distributed physics-based model and a series of deep neural networks fed by massive geophysical data and geochemical analyses of point samples. The physics-based model will mainly describe water and heat dynamics at the landscape scale, while the neural network will be used to integrate all acquired data as well as the outputs of the physics-based model to predict carbon and nutrient fluxes over the topo-sequence.

Each PhD student will receive a four-year PhD scholarship from UCLouvain. We welcome applications from motivated, curious students with experience in environmental research. Ideal candidates will have a MSc in geography, bioscience or civil engineering, hydrology and hydrogeophysics, or any related field; a strong quantitative and statistical background; excellent written and oral communication skills in English, an ability to work in field settings and interact with other members of the LandSense team; and interest in soil hydrology, C cycling and Earth Observation.

The Institution
The candidates will be hosted at the Earth and Life Institute (ELI) of the UCLouvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium ( Additional information regarding UCLouvain can be found at
The application should be sent in one single PDF including a motivation letter, a curriculum vitae (mentioning your study grades) and the names and contact details of two referees. Mention for which PhD project you wish to apply. The positions will remain open until filled by excellent candidates. Applications should be sent to [email protected]