PhD: Modelling Coastal Flood Risk Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Amsterdam, , NL

Are you interested in how coastal flooding and long-term sea-level rise will affect human migration and adaptation to climate change? Do you have strong quantitative skills in modelling, data assessment, programming and statistical methods? Then please apply for this PhD position at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU).

FTE: 0.8 – 1


Future sea level rise (SLR), extreme flood events, and urbanization will increase coastal flood risk around the globe. In some areas, storm surges will coincide with extreme precipitation and river discharge in the same coastal areas. These extreme events, and the probability of having different events at the same time (or in consecutive order) may pose a challenge for coastal communities. For some areas, it is possible to invest in flood protection, whereas in other areas the risk will become too high and people will have to leave the region.

The ERC-advanced project COASTMOVE will tackle this challenge by focusing on what type of multiple hazard events can occur in coastal regions around the world, and how we can reduce the resulting risk. For this, a global modelling instrument is being developed consisting of different modules: (1) a global tide and surge model (GTSM), which simulates water levels at the coast. The model can be used to simulate water levels for the current and for the future situation with sea level rise (years 2070-2120). (2) a hydrodynamic flood model (SFINCS) for assessing the flood extent and depth resulting from different hazard drivers (e.g. surge, discharge, precipitation).  (3) This information can be used in an impact model GLOFRIS-ABM to simulate the impacts of extreme water levels due to different ‘multi hazard’ events. This impact information can be subsequently used to estimate how much adaptation and flood protection is required to lower the risk.

The research is part of the ERC COASTMOVE project, and will be performed in a multi-disciplinary team with 4 PhDs, all working on different aspects of coastal flood risk and sea level rise at the global scale. The supervisors also have different backgrounds, varying from economics to engineering and hydrology. They will support the PhDs in their research. Furthermore, Deltares is a key partner in this research. You will spend time at their office in Delft to work with modelling software.

Your duties

  • in the first part of the research, you will use the global tide and surge model (GTSM) to simulate extreme events due to storm surges. For this, we use, among others, the STORM dataset as input to GTSM.
  • simulations for different extreme events will feed into a new flooding module (SFINCS) provided by our partner Deltares. you will work at Deltares to simulate how these extreme water levels will propagate over land, and impact people and assets
  • using the information from 1 and 2, locations will be identified where high water levels coincide with high discharge and/or rainfall events, and  GTSM  + SFINCS will be run again to assess how these combined multi hazard events affect flood inundation and risk for the coastal communities
  • finally, using the information, different adaptation options will be tested in GLOFRIS to lower the flood risk from the multi-hazard events. Here flood protection, nature-based solution and re-location are possible options that can be explored
  • write scientific papers for international journals and finalize your work in a PhD thesis
  • present your results at conferences, and contribute to the department’s teaching programs


  • a Master’s degree in Hydrology, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Earth Sciences, or a related field
  • strong quantitative skills in modelling, data-assessment, programming (preferably in Python, or willing to learn Python) and statistical methods
  • strong communication and collaboration skills


A challenging position in a socially involved organisation. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,395 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,061 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 0.8 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 3 years.

Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:

  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalised benefits package


The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to around 6,000 students.

About the IVM research institute
Established in 1971, IVM is a leading environmental research institute that is internationally recognized for its high quality research output in a range of environmental disciplines, as well as for its interdisciplinary work. The mission of the institute is to contribute to sustainable development and care for the environment through scientific research and teaching. IVM aims to do excellent problem-oriented research that is useful to a wide range of stakeholders in the Netherlands and internationally. A unique strength of our research is to understand sustainability problems in their social and economic context. IVM’s research community works within four departments: Environmental Economics; Environmental Policy Analysis; Environmental Geography; and Water and Climate Risk. Since 2001 IVM is part of the Faculty of Science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
The department of Water and Climate Risk studies hydrological- and climate processes, and how these processes lead to risks and opportunities for society, the economy, and the environment. A defining characteristic of the department is a multi-disciplinary approach that combines expertise from natural sciences with knowledge from the fields of economics, e-Science and geography. This approach has led to a unique research portfolio of water and climate risk projects, and the department is a global leading institute in flood and drought risk assessment, and risk management research.


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your motivation letter, curriculum vitae, and the names and contact details of two references (we will only contact these for candidates selected for an interview) by 12 June 2021.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Prof. Jeroen Aerts
Position: Head of Department Water and Climate Risk
E-mail: [email protected]