PhD candidate “Fresh groundwater reserves in 40 major deltas under global change” (1.0 fte)

Job description

The growing population and booming economy in deltas, often occurring in mega-cities, will increasingly tax existing groundwater reserves, notably through excessive groundwater abstraction and urbanisation that results in the sealing of aquifers to groundwater recharge. As deltas are already under threat by climate change and sea-level rise, the confounding effects of these stressors will most likely lead to enhanced depletion and salinisation of fresh groundwater resources. At the same time, groundwater reserves are key to solving the problem of future water scarcity in deltas under a growing climate- and socio-economic change. Until our technologies are advanced enough to increase supply (using water of lesser quality) or reduce demand, fresh groundwater will be of vital importance to economic (agricultural and industrial) development in many countries. Here will we apply a combination of state-of-the-art models of surface water hydrology and variable-density groundwater flow to estimate the current fresh groundwater reserves and distributions in 40 major deltas around the world as well as their projected trends under climate- and socio-economic change. This novel approach includes the detailed palaeo-hydrogeological modelling of four deltas in combination with assessing the main factors explaining the fresh-salt groundwater distribution in deltas and mapping these factors worldwide. Using this setup, we will greatly increase understanding of salinisation processes in deltas and contribute to better coastal groundwater management. We will also analyse the effectiveness of possible mitigating measures (such as reducing groundwater abstraction, implementing aquifer storage and recovery) to safeguard or even increase fresh groundwater reserves in the near future.

The research project is funded by NWO the New Delta Program and will be conducted in close cooperation with Deltares. For more information contact Prof. Marc Bierkens (


Highly motivated candidates with an MSc degree in hydrology, hydrogeology, physical geography, civil engineering, applied mathematics or a related field are encouraged to apply. The candidate should have a proven knowledge of numerical modelling and programming experience is a serious advantage. He/she should be proficient in English and have excellent scientific writing and presenting skills. The candidate is an enthusiastic team player and has good communicational skills. Candidates who do not speak or understand Dutch are expected to communicate in Dutch within two years.


The three PhD candidates are offered a one-year fulltime position with -at good performance- the prospect of an extension with a maximum of three years (in total 4 years fulltime). The salary starts with €2.125,- gross per month in the first year and increases to €2.717 gross per month in the fourth year of employment at fulltime appointment.

The extent of these positions officially 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 Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities.

About the organisation

Utrecht University has great ambitions for its teaching quality and study success rates. This also applies to its clear research profiles which are centred around four themes: Dynamics of Youth, Institutions, Life Sciences and Sustainability. Utrecht University plays a prominent role in our society and contributes to finding the answers to topical and future societal issues. The program Water, Climate & Ecosystems resorts under the theme Sustainability and joins together scientists from a vast range of disciplines to understand the interplay between the hydrological cycle, the climate system and life on earth.

The Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. With a population of 2200 students (BSc and MSc) and 425 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty is organised in four Departments: Innovation and Environmental Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, and Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning.

The Earth Surface Hydrology group ( is part of the Department of Physical Geography. Its expertise includes 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. The group has built the next-generation global hydrological model PCR-GLOBWB, which is widely used in various global or continental hydrological analyses


To apply please go to the UU vacancy website (, find the adverb under “”The program Water Climate & Ecosystems at Utrecht University is hiring 3 PhD Candidates” and use the link to attach a letter of motivation, curriculum vitae with description of master research project, list of grades at the master level, and (email) addresses of two references. Application deadline is October 1st, 2015

[added: 24-8-2015]