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PhD position Carbon Cycle Data-Assimilation of Methane Emissions from Natural Wetlands

Research topic The cluster seeks a highly motivated PhD student to support the development of a modeling framework for the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas methane. Methane in the atmosphere is increasing due to ...

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De Boelelaan, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland
Tijdelijk contract / Tijdelijke opdracht
Uren per week:
40 uur
€ 2222 - € 2840 per maand


Research topic
The cluster seeks a highly motivated PhD student to support the development of a modeling framework for the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas methane. Methane in the atmosphere is increasing due to different processes, including agriculture (e.g. cattle, rice production) and energy production (mining and use of fuel). Some natural processes, like methane from natural wetlands, have changed also, for example in response to human interference and climate change. The global emissions of methane are quantified by combining the available statistics about these processes with information contained in atmospheric measurements of methane. The conventional approach is to determine the emissions per unit area and time. However, in carbon cycle research, so called carbon cycle data-assimilation methods are being developed, which quantify the underlying processes rather than areal fluxes.

In this project, we will apply this concept to methane, starting with emissions from natural wetlands. These emissions are determined largely by the area of water-saturated land, as well as temperature and the availability of biodegradable organic matter. By optimizing the sensitivity of the emissions to those factors we expect to gain process understanding that will improve the response of the model to climate change. Using this method, information from atmospheric methane measurements can more easily be combined with other data to improve the representation of wetlands, such as for example satellite observations of soil moisture.
This research project takes the first steps towards this goal making use of existing models. It will be carried out in collaboration with SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Utrecht University (GeoSciences), Lund University and the VanDerSat company.

• to extend the wetland process model Peatland-VU with an improved representation of wetland hydrology;
• to evaluate the simulated wetland hydrology using satellite derived soil moisture;
• to develop a method to further optimize wetland hydrology using the satellite data;
• to assess the impact of the optimized representation of hydrology on the model estimated methane emissions;
• to evaluate and further optimize the model (in cooperation with other project partners) using methane measurements, ranging from local flux measurements to global atmospheric concentration measurements;
• to present progress at project meetings and international conferences;
• to publish results in international journals;
• to contribute to teaching in the VU Earth Science program.


The PhD student is expected to:
• have a strong interest in hydrology and biological processes in wetlands, and the use of numerical models in combination with large datasets to learn more about methane emissions;
• have a proven experience in computer programming;
• have extended knowledge of the functioning of the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles;
• have a M.Sc. in Earth Science, Hydrology, Physics, Applied Mathematics, or related studies;
• be fluent in English speaking and writing.


We offer a PhD position for the duration of four years. The initial appointment for a period of one year will be extended with 3 years under the condition of a positive progress evaluation after one year.

You can find information about our excellent fringe benefits of employment at www.workingatvu.nl like:
• remuneration of 8,3% end-of-year bonus and 8% holiday allowance;
• solid pension scheme (ABP);
• a minimum of 29 holidays in case of full-time employment;
• possibilities to save up holidays for sabbatical leave;
• a contribution (65%) to commuting allowance.

The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel, starting at € 2.222,-gross per month in the first year increasing to € 2.840,- gross per month in the fourth year.

Additional information

For additional information please contact: Prof. dr. Ir. Sander Houweling, Department of Earth Sciences,
e-mail: s.houweling@vu.nl

Applicants are requested to write a letter in which they describe their abilities, motivation, and research interests, accompanied by a curriculum vitae. Written applications should be sent by e-mail before 15 February 2018 to Mrs. Fenny Bosse.

Please mention the vacancy number in the e-mail header.

Any other correspondence in response to this advertisement will not be dealt with.


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) is a leading, innovative and growing university that is at the heart of society and actively contributes to new developments in teaching and research. Our university has ten faculties, and provides work for over 4,500 staff and scientific education for more than 23,000 students.

Research at the Faculty of Sciences (https://science.vu.nl) focuses on Earth sciences, natural sciences and informatics, life sciences, health sciences, and environmental sciences. It offers a range of high-quality BSc and MSc programmes. World-class teaching and cutting-edge research activities go hand in hand.

The Department of Earth Sciences is one of the thirteen departments in the Faculty of Sciences. It operates with two research clusters: 'Earth and Climate' and 'Geology and Geochemistry' which teach the Earth Sciences and Earth and Economics BSc and MSc programmes. The Earth and Climate cluster has developed a strong teaching and research profile in the field of climate change focusing on carbon and nitrogen cycle research and landscape dynamics, both on a regional and global scale, and based on both fieldwork and modelling. Subjects include boreal and arctic carbon dynamics, hydrological modelling, terrestrial disturbances such as wildfires and deforestation, atmospheric dynamics of aerosols and greenhouse gases. Furthermore, in the larger cluster context, our integrated approach combines expertise in proxy development, (Quaternary) climate modelling, unraveling of landscape evolution and modelling, and reconstructions of climate evolution from terrestrial and marine records.