PhD position on modelling water in the firn of Antarctic Ice Shelves

Utrecht University

Utrecht, , NL


The flow of water through the snow layer on ice sheets is an important but complex challenge in glaciology. Even though it has similarities with groundwater flow through soils, models and methodologies are not one-to-one applicable to snow. Nonetheless, a thorough understanding of water movement on Antarctic ice shelves is essential to understand their long-term stability, as significant melt water ponding can cause ice shelf disintegration. Subsequently, if certain Antarctic ice shelves would disappear – due to enhanced snow melt in a warmer climate – a rapid deglaciation of adjacent parts of the Antarctic ice sheet could be initiated, potentially leading to a multi-meter global mean sea level rise.

In this project, you will first test and implement a novel 1D water percolation model in the polar version of the state-of-the-art regional climate model RACMO2. The second step is to develop and implement a horizontal water flow routine in RACMO2. The updated and evaluated model will be used to estimate the contemporary and future presence of melt water on Antarctic ice shelves for different warming scenarios and hence identify which ice shelves will become potentially unstable. You will collaborate closely with partners at e.g. IMAU and TUD, who will provide remotely sensed and in-situ observations of water and other surface properties of Antarctic ice shelves.

This position is part of the HiRISE project, a collaboration between Researchers at Utrecht University, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and Université Libre de Bruxelles, and funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The project combines field measurements, satellite data and climate models to chart the current state of Antarctica’s ice shelves with high resolution and accuracy and reduce the uncertainty in projections of sea level rise. The HiRISE team will eventually consist of four PhD candidates, four Postdocs and one Technician. During the project, you will spend part of your time at one of the collaborating institutes and actively exchange your results, ideas and plans during regular meetings with the other team members.

We aim to start the project on 1 December 2020, or earlier.


Our ideal candidate is driven, positive and collaborative and has:

  • a MSc in Physics, Geophysics, Meteorology, Hydrology or a related discipline;
  • strong programming skills (Fortran, Python or similar);
  • affinity with numerical model development;
  • good reporting and presentation skills;
  • an excellent level of written and spoken English; 
  • the ability to work independently, to critically assess own results and to cooperate within a wider research team;
  • affinity with modelling of hydrological, atmospheric or glaciological processes.
  • an inspiring, open-minded and open research group;
  • a job with national and international collaboration;
  • research on a challenging topic with great societal relevance;
  • a position for 4 years;
  • a full-time gross salary starting for PhD students at €2,395 and increasing to €3,061 per month during the appointment (scale P);
  • benefits including 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao).

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment yourself via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.

Over de organisatie

The Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU) offers a unique research and teaching environment, in which the fundamentals of the climate system are studied. Research is organized in five themes: Atmospheric Dynamics, Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry, Coastal and Shelf Sea Dynamics, Ice and Climate and Oceans and Climate. In 2017, IMAU research quality and impact were qualified as ‘world leading’ by an international visitation committee. Currently, IMAU employs 15 faculty members and 10 support staff and about 20 Postdocs and 20 PhD candidates.

The Ice and Climate group at IMAU is an inspiring, high-quality and versatile research group focusing on ice sheets, sea level, and climate. The group is world-leading in modelling of the ice sheet surface including firn, and maintains a dedicated network of automatic weather stations. Currently our research group has 5 staff members, 10 Postdocs and 8 PhD candidates. For this project, we encourage and provide financial support for visits to conferences, workshops and summer schools, and we promote national and international exchange visits.

At the Faculty of Science there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes which work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our familiar atmosphere and the can-do attitude of our people. This fundamental connection attracts Researchers, Professors and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the university and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.

Aanvullende informatie

If you have any questions, please contact Dr Willem Jan van de Berg via [email protected].

Do you have a question about the application procedure? Send an email to [email protected].


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, please respond via the “Apply now” button, enclosing:

  • your letter of motivation;
  • your curriculum vitae;
  • the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references;
  • the abstract of your MSc thesis.

If this specific opportunity isn’t for you, but you know someone who may be interested, please forward the link to them.

Due to the current situation regarding the Corona virus (COVID-19) the process of selection and interviews is subject to change. Initial interviews will most likely be conducted online.

Some connections are fundamental – Be one of them

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