Two PhD positions in Integrated Groundwater and Surface Water Modelling as part of the AquaConnect programme

Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands 🇳🇱


Are you looking for a PhD position where stakeholder interaction dynamics and teamwork are the keys to success? Do you have an interest in Integrated Groundwater and Surface Water Modelling, including the impacts of groundwater salinity on freshwater availability? We have vacancies for two PhDs in the new AquaConnect programme. Will you join our team?

AquaConnect is a large NWO-funded research programme with 13 PhD’s and 4 Postdocs supported by about 40 stakeholders that aims to develop innovative solutions for making water supply resilient against future droughts. Collaboration among Researchers and with stakeholders is an important part of the job. We aim to start with AquaConnect on September 1st, 2021. AquaConnect offers you the opportunity to obtain your PhD in advanced hydrogeology, to work with others and to contribute to a sustainable society.

About AquaConnect
The Dutch delta faces significant challenges in freshwater provision for industry, agriculture, nature and domestic water during increasingly frequent severe droughts and salinization due to climate change (and the associated sea-level rise). This requires a major overhaul towards a water system that stores precipitation surplus instead of discharging it to the sea and towards use of alternative water sources, such as waste water treatment plant effluents, surface water (e.g. rain) water collected from residential areas and brackish (ground)water. AquaConnect is instrumental in this transition by developing:

  1. chemical technologies, enabling the use of domestic/industrial effluents and brackish (ground)water;
  2. digital technologies to design smart grid infrastructures to connect supply, demand, and nature based storage;
  3. tools to manage related societal changes;
  4. and demonstrations in four utilization cases and international twinning.
AquaConnect scientific research will be performed in the following work packages: 
  • digital technologies to identify new (ground)water resources and assess the impact of its extraction on the environment;
  • risk-assessment of cyclic water systems that include nature-based treatment and storage;
  • chemical and physical technologies for fit-for-purpose water, brine and sludge supply;
  • freshwater provision governance;
  • the digital smart water-grid.

The scientific research in all work packages will be performed in close collaboration with a work-package focused on the application of the scientific results in four demonstration areas in the Netherlands. As a PhD candidate in AquaConnect, you will collaborate intensively with other (PhD) Researchers and end-users from various companies and institutes to translate your scientific results into tangible pilot-application and demonstration in these Dutch demonstration areas. More details about the programme can be found here

What will you be doing?
You will be part of a wide and dynamic consortium with significant social and environmental impacts. Your work will be beneficial to finding sustainable adaptations to the consequences of climate change.

As our PhD1 (Regional-scale integrated modelling and water self-sufficiency) you will focus your research on the following:

  • setup high-resolution and scalable Integrated Groundwater and Surface Water Models including salinity groundwater for several (mainly Dutch) case studies;
  • develop scenarios of water demand and water availability under future climate and socio-economic changes;
  • run sensitivity runs to derive fast models of reduced complexity to model the coupled hydrological-water provision system;
  • test the effectiveness of various aquifer storage-recovery and recycling methods in reaching regional water self-sufficiency.
As our PhD2 (Managing fresh groundwater resources using data-model integration) you will focus your research on the following:
  • set up a scalable hyper-resolution variable-density groundwater flow and coupled salt transport model framework around a drinking water pumping facility of a water company;
  • design and set up a monitoring scheme using in-situ and proximal sensing geophysics methods for 3D monitoring of groundwater salinity;
  • set up a model-data-assimilation framework to integrate model simulations and geophysical observations for optimal prediction of fresh groundwater dynamics and model-predictive control of groundwater extraction;
  • develop a toolbox based on the above that can be used at other water company sites.
Who are you?
We are looking for candidates with:
  • an MSc in earth sciences, hydrology, civil engineering, environmental sciences or a related field;
  • motivation to contribute to sustainable fresh water solutions;
  • demonstrable enthusiasm for numerical modelling of groundwater or surface water and mastering a scripting or programming language (e.g., Python, R, Fortran, C++);
  • willingness to work at the interface of academia and application-driven research;
  • the willingness to work in multi-disciplinary teams and interact with stakeholders;
  • English oral and writing skills. You should be able to demonstrate English language proficiency. We require a qualification English at C1 level (comparable to level 3 of the Lecturer Assessment Grid) or you should be willing to obtain this level by training;
  • preferably (at least) basic Dutch oral skills or a willingness to master the Dutch language.

You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to four years in total 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 €2,395 in the first year and €3,061 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). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

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 societal 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 Department of Physical Geography excels in research and education on BSc, MSc and PhD level. Our 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:
Prof. Marc Bierkens, via [email protected] or Dr. Ir. Gu Oude Essink, via [email protected]

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 below. Applications should include the names of at least two referees (with e-mail addresses and phone numbers). State explicitly for which position (PhD1 or PhD2) you are applying.

The interviews will take place in the first weeks of June.