Full time PhD and Postdoc position in Physical Geography: Subsurface-related Dike Failure Mechanisms

Utrecht University
June 19 2017
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type

The Department of Physical Geography seeks a Postdoc and a PhD candidate for the project ‘Improvement of dike failure probability estimates using knowledge of the subsurface', which is part of the research programme All-Risk, funded by NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences. The project contributes to the UU Focus area ‘Future Deltas'.


In 2014 the Dutch Flood Protection program adopted a new probabilistic risk approach for the management of the flood defences. Protection standards are expressed as flooding probabilities of polder areas, implying that multiple failure mechanisms for all dike sections within a dike ring must be considered, and then combined to assess the overall flooding probability. The All-Risk programme provides the scientific interdisciplinary support for this new approach, through collaboration of Dutch universities, Deltares, Rijkswaterstaat, Water Boards, and the private sector. The impact of All-Risk will also be international through collaborations with universities in e.g. Houston, Tokyo and Leipzig.

Various dike failure mechanisms (piping, dike slope instability near deep channel scour, dike deformation due to soil subsidence) are related to the sub-surface, which shows a great spatial heterogeneity. Current predictive models rely on over-simplified average subsurface properties or assumptions about relative contributions, resulting in potentially overly large designs, which need to be improved. The high-resolution geological databases of Utrecht University and TNO- Geological Survey of the Netherlands well document the subsurface heterogeneity, which shows systematic patterns associated with the processes that formed the deposits in the past.

The PhD project will focus on schematisation and prediction of subsurface characteristics from a geological and geomorphological perspective. The PhD will (i) assess the hydrogeologic subsurface properties relevant for dike failure mechanisms; and (ii) develop a method to link the pertinent properties to the subsurface architecture of the Rhine-Meuse delta.

The Postdoc project will focus on the efficient incorporation of subsurface characteristics into a 3D groundwater modelling framework to assess groundwater-related risks of dikes. The postdoc will (i) parameterize relevant subsurface and hydrological characteristics to be used in a  3D groundwater modelling and assessment framework for dike stability; (ii) use the modelling framework to perform quantitative model calculations regarding groundwater flow and erosion as function of subsurface architecture, dike geometry, and water levels, and (iii) explore uncertainties and relevant scenarios in line with those used in water practice.


Both candidates will closely collaborate with

We seek candidates with a strong motivation for scientific research, keen interest in translating scientific findings to practical applications, in the fields of deltaic subsurface geology and subsurface characterization (candidate 1) and 3D high-resolution groundwater modelling (candidate 2) and subsurface stability (candidate 1 and 2).


Candidate 1 (PhD)

  • has a MSc degree in Earth Sciences - Physical Geography, Sedimentology or a closely related discipline;

  • has knowledge of subsurface geology resulting from morphodynamic processes in lowland rivers and floodplains at centennial to millennial scales and preferably knowledge of geomechanics;

  • has experience in managing field-data, GIS map data, and computer simulation data.


Candidate 2 (Postdoc)

  • has a PhD degree in Physical Geography or Geohydrology or a closely related discipline;

  • has knowledge of 3D groundwater modelling, geohydrological field experience and preferably knowledge of geomechanics;

  • has experience with complex modelling problems and preferably with high-performance computing.


Both candidates

  • are able to work across different disciplines of physical geography, sedimentology, hydrology and process modelling;

  • have excellent scientific writing and planning skills;

  • are enthusiastic team players;

  • are able to place their results in the broader and interdisciplinary context of the All-Risk programme;

  • are able to communicate the main research results to professional end users.


The candidates are expected to be fluent in English, both spoken and written. Candidates who do not speak or understand Dutch are expected to be able to communicate in Dutch at a professional level within two years of the appointment.

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess