PhD position NWA-ORC programme Living on Soft Soils: Coupling microbial oxidation pathways to subsidence vulnerability in peat soils (1.0 FTE) at Utrecht University

Uren per week: 
36 tot 40
Faculteit of dienst: 
Faculteit Geowetenschappen
GEO / Dept FG
Uiterlijk reageren op: 
10 april 2020


Within the framework of the joint NWA-ORC-programme Living on Soft Soils: Subsidence & Society project of TUDelft, Wageningen University and Research, Deltares Research Institute, TNO, Wageningen Environmental Research and Utrecht University, Utrecht University is seeking a motivated PhD candidate to work on this collaborative research programme.

Programme description

The threat of land subsidence, the knowledge hiatus on process-interplays causing it, and lacking mid- to long-term coping strategies, ask for an integrated research programme that addresses the issue of land subsidence in a holistic way, whereby insights about physical-chemical-biological system functioning, system development, evaluation and implementation of measures as well as an assessment of their governance and legal implications co-evolve. The overall aim of our programme is to develop an integrative approach to achieve feasible, legitimate and sustainable solutions for managing the negative societal effects of land subsidence, connecting fundamental research on subsidence processes to socio-economic impact of subsidence and to governance and legal framework design.

The programme consists of four scientific work packages:

WP1: Measuring and monitoring of land subsidence

WP2: Land subsidence mechanisms and associated greenhouse gas emissions

WP3: Impact analysis of land subsidence

WP4: Measures and governance approaches to cope with land subsidence

The programmw is funded by and contributes to the Dutch Research Agenda – Research along routes by consortia (NWA-ORC) aiming to stimulate research and innovation focused on the NWA routes, designed and implemented by interdisciplinary consortia spanning the entire knowledge chain, in which relevant social partners (Deltares Research Institute, TNO, NAM, Tauw BV, Sweco, Municipality of Gouda, Platform of Soft Soil Municipalities, Province of Utrecht, WDOD, HDSR, STOWA, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom relations, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and Wageningen Environmental research) are also represented.

For the work package 2.1 the biology department from Utrecht University is seeking an enthusiastic and motivated PhD candidate who is interested in a project at the interface between microbiology and soil physics. Our project focuses on the change in physical properties of peat soils after microbial oxidation. Using a combination of fieldwork, mesocosm experiments and incubation studies in the laboratory, the candidate will study the effects of microbial oxidation kinetics under aerobic and anaerobic conditions on peat volume, compressibility, water retention and swelling capacity. This study will importantly contribute to our mechanistic knowledge on the vulnerability of different peat types for microbial peat oxidation and the interaction between oxidation and other subsidence processes (shrinkage, creep, consolidation). Knowledge that is urgently needed to make best guess predictions for future subsidence risks. Ultimately this knowledge can be used to design region specific strategies to combat strong subsidence in vulnerable areas. The candidate will work closely with colleagues from Deltares Research Institute.


For this position Utrecht University is seeking a motivated candidate with:

  • a Master's or equivalent degree in microbial ecology, soil science, biogeochemistry or physical geography;
  • a keen interest in mechanistic research; 
  • a proficiency in academic English both verbal and in writing;
  • the ability to work both independently and as part of a team, with good organisational and communication skills;
  • mastering the Dutch language and the possession of a driver’s license are considered an advantage for this position.

Up to 10% of your time will be dedicated to assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programmes of the host institute. A personalised training programme will be set up upon recruitment, which will reflect your training needs and career objectives.


We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with 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 ranges between €2,325 and €2,972 (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, the choice for a good balance between work and private (a good arrangement for leave, among other things), possibilities for development and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

Over de organisatie

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 Department of Physical Geography conducts research and teaching and is responsible for the BSc and MSc programme Earth Sciences.

Aanvullende informatie

More information about this position can be obtained from Dr. Mariet Hefting (


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. 

Our Department has committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce, and we strongly encourage women to apply. 

  • A letter of application which describes your motivation and qualifications;
  • your curriculum vitae and a list of publications;
  • and the names and addresses of two referees

should be submitted via the application button below.

We are looking forward to receiving your application and meeting you!

Uiterlijk reageren op 10 april 2020.