PhD on deep carbon and water cycling in subduction zones (1.0 FTE, 4 years)

Hours per week: 
36 to 40
Faculty of Geosciences
GEO / Dept AW
Application deadline: 

Job description

The Department of Earth Sciences is now looking for a highly-motivated, high-potential applicant to fill a PhD position on deep carbon and water cycling in subduction zones. Subduction zones are critical for the large-scale cycles of the Earth’s most important volatiles, carbon and hydrogen, between the deep mantle and the surface. Within subduction zones, volatile release due to mineral reactions is so prolific that it triggers earthquakes and explosive volcanism. In addition, the return flux of volatiles from subduction zones to the atmosphere influences global climate. However, the amount of volatiles, particularly carbon, that is returned to the surface is currently highly debated.
The Dutch Research Council VIDI project, led by Dr Oliver Plümper, ‘A multi-scale mechanistic approach to quantifying the release of volatiles in subduction zones' (short: RELEASE), will focus on the coupling between carbon- and water-releasing mineral reactions. The 4-year PhD project advertised here aims at joining next-generation analytical and machine-learning approaches with field-scale observations to decipher volatile release mechanisms and the evolution of fluid escape networks. The outcomes of this PhD project will be incorporated into a team-effort to re-evaluate H2O- and CO2-release fluxes within subduction zones.

The PhD project will develop a visualisation approach that bridges the entire scope of transport pathways in a correlative manner. Geological patterns of volatile release will be recorded using aerial drone imaging and analysed using fluid transport theory. In a next step the PhD project will expose microscopic transport networks by applying correlative X-ray tomography strategies with next-generation automated electron microscopy to unlock microscopic devolatilization domains that in turn can be directly linked with macroscale patterns. This correlative imaging workflow coupled to machine-learning-driven pattern analysis provides the input to quantify the evolution of fluid pathways and mass transport in devolatilizing systems.

The PhD candidate will engage in a trans-disciplinary research environment by closely collaborating with two postdoctoral fellows who are also part of the RELEASE project and numerous PhD students working in the field of fluid-rock interactions. Fieldwork campaigns are planned to take place in Norway, Greece and Japan. As such, the PhD candidate will be jointly supervised by Dr Andreas Beinlich at the University of Bergen (UoB), Norway and collaborate with the Tohoku University, Japan. Research visits to both institutions are anticipated.

A personalised training programme will be set up, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives. As part of this training, up to 10% of the candidate's time will be dedicated to assisting in Bachelor's and Master's teaching programmes.


We are seeking a PhD candidate with a MSc degree in earth sciences (obtained by the time the position starts) with a demonstrable affinity for quantitative field geology, microstructural analysis, and geochemistry. The applicant must have good mathematical and programming skills and ideally an interest in upscaling theory and/or machine-learning. Moreover, the applicant should have excellent written and spoken English skills and be highly motivated to work in an international multidisciplinary team.


We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to four years in total upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary - depending on previous qualifications and experience  - ranges between €2,395 in the first year and €3,061 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

About the organisation

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.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts research and teaching across the full range of the solid Earth and environmental earth sciences, with activities in almost all areas of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biogeology and hydrogeology. The department hosts an international tenured staff of over 45 scientists and more than 110 PhD candidates and Postdoctoral Researchers. Our research programme spans four intertwined themes: Climate & Life, Earth interior, Earth materials, and Environmental Earth Sciences. We house or have access to a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

The PhD project is based within the Structural Geology & Electron Microscopy Group. The group focuses on fluid-rock interaction and rock deformation processes in the Earth at all scales, from nanostructures to plate boundaries, using tools ranging from advanced electron and X-ray microscopy to field geology. Their investigations concentrate on studies of the Earth’s crust, upper mantle and polar ice sheets, with emphasis on the microstructure and composition, transport properties, rheology and tectonic history. The group’s research finds applications in geohazards, energy, environment, climate and cryosphere related topics. The broad goal of the research is to provide a fundamental understanding of Earth material behaviour, which is needed to model and to interpret both natural and human-induced phenomena occurring within and at the surface of the Earth.

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact:
Dr Oliver Plümper (Project Leader and Associate Professor Earth Sciences), via


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. To apply, please please submit your curriculum vitae and motivation letter, including the names of two possible referees, using the button below.

Evaluations and interviews are planned soon after the application deadline of 15 May. The preferred starting date is 1 September or 1 October 2021.

Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

The application deadline is 15 May 2021.