PhD position in Mass-extinction Research (4 years)

Job description:

The Department of Earth Sciences at Utrecht University is currently seeking a highly-motivated, high-potential applicant for a PhD position, to work within the research project

Deadly LIPs: Volcanogenic phytotoxic pollution during the end-Triassic extinction

funded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research).

The end-Triassic mass-extinction (201 Ma), one of the big five mass-extinctions, is now commonly linked to the release into the atmosphere of large quantities of greenhouse gases as well as toxic pollutants from massive volcanism in the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. Whereas the ultimate causes of the extinction are agreed upon, the proximate effects - how did organisms go extinct? - of this massive volcanism are extremely difficult to establish. In this project we will use the occurrence of elevated amounts of the element mercury (Hg) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), combined with records of mutagenic pollen and spores that occur in boundary beds in cores from Denmark, Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands to study to effects of genotoxic pollutants in the extinction event. Plants act as sensitive recorders of atmospheric and soil pollution, and dispersal of mutagenic pollen and spores allows to understand the effects of flood basalt volcanism on different spatial (regional vs global) and temporal (different pulses) scales.

The PhD candidate will document the extent of mutagenesis prior to, during, and following the end-Triassic extinction event using available core material from Germany, Poland and Denmark, as well as fresh core material from the UK through an ICDP-funded drilling project. The PhD candidate will be actively involved in the drilling operation and post-drilling sample acquisition. In addition to extensive microscope work, samples will also be investigated with organic and inorganic geochemical techniques. Fieldwork in New Zealand aims to determine the global reach of CAMP volcanism. In addition, sampling of mercury polluted sites is foreseen to examine mutagenesis in living ferns as a means to groundtruth deep time records.

The project leader and daily supervisor will be Dr. Bas van de Schootbrugge, and close collaboration in this project will be with Prof. Appy Sluijs, Dr. Francien Peterse, and Dr. Klaas Nierop. During the project, the PhD candidate will also collaborate with TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Research. The project will involve active collaborations with specialists from numerous international institutions, including stratigraphers, inorganic geochemists, terrestrial palynologists, and plant biologists.

Up to 10% of the candidate's time will be dedicated to assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programmes of the Earth Sciences department. A personalized training programme will be set up, mutually agreed on recruitment, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives.


We seek a highly motivated graduate student holding an MSc degree (at the start of the contract) with an appropriate background in Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, and/or Biology, with a passion for microscope and laboratory work, and an interest in challenging fieldwork. Prior experience with palynological analyses is desirable but not required, while a solid understanding of deep time processes is.

Important accessory qualifications are positive social/verbal/communication skills, determination, willingness to travel abroad, eagerness to develop multidisciplinary skills, and ability to share and explain your results to other research disciplines. Applicants should have excellent written and spoken English skills.

Terms of employment:

You will be offered a full-time position at first for one year. Depending on a good performance this will be extended to a total period of four years, with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross monthly salary starts with 2,325 in the first year and increases to 2,972 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities) of employment with a full-time appointment. The salary is supplemented by a holiday allowance of 8% per year and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%. In addition, we offer a pension scheme, (partly paid) parental leave, collective insurance schemes and flexible employment conditions.

Facilities for sports and child care are available on our main campus (where the Department of Earth Sciences is situated), which is located only 15 minutes away from the historical city centre of Utrecht.

About the organisation:

The Utrecht Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. With a population of 2600 students (BSc and MSc) and 600 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, Sustainable Development, and Human Geography & Spatial Planning.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts teaching and research 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 a highly international group of more than 100 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and houses a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

You will be working within the group of Marine Palynology & Paleoceanography group (MPP). The group focuses on paleoceanographic and paleoenvironmental reconstructions in the entire Phanerozoic, specifically by looking at organic microfossils, usually in close collaboration with additional disciplines in the department and abroad. The group consists of 4 permanent staff, 2 postdocs, about 8 PhD students and usually 10-15 MSc students. Close collaboration with the organic geochemistry group is on-going, with 1.4 permanent staff, 2 PhD students and 5 MSc students.

Additional information:

For additional information contact the project leader, Dr. Bas van de Schootbrugge via

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. Applications will be accepted until March 30th, 2019. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. The intended starting date is August 1, 2019, or as soon as possible thereafter.

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

Click here to view all Utrecht University ads on the site

posted: 04 February 2019     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.