The Department of Physical Geography (Faculty of Geosciences) is searching for a PhD candidate who will improve our understanding of Holocene coastal development of the NE Italian coastal plain. This project is funded by the department and titled ‘Viva Italia: constraining models of coastal morphology with field data during transgressions’. The project will employ both models and reconstruction techniques to get a grip on sedimentation rates, vegetation interaction and landscape forms in a lagoonal setting.

Low-lying coastal areas such as barrier coasts and estuaries are vulnerable to ongoing Sea-Level Rise (SLR). These areas might (partly) drown and lead to loss of valuable ecosystems. In this research we will focus on historical and future sedimentation rates in tidal basins and estuaries in subsidence-sensitive areas, since over the last decades these areas have shown the largest changes. In our study area, the NE Italian coast, limited sand availability and strong subsidence is an additional complicating factor. Exact knowledge on how the system responds to climate change and SLR is therefore crucial to improve the (sediment) management in these systems.

What will you be doing?
To project future coastal evolution as a function of SLR typically models, such as Delft3D, are used. However, these models need to be validated and calibrated to have confidence in their predictions, but direct observations of infilling or drowning rates in tidal basins and estuaries are scarce. We therefore need a geological analogue of the current transgression to parameterize models in vulnerable coastal regions.
You will integrate existing and new field data on subsurface morphology and sediment composition of the NE Italian coast – partly produced by BSc students during course work – and supplement these with proxy analyses of past vegetation cover (using palynology) and water depth/salinity (using e.g. foraminifera or diatom remains) from selected boreholes. These data will be used to simulate the sedimentation rates in tidal basins for several Holocene time windows (with Delft3D) and to study sensitivity to environmental settings.
This is a unique opportunity to contribute to major scientific questions while working towards a doctorate.

PhD candidates at Utrecht University follow courses as part of their own academic and personal development. They also assist in teaching courses at Bachelor’s and Master’s level at our faculty. Both activities amount to approximately 10% of the contracted time.


Who are we looking for?
Are you an enthusiastic candidate who is interested in coastal development through time across different timescales and with a drive to understand the relevant processes involved? The project involves both modelling and landscape reconstruction work packages and we require at least significant experience in one of these aspects and a motivation to develop skills in the other. The project will involve several sampling campaigns in Italy, in collaboration with the university of Padova, and training courses for the relevant techniques. If you have a broad interest in geosciences, are a team player who is able to work in interdisciplinary environment and are curiosity-driven, then we are looking for you. The project is integrated with the BSc fieldwork courses and active participation in that is therefore crucial.

We encourage you to apply if you have:

  • an MSc degree in physical geography, earth sciences, landscape ecology, or a related field;
  • a drive to link two different geoscientific disciplines;
  • demonstrated experience with paleogeographic or relevant proxy reconstructions and/or process-based modelling of coastal environments;
  • good English oral and writing skills: English at C1 level or better (comparable to level 3 of the Lecturer Assessment Grid) qualifies, or willingness and aptitude to obtain this level by training.


We offer a temporary full-time position for four years, initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a mutually positive evaluation in the first year. We will support your personal development with the specific intent that we work towards a doctorate within this period.

The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (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 

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 (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University 

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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 

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 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 team of the Department of Physical Geography 

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 excels in research and education on BSc, MSc and PhD level. We research processes, patterns and dynamics of Earth’s continental and coastal systems, and the interaction in between. This knowledge is essential for the sustainable management of our planet and to guarantee the availability of resources for the next generations. We are a lively department that hosts an active PhD candidate community of more than thirty PhD students. Will you join our team?

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact: Dr. T.H. Donders 

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 (Associate Professor, landscape reconstruction part), via 

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

To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button. Also add the names of at least two referees (with e-mail contact addresses and phone numbers).

The interviews will be scheduled for September 26th or 28th. The intended starting date for the PhD project is December 1st, 2022.

The application deadline is 15 September 2022.


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