Postdoctoral Researcher in Paleoceanography / Palynology (3 years)

Job description:

The Department of Earth Sciences currently seeks a highly-motivated, high-potential applicant for a position as a Postdoctoral Researcher to work within the research project

Paleoceanography of the ice-proximal Southern Ocean during past warm climates.

This project, in short 'OceaNice', is a research project funded by the European Research Council.

Antarctic ice sheets are destabilising because Southern Ocean (SO) warming causes basal melt. It is unknown how these processes will develop during future climate warming, which creates an inability to project ice sheet melt and thus global sea level rise scenarios into the future. Studying past geologic episodes, during which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (CO2) were similar to those projected for this century and beyond, is the only way to achieve mechanistic understanding of long-term ice sheet- and ocean dynamics in warm climates. Past ocean-induced ice sheet melt is not resolved because of a paucity of quantitative proxies for past ice-proximal oceanographic conditions: sea ice, upwelling of warm water and latitudinal temperature gradients. This hampers accurate projections of future ice sheet melt and sea level rise.

OceaNice will provide an integral understanding of the role of oceanography in ice sheet behavior during past warm climates, as analogy to the future. The postdoctoral researchers role in the project will be to develop quantitative proxies for sea ice, upwelling of warm water and latitudinal temperature gradients using organic proxies: organic-walled dinoflagellate cysts and organic geochemical biomarker analyses, and apply these to late Pleistocene Antarctic-coastal and distal SO sedimentary records.

Variations in SO frontal systems are particularly well-documented for late Pleistocene (past 1 million year) glacial-interglacial cycles with the use of calcite and siliceous microfossils and their geochemistry. However, diagenetic effects, dilution and dissolution of these microfossils hamper their application to relevant warm time slices further back in time, and closer to the ice sheet. Dinocyst-based proxies for sea surface temperature, upwelling and sea ice are not affected by these factors, and can therefore be applied to older warm time intervals. Modern dinocyst biogeographic patterns in the SO are clearly tied to sea ice extent, upwelling and warm, oligotrophic surface water conditions, but SO dinocyst records straddling Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles are scarce. The postdoctoral researcher will reconstruct the latitudinal SST gradient, locus and strength of circumpolar deep water upwelling and sea ice extent over Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles using dinocyst assemblages and (novel) biomarker proxy records for absolute sea surface temperature. These new reconstructions will provide constraints to ice-proximal SO paleoceanographic conditions. More importantly, applying dinocyst-based proxies on records at the subtropical front (STF) with well-documented oceanographic changes will allow calibration of dinocyst- and novel biomarker-based proxies to the known oceanographic change. This will enable accurate quantitative paleoceanographic reconstructions for crucial time slices further back in time, where conventional tools cannot be applied.

About the team:

A PhD student in the project will apply the new tools to two past warm climate states, during which CO2 was comparable to that of the future under strong and moderate fossil fuel emission mitigation scenarios. Later on in the project, another postdoctoral fellow will interpolate between these new reconstructions using high-resolution ocean circulation modelling for circum-Antarctic quantification of past oceanographic conditions, which will be implemented into new ice sheet model simulations.

The postdoc will be hired and based at Utrecht University, and will be supported in the laboratory by a technician hired in the project to assist in the palynological and organic geochemical sample preparation. The project leader and daily supervisor will be Dr. Peter Bijl, and close collaboration in this project will be with Dr. Francesca Sangiorgi and Dr. Francien Peterse. During the project, the postdoctoral researcher will also communicate and collaborate with physical oceanographers at the Institute of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences Utrecht (IMAU).


We seek a highly motivated postdoctoral candidate with excellent communication skills and a PhD degree with experience and background in Southern Ocean paleoceanography, and ideally but not necessarily (dinocyst) micropaleontology and/or organic geochemistry. The best candidates also have laboratory (gas/liquid chromatography) and/or microscope experience. The researcher should have affinity with light microscope work. Given the project includes close collaboration with physical oceanographers applying numerical ocean models, some affinity with numerical modelling is appreciated.

Applicants must have excellent written and spoken English skills and be highly motivated to work in an international team with a common objective. Within the project scope as outlined above, we expect the candidate to be an independent thinker, with a collaborative mindset.

Terms of employment:

We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE) for three years. The gross salary - depending on previous qualifications and experience - ranges between 3,044 and 3,545 (scale 10-3 to 10-7 according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) gross per month for a full-time employment (increasing to 3,123 and 3,637 respectively per 1 Feb. 2019). Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. 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: Innovation, Environmental & Energy Sciences, Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, 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.

The Marine Palynology & Paleoceanography 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. There is a close link between this project and the paleoclimate research within the virtual Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC), which focuses on tipping points within the climate system.

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:

Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from the PI of OceaNice, Dr. Peter Bijl via Other main collaborators in the project include Dr. Francesca Sangiorgi ( and Dr. Francien Peterse ( As part of the selection procedure, the short-listed candidates will be invited to give an outline of their research plans in a written report (1 page max) and an oral presentation.

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. Applications will be accepted until September 30th, 2018. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. The intended starting date is January 1st, 2019, or as soon as possible thereafter. Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

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posted: 27 August 2018     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.