PhD: Modelling social and environmental changes due to climate change and extreme floods and droughts

Updated: 4 months ago
Deadline: ;

Are you iinterested in how we reduce the impacts from climate change, floods and droughts on our society? Then Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam would like to get to know you. Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE: 0.8 - 1

Job description

Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of flood and droughts in river systems. Socio-economic trends such as urbanisation and increasing food demand put more pressure on the water system. Governments and households react to these systemic shocks and changes by, for example, building dikes to reduce flood risk and to construct of reservoirs and groundwater wells to cope with droughts and maximise crop production. However, it is not always clear where and what measures should be taken to maximise their effect and each adaptation measure also influences the hydrological and agricultural system. For example, some adaptation measures to anticipate to droughts (e.g. reservoirs) can support flood management by storing water during heavy rainfall. However, inadequate management of reservoirs can exacerbate floods downstream.

This research will focus on studying these human-natural feedbacks under a multi risk approach and by considering adaptation dynamics of water managers under both floods and droughts. This is done with a novel large-scale coupled hydrological and agent-based model. This model not only allows to simulate impacts of changes in the hydrological system on societies, but also to assess how society can reduce these impacts by implementing adaptation measures to reduce the impacts from floods and droughts. Several studies have examined the interplay between the behaviour of individuals and the environment using agent-based models, but only at the small scale. In contrast, the model applied here, can be used to study up- and downstream interlinkages in large river basins.

To this extent, you will further develop a large-scale hydrological model (CWatM) coupled to an agent-based model (ABM). The ABM simulates the behaviour of farmers, households, reservoir operators and governments and how they behave over time in response to the impacts/risk of floods and droughts. You will also investigate the effects of consecutive dry and wet events, the dependencies between them, and which measures reduce the impacts these multi risk events. To this extent, you will implement the coupled model for selected river basins in Europe and India by parameterising both the human dynamics (based on e.g. surveys) and natural processes. Furthermore, you will assess how future climate will affect the availability of water, agricultural production, flood and drought risk, and how individual or collective action can improve the environment.

The PhD project will be jointly executed with GfZ in Germany and IIASA and you will visit these institutes during your research. You will also connect to societal organisations (FAO, water managers, etc.) to derive more information to parameterise the models and on possible measures. The final PhD Thesis will be composed of four peer-reviewed scientific papers describing the model and simulation results.

Your duties

  • set up and parameterize the coupled socio-economic model for various river basins in Europe and India
  • set up scenarios with multiple flood and drought events (single and consecutive), and changes in socio economic trends (population growth, food demand, etc.)
  • apply future scenarios (climate change, population growth, GDP, etc.)
  • assess different strategies to reduce the risk from floods and droughts

  • a Master’s degree in Hydrology, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, or a related field
  • strong quantitative skills in data assessment, programming (preferably in Python, or willing to learn Python) and machine Learning/statistical methods
  • strong collaboration and communication skills to work in a larger team of researchers from other disciplines involved in international research projects

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organisation. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2.443 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,111 (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 one year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of three 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

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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 30,000 students. We employ over 5,500 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 institute and department
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

19 June 2022


Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

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

Name: Prof. J.C.J.H. Aerts or Dr J. de Bruijn
E-mail: or

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