PhD Position: Joint Research on the Common Meuse! Improving Fluvial Morphodynamics to Meet Ecological Standards (1.0 FTE)

Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands 🇳🇱

The Department of Physical Geography is searching for a PhD candidate who will study the hydromorphological processes that have led to the low aquatic biodiversity of the Common Meuse river (Maas in Dutch). The aim is to improve our understanding of these processes in order to find appropriate interventions for habitat restoration. This project is funded by Rivers2Morrow, a research programme of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and its executive organisation Rijkswaterstaat. The research will be carried out in close cooperation with ecologists from the Radboud University and experts from Rijkswaterstaat.

The Common Meuse river is an ecologically important meandering gravel-bed river in the south-east of the Netherlands. The aquatic biodiversity of the Common Meuse does not comply with standards set by the EU Water Framework Directive. The cause is unknown, but it is hypothesised to be related to the lack of suitable habitat due to:
strong armouring of the river bed;
bank protection, and;
filling up of the pores in the gravel with fine sediment.
To test these hypotheses, you will study the spatiotemporal distribution of suitable aquatic habitat and the functioning of the hyporheic zone in relation to the hydromorphological processes. You will then use the new analyses and understanding to suggest, and on a local scale test, new management strategies, for example introduction of large wood to enhance local turbulence, and fine gravel suppletion to mobilise the armoured bed.

What will you be doing?
This study covers the full breadth of river research. You will combine fieldwork and spatial data analyses with modelling to substantiate the new management strategies. Fieldwork includes sediment sampling for grain size distributions, mapping of bedding pavement, measuring of hyporheic flow before and after flood peaks in collaboration with the ecologists. The spatial data analyses integrate (historic) field data and output from hydromorphodynamic models with bathymetric data to map habitat suitability for key species. A long term perspective should provide insight in the relationship between hydromorphological conditions and habitat suitability. With these data, you will be able to answer specific questions, such as: “What fraction of the common Meuse is currently ecologically suitable given the three-dimensional grain size distribution?” This is a unique opportunity to contribute to major scientific and societal questions while working on a doctorate. An important aspect of this project will be communication with, and knowledge transfer to, the ecologists, the river managers, policy makers and other stakeholders.

To support academic and personal development, PhD candidates at Utrecht University follow courses and assist in teaching at Bachelor’s and Master’s level at our faculty. Together these activities amount to approximately 20% of the contracted time.

Are you an enthusiastic candidate who is interested in bridging the gap between fluvial morphology and ecology? Who has a drive to combine fieldwork and data analyses across a range of spatial and temporal scales in a real-world setting? If you have a broad interest in geosciences and are curiosity-driven, are a team player who is able to work in an interdisciplinary environment, and willing to develop communication skills for transdisciplinary exchange, then we are looking for you.

  • We encourage you to apply if you have:
  • an MSc in earth sciences, physical geography, civil engineering, spatial data science, landscape ecology, or a related field;
  • affinity with and skills in fieldwork and data wrangling;
  • motivation to work in an interdisciplinary team with ecologists and river managers;
  • demonstrated experience with river research and enjoy fieldwork;
  • good English oral and writing skills: English at C1 level or better (comparable to level 3 of the Lecturer Assessment Grid) qualifies. Knowledge of the Dutch language would benefit interaction with Dutch governmental institutions.

You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.

Over de organisatie
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 strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including man’s spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development. The faculty is located at Utrecht Science Park near the historical city centre of Utrecht.

The Department of Physical Geography has the ambition to excel in research and education on BSc, MSc and PhD level. Its research focuses on processes, patterns and dynamics of Earth’s continental and coastal systems, and on the interaction between these processes. This knowledge is essential for the sustainable management of our planet and to guarantee the availability of resources for the next generations.

Aanvullende informatie
For more information about this position, please contact Dr. Menno Straatsma, via or Professor Dr. Maarten Kleinhans, via

Note that international candidates needing a visa/work permit for the Netherlands require at least four months processing time after selection and acceptance. This will be arranged with help of the International Service Desk (ISD) of our university. Finding appropriate housing in or near Utrecht is your own responsibility, but the ISD may be able to advise you therewith. For general questions that you might have about working and living in The Netherlands, please consult the Dutch Mobility Portal where much information can be found.

Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button. Also include the names of at least two referees (with e-mail contact addresses and phone numbers).

The interviews will be scheduled for 14 and 17 April 2023. The intended starting date for the PhD project is 1 June 2023.

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