PhD: Groundwater recharge and soil moisture, two interacting key parameters at the interface between soil and groundwater hydrology

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)

Leipzig, Germany 🇩🇪


The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) with its 1,100 employees has gained an excellent reputation as an international competence centre for environmental sciences. We are part of the largest scientific organisation in Germany, the Helmholtz association. Our mission: Our research seeks to find a balance between social development and the long-term protection of our natural resources.

The job

The PhD Colleg LISA with 4 Phd positions will be launched in 2023. LISA is about exploring the multifunctionality of cultural landscapes in Germany and to examine the effects of climate change and land use in a model-based framework.

The main task of this position (PhD#3) is the development of a smart interface between OpenGeoSys (OGS) and the mesoscale Hydrologic Model mHM that allows for targeted two-way coupling between the both tools, and which will be then used to investigate the interaction between changing groundwater levels, soil moisture and groundwater recharge, and their effects on the root zone (FORMIND). This work will help to identify cross-model sensitivities and will provide improved soil moisture and groundwater recharge products for the mHM-based UFZ Drought Monitor.

Your tasks

  • Creation of a model catalog to investigate how the groundwater table changes affects soil moisture and under which conditions a transfer takes place and how this can be described quantitatively.
  • Using machine learning, the catalog data will be classified into more easily understood and groupable parts (clustering) and spatial area references will be established.
  • Transfer functions will then be developed based on the most significant groupable and dominant parts of the catalog.
  • These transfer functions will then be implemented in mHM, OGS or FINAM. The upscaling itself is to be performed using MPR.
  • The influence of the interface on the model results (mHM, OGS FORMIND) will be investigated using the LandTrans demonstration catchments.
  • Collaboration among the four doctoral students within the PhD college (e.g., discussion groups, synthesis paper, joint conference attendance)

We offer

  • Excellent technical facilities which are without parallel
  • The freedom you need to bridge the difficult gap between basic research and close to being ready for application
  • Work in inter-disciplinary, multinational teams
  • Excellent links with national and international research networks
  • Excellent support and optimal subject-specific and general training with our HIGRADE graduate school
  • Remuneration in accordance with the TVöD public-sector pay grade 13 (65%)

Your profile

  • An excellent Master’s degree in the research field of Earth and Environment, including systems science, mathematics, and physics.
  • Experience or training in areas such as soil science, soil physics, soil hydrology, hydrogeology, hydrology is a plus.
  • Experience in modeling and analysis of complex systems.
  • Good understanding of geospatial data (raster, vectors), and basic knowledge of machine learning techniques
  • Proficiency in computer programming (e.g., C++, Python).
  • Strong interest in studying regional impacts of groundwater level changes on the vadose zone.
  • Excellent knowledge of English, both written and spoken, and a dedication to publishing in international journals
  • High motivation to work in an international and interdisciplinary team.

Place of work: Leipzig

Working time: 65% (25,35h/week)

Contract limitations: limited contract 3 years

Salary: Renumeration according to the TVöD public-sector up to pay grade 13 including attractive public-sector social security benefits.


Your contact for any questions you may have about the job:
Dr. Thomas Kalbacher (





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development