PhD and Postdoc position in Physical Geography: Subsurface-related Dike Failure Mechanisms (1.0 FTE)

Updated: 3 months ago

PhD and Postdoc position in Physical Geography: Subsurface-related Dike Failure Mechanisms (1.0 FTE)


The Department of Physical Geography seeks a Postdoc and a PhD candidate for the project ‘Improvement of dike failure probability estimates using knowledge of the subsurface’ , which is part of the research programme All-Risk , funded by NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences . The project contributes to the UU Focus area ‘Future Deltas ’.


In 2014 the Dutch Flood Protection program adopted a new probabilistic risk approach for the management of the flood defences. Protection standards are expressed as flooding probabilities of polder areas, implying that multiple failure mechanisms for all dike sections within a dike ring must be considered, and then combined to assess the overall flooding probability. The All-Risk programme provides the scientific interdisciplinary support for this new approach, through collaboration of Dutch universities, Deltares, Rijkswaterstaat, Water Boards, and the private sector. The impact of All-Risk will also be international through collaborations with universities in e.g. Houston, Tokyo and Leipzig.

Various dike failure mechanisms (piping, dike slope instability near deep channel scour, dike deformation due to soil subsidence) are related to the sub-surface, which shows a great spatial heterogeneity. Current predictive models rely on over-simplified average subsurface properties or assumptions about relative contributions, resulting in potentially overly large designs, which need to be improved. The high-resolution geological databases of Utrecht University and TNO- Geological Survey of the Netherlands well document the subsurface heterogeneity, which shows systematic patterns associated with the processes that formed the deposits in the past.

The PhD project will focus on schematisation and prediction of subsurface characteristics from a geological and geomorphological perspective. The PhD will (i) assess the hydrogeologic subsurface properties relevant for dike failure mechanisms; and (ii) develop a method to link the pertinent properties to the subsurface architecture of the Rhine-Meuse delta.

The Postdoc project will focus on the efficient incorporation of subsurface characteristics into a 3D groundwater modelling framework to assess groundwater-related risks of dikes. The postdoc will (i) parameterize relevant subsurface and hydrological characteristics to be used in a  3D groundwater modelling and assessment framework for dike stability; (ii) use the modelling framework to perform quantitative model calculations regarding groundwater flow and erosion as function of subsurface architecture, dike geometry, and water levels, and (iii) explore uncertainties and relevant scenarios in line with those used in water practice.


Both candidates will closely collaborate with experts and stakeholders in Deltares, TNO-Geological survey of the Netherlands, Rijkswaterstaat, Water Boards, and the Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA).


We seek candidates with a strong motivation for scientific research, keen interest in translating scientific findings to practical applications, in the fields of deltaic subsurface geology and subsurface characterization (candidate 1) and 3D high-resolution groundwater modelling (candidate 2) and subsurface stability (candidate 1 and 2).


Candidate 1 (PhD)

  • has a MSc degree in Earth Sciences - Physical Geography, Sedimentology or a closely related discipline;
  • has knowledge of subsurface geology resulting from morphodynamic processes in lowland rivers and floodplains at centennial to millennial scales and preferably knowledge of geomechanics;
  • has experience in managing field-data, GIS map data, and computer simulation data.


Candidate 2 (Postdoc)

  • has a PhD degree in Physical Geography or Geohydrology or a closely related discipline;
  • has knowledge of 3D groundwater modelling, geohydrological field experience and preferably knowledge of geomechanics;
  • has experience with complex modelling problems and preferably with high-performance computing.


Both candidates

  • are able to work across different disciplines of physical geography, sedimentology, hydrology and process modelling;
  • have excellent scientific writing and planning skills;
  • are enthusiastic team players;
  • are able to place their results in the broader and interdisciplinary context of the All-Risk programme;
  • are able to communicate the main research results to professional end users.


The candidates are expected to be fluent in English, both spoken and written. Candidates who do not speak or understand Dutch are expected to be able to communicate in Dutch at a professional level within two years of the appointment.


PhD: a 12-month fulltime position with - at good performance - the prospect of a phased extension by a maximum of 36 months (in total 4 years fulltime). The salary starts with € 2222.- gross per month in the first year and increases to € 2840.- gross per month in the fourth year of employment at fulltime appointment.


Postdoc: a 12-month fulltime position with - at good performance - the prospect of a phased extension by a maximum of 24 months (in total 3 years fulltime). The salary depends on past performance and will be in scale 10.


The extent of these positions is 38 hours per week (1.0 fte). The salary is supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition we offer a pension scheme, a collective health insurance and flexible employment conditions. Conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. More information: terms of employment .

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.


The Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and anthroposphere. With a population of 2,600 students (BSc and MSc) and 600 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organization. The Faculty is organized in four Departments: Innovation, Environmental and Energy Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, and Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning.


The Department of Physical Geography conducts research and teaching and is partly responsible for the BSc and MSc programme Earth Sciences. Within the Department of Physical Geography, the research group Coastal Dynamics, Fluvial Systems & Global Change (CFG) carries out top-quality fundamental research that focuses on the natural and human-induced morphodynamics and sedimentary processes, patterns and products in coastal and fluvial environments, and their response to global change. The Earth Surface Hydrology Group has its expertise in the integrated modelling of soil water-vegetation dynamics, data-assimilation methods for operational water management and global scale hydrological modelling in the context of global change.

Aanvullende informatie

For more information please contact: Prof H. Middelkoop ( ), Prof M.F.P. Bierkens ( ) or Dr E. Stouthamer ( ).


To apply, please click the button below. Specify for which of the 2 positions (PhD or Postdoc) you apply. Provide a one page motivation letter, your CV including a list of publications, a one page statement of concrete research interests, and the names and contact details of three references with your application.

Reageren uiterlijk 10/07/2017
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