PhD position in Paleoclimate research

Updated: 22 days ago
Job Type: Permanent

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100%, Zurich, fixed-term


The Climate Geology Group of the Department of Earth Science at ETH Zurich invites application for a PhD position in the field of Paleoclimate. The Climate Geology Group uses geochemical and microfossil indicators to study past climate and the responses of marine organisms to past environmental change. We run a broad range of analytical techniques, including stable isotope and clumped isotope mass spectrometry, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, laboratory culture of calcifying marine phytoplankton, and polarized light microscopy with digital image capture. In addition we have state of the art laboratories for sample preparation. The group has pioneered techniques for clumped isotope determinations in small sample sizes required for paleoceanographic research. The analytical capabilities are extended through open collaborations with other laboratories in the Earth Science Department and ETH-wide shared facilities.

We are a diverse and dynamic group of scientists with broad expertise spanning biology, oceanography, geochemistry, and surface earth processes. We are also committed to excellence in teaching including innovation in teaching techniques. We strive to train well-rounded, interdisciplinary scientists with a strong grounding in quantitative skills and hands-on laboratory training.


Project background

The study of earth’s past climate provides important context for the rapidly increasing anthropogenic climate change. While existing paleoclimate records provide general evidence for many time intervals warmer than present within the past 60 million years, for most time intervals there are very few quantitative estimates of past temperature and there are frequently large inconsistencies among different temperature “proxy” indicators. This makes it difficult to combine these proxy temperature estimates with model simulations to diagnose the forcing factors and feedbacks regulating earth’s climate in warm states. 

The goal of this research project is to provide new “snapshots” of the surface ocean temperatures at globally distributed locations during several specific past warm time intervals, the type of data needed to robustly estimate past mean global temperature and the tropical to polar temperature gradient during past warm intervals for comparison with climate models. To overcome challenges in existing temperature indicators, in this project, we will develop an alternative, independent indicator of surface ocean temperature based on clumped isotope ratios in coccoliths, mineralized microscopic plates of calcite produced by the photosynthetic marine algae coccolithophorids. The project involves calibration efforts comparing clumped isotope ratios in coccoliths produced in known temperatures.


Job description

The PhD student will train in the necessary skills to carry out the research, learning basic wet-chemistry isolation and preparation of microfossils for geochemical analysis, microscope and particle analysis techniques for characterization of microfossil samples, and analytical protocols for clumped isotope analysis. You will plan and execute data acquisition, from sample requests through laboratory and instrumental analysis and data reduction. You will assimilate and interpret data for group meetings, present at national/international scientific conferences, and prepare and submit results for scientific publications. All  PhD students spend 10% of their time contributing to department education and outreach activities, most often by assisting with undergraduate and master's field and practical teaching. Students are required to take 12 credits of courses over the PhD.   

The standard duration of PhD projects at ETH Zurich is 4 years. The PhD thesis may be submitted in English and coursework is available in English.


Your profile

You are a highly motivated student fascinated by climate and paleoclimate, excited by original research, and prepared to adapt and grow through the challenges of a research project.

You have a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Geology or Earth Science, or exceptionally a closely related field. Prior experience in a laboratory, as well as committment to learning to operate analytical instrumentation, is expected. You should have relevant courses in Geochemistry and Paleoclimate. Reasonable quantitative skills are expected.  Very good English skills, including ability to write and organize scientific reports and in English is expected. Prior competence in German is not required.


ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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