PhD student in Earth & Environmental Science: "The climate potential of gardens"

Updated: about 1 month ago
Deadline: 04 Oct 2021

(ref. BAP-2021-649)

Laatst aangepast : 26/08/2021

A 4-year PhD position (advisor: Prof. Ben Somers) focused on “Unlocking the climate change mitigation and adaptation potential of domestic gardens” is open at the division Forest, Nature & Landscape, department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (KU Leuven, Belgium). The Forest, Nature and Landscape division at KU Leuven has a proven track record in research with respect to the sustainable management of natural resources and functioning of natural and manmade ecosystems at different spatial and temporal scales. The group works on forests, natural habitats, agricultural land and urban green and their ecosystem services, as well as on the development of methodological tools needed to analyse and quantify science in these fields, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Decision Support Systems (DSS), multi-criteria analysis, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and remote sensing. The division also aims at making a contribution to the scientific understanding of societal issues such as climate change adaptation, biodiversity crisis and its mitigation, bio-energy, multifunctional forest, nature and land management. Much of the work is explicitly interdisciplinary, recognizing the complexity of ecosystems. Within the division of Forest, Nature and Landscape, the research group Remote Sensing & Terrestrial Ecology, headed by prof. Somers focusses on studying the role, vitality and stability of plant species and their communities in (sub)urban and semi-natural environments. The most recent developments in remote sensing technology are exploited to quantify vegetation structure and functioning at various temporal and spatial scales. Through integration of remote sensing, GIS and in situ observations in spatial explicit modeling routines we explore how, and to what extent, different plant species and/or plant assemblages contribute to ecosystem services. Central in our approach is the concept of “nature-based solutions” which refers to the use of nature in tackling today’s environmental challenges such as climate change, environmental pollution, food security, water resources management, natural disaster risk management, etc. As such we want to support the use of vegetation/green infrastructure in the design, organization, management and spatial planning of urbanized regions, thereby improving the quality of life of its inhabitants.


Gardens are an integral part of the urban green and blue network. In Flanders we have roughly 2.5 million private gardens, together they cover > 12% of the territory (as compared to 10% for forests and <5% for nature conservation areas). Despite their numbers and extent, the potential of gardens for climate change mitigation and adaptation remains underutilized. The main objective of this PhD is to help in realizing this potential through: (i) obtaining timely and reliable data on garden composition, configuration, use and management through an integrated use of novel data acquisition and analysis approaches like remote sensing, deep learning, and citizen science; (ii) strengthening the empirical knowledge base on the link between these garden characteristics and urban climate, by combining remote sensing and autonomous sensor networks; (iii) modeling and analyzing the actual and potential climate mitigation and adaptation impact of the Flemish garden complex; and (iv) based on your analysis provide recommendations to the Flemish government and other stakeholders on climate proof gardening practices and initiatives. 

Within the frame of this project you will have the opportunity to closely collaborate with researchers from the Department Earth & Environmental Sciences, Department of Electrical Engineering (ESAT) and the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute. Next to that, you will get the opportunity to discuss your results with representatives of public organizations and policy agencies. 

  • You hold a master degree (or about to finish) in arelevant discipline (e.g., bio-science engineering, environmental sciences,biology, geography, geo-ICT);
  • You have experience with GIS and remote sensing dataprocessing and related software packages
  • Knowledge of, or interest in, citizen science,sensor technology, urban ecology, and statistics, as well as programmingskills, are a plus;
  • You have obtained good study results and have goodwritten and oral communication skills in English;
  • Youare responsible, can work both independently and in a team, show initiative andseize opportunities
  • You can get things done


We offer a 4 year full time PhD scholarship, consistingof a 1st year and, following a positive evaluation, the 3 otheryears. The salary is competitive and the starting date negotiable (but notlater than autumn 2021).


For more information please contact

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