Phd Position: From Seconds to Centuries (Quantifying and Predicting Eco-Morphodynamic Interactions in Semi-Aquatic Landscapes)

KU Leuven

Leuven, Belgium 🇧🇪

Research in Hydraulics and Geotechnics of the Department of Civil Engineering at KU Leuven covers Urban and River Hydrology and Hydraulics, Coastal Engineering, Coastal and Estuarine Hydrodynamics, Remote Sensing, Sediment Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. Research in Geography and Tourism of the Department of the Earth and Environmental Sciences covers Fluvial Geomorphology, Remote Sensing, Sediment Mechanics and Catchment Hydrology, linking the functioning of geo- and ecosystems at different spatial and temporal scales to human interactions. This vacancy is embedded in the field of Fluvial, Coastal and Estuarine Hydro-Morphodynamics.

Background information

Coastal and fluvial landscape development is governed by continous interactions between water motion, sediment transport and organisms (e.g. plant or benthic animals), but can also undergo dramatic shifts in response to external factors (e.g. storms or floods). Eco-morphodynamic interactions are important determinants for understanding and predicting the development of semi-aquatic landscapes present at riverine, coastal and estuarine habitats. To be able to incorporate eco-morphodynamic interactions in predictions for safety (i.e. coastal and river floods) and resiliency (i.e. sedimentation/erosion), a detailed processed-based knowledge is required, which is recognized in the European “Green Deal” initiative.

Currently our understanding of small-scale sediment transport in and around plants and benthos is limited. Key uncertainties come from quantifying the interaction of vegetation and benthic organisms on local sediment transport during current and wave actions. This PhD position will work to quantify eco-morphodynamic process-based knowledge and incorporate them in state-of-the-art numerical models. The successful candidate will work on improving small-scale process-knowledge and work on frameworks for robust upscaling over broad spatial (m to km) and temporal (s – centuries) scales.

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The 4-year PhD work will focus on:

  • currents, wave and sediment transport interactions between vegetation and benthos at present flume facilities
  • improvements on sediment transport predictions in numerical models
  • up-scaling flume data for large-scale,long-term model predictions
  • validation using remote sensing

You will be based at the Department of Civil Engineering, but you will carry out research at the Department of Civil Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Preferred starting date: January10th, 2021.


You hold a Master’s degree in Civil or Mechanical Engineering, Physical Oceanography, Physical Geography, Eco/Bio-geomorphology or a related area. Experience in planning and conducting experiments (ideally in a flume setting with plants and/or benthic organisms), as well as integrating gathered data into models would be an asset. A multidisciplinary interest, with emphasis on geomorphological and ecological interactions, is necessary. Experience with numerical simulation of hydrodynamic (currents and waves) and sediment-transport processes (sand and mud) and model validation using remote sensing are a plus.

You must be proficient in communication in written and verbal English and already possess a good command of one or several programming languages (Fortran, R, Python or Matlab), or are willing to learn such a language. You are able to work independently and to formulate/tackle research problems. Additionally, we expect you to have an aptitude for both lab work and computer analyses and to have a pro-active, inquisitive, enthusiastic, creative and self-reliant mindset.


We offer a dynamic, friendly and stimulating international research environment. KU Leuven is a research-intensive, internationally oriented university that carries out both fundamental and applied scientific research. Our university is highly inter-and multidisciplinarily focused and strives for international excellence. In this regard we actively work together with research partners in Belgium and abroad. 

You will work in Leuven, a historic, dynamic and lively city located in the heart of Belgium, within 20 minutes from Brussels, the capital of the European Union, and less than two hours from Paris, London and Amsterdam.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Christian Schwarz, tel.: +3216326427, mail: [email protected] or Prof. dr. ir. Erik Toorman, tel.: +32 16 32 16 59, mail: [email protected] can apply for this job no later than November 27, 2021 via the online application toolKU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at [email protected].





IHE Delft Institute for Water Education - MSc in Water and Sustainable Development