PhD position in Marine Palynology and
Paleoceanography (4 years)

Job description:

The Department of Earth Sciences at Utrecht University is currently seeking a motivated PhD candidate to work on 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 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 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.

The CO2 of the mid-Pliocene (2.8-3.6 million years ago (Mya)), and mid-Miocene (13-17 Mya) was at times similar to that of the year 2100 under strong and moderate fossil fuel emission mitigation scenarios, respectively. Pliocene climates were 2.7-4.1C warmer; Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets retreated inland and global average sea level was 2010 meter higher compared to today. The uncertainty in Pliocene temperature and ice sheet size reflects our lack of understanding of the climate-ocean-ice sheet systems. Miocene ice-proximal Antarctic temperatures were even warmer; ice sheets were retreated inland. Sea ice and Southern Ocean ice-proximal upwelling were reduced in the Miocene. Quantitatively, however, the role of the ice-proximal oceanographic regimes, regional sea ice extent and upwelling intensity and the dynamics of ice-ocean contact during the Pliocene and Miocene are largely unknown.

The PhD student will generate records of dinocyst assemblages and organic geochemical biomarkers which will reveal sea ice cover, upwelling of warm deep-water, ocean frontal system behaviour and Southern Ocean latitudinal SST gradients. The student will use available and suitable sedimentary records while several ocean drilling campaigns will provide additional sedimentary archives from key regions around Antarctica. This project will reveal the role of ice-proximal oceanography in the documented extensive Pliocene and Miocene ice sheet retreats at key regions around Antarctica.

A postdoctoral researcher in the research project OceaNice will 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. The role of the PhD student is to apply these new tools for the first time on Pliocene and Miocene sediments to reveal the ice-proximal oceanographic conditions for these past warm climates. Another postdoctoral researcher in the project will use these new reconstructions to set up new numerical ocean model simulations for the Pleistocene, Pliocene and Miocene.

The project will involve active collaborations with researchers from numerous international institutions; sedimentologists, inorganic geochemists, seismic interpreters, terrestrial palynologists. Furthermore, the project will be undertaken in close collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Atmospheric Research Utrecht, where numerical model simulations will be performed, and for which exchange of expertise and intense collaboration is highly promoted.

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 PhD student will also communicate and collaborate with physical oceanographers at the Institute of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences Utrecht (IMAU).

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 personalised training programme will be set up, mutually agreed on recruitment, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives.


We seek an enthusiastic graduate student holding a MSc degree (at the start of the contract) that ensures appropriate background knowledge such as Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Biology, and with a strong passion for paleoclimate/paleoceanography and micropaleontology. Prior knowledge on dinoflagellate cyst taxonomy is desired but not required, while understanding of paleontology/biostratigraphy/ paleoceanography 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 (notably numerical modelling community). 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 may be extended to a total period of four years, with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. Employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. The gross monthly salary starts with 2,266,- in the first year and increases to 2,897,- in the fourth year of employment with a full-time appointment (increased to 2,325 and 2,972 respectively per 1 Feb. 2019). 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, 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:

For additional information please contact the project leader Dr. Peter Bijl,

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. 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.