Utrecht University has great ambitions for its teaching quality and study success rates. This also applies to its clear research profiles which are centred around four themes: Dynamics of Youth, Institutions, Life Sciences and Sustainability. Utrecht University plays a prominent role in our society and contributes to finding the answers to topical and future societal issues.

The Department of Earth Sciences is now looking for highly-motivated, high-potential applicant to fill a:

PhD position on deep carbon and water cycling
in subduction zones (4 yrs)

Subduction zones are critical for the large-scale cycles of the Earth's most important volatiles, carbon and hydrogen, between the deep mantle and the surface. Within subduction zones, volatile release due to mineral reactions is so prolific that it triggers earthquakes and explosive volcanism. In addition, the return flux of volatiles from subduction zones to the atmosphere influences global climate. However, the amount of volatiles, particularly carbon, that is returned to the surface is currently highly debated.

The Dutch Research Council VIDI project, led by Dr Oliver Plümper, "A multi-scale mechanistic approach to quantifying the release of volatiles in subduction zones" (short: RELEASE), will focus on the coupling between carbon- and water-releasing mineral reactions. The 4-year PhD project aims at joining next-generation analytical and machine-learning approaches with field-scale observations to decipher volatile release mechanisms and the evolution of fluid escape networks. The outcomes of this PhD project will be incorporated into a team-effort to re-evaluate H2O- and CO2-release fluxes within subduction zones.

The PhD project will develop a visualisation approach that bridges the entire scope of transport pathways in a correlative manner. Geological patterns of volatile release will be recorded using aerial drone imaging and analysed using fluid transport theory. In a next step the PhD project will expose microscopic transport networks by applying correlative X-ray tomography strategies with next-generation automated electron microscopy to unlock microscopic devolatilization domains that in turn can be directly linked with macroscale patterns. This correlative imaging workflow coupled to machine-learning-driven pattern analysis provides the input to quantify the evolution of fluid pathways and mass transport in devolatilizing systems.

The PhD candidate will engage in a trans-disciplinary research environment by closely collaborating with two postdoctoral fellows who are also part of the RELEASE project and numerous PhD students working in the field of fluid-rock interactions. Fieldwork campaigns are planned to take place in Norway, Greece and Japan. As such, the PhD candidate will be jointly supervised by Dr Andreas Beinlich at the University of Bergen (UoB), Norway and collaborate with the Tohoku University, Japan. Research visits to both institutions are anticipated.

A personalised training programme will be set up, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives. As part of this training, up to 10% of the candidate's time will be dedicated to assisting in Bachelor's and Master's teaching programmes.


We are seeking a PhD candidate with a MSc degree in earth sciences (obtained by the time the position starts) with a demonstrable affinity for quantitative field geology, microstructural analysis, and geochemistry. The applicant must have good mathematical and programming skills and ideally an interest in upscaling theory and/or machine-learning. Moreover, the applicant should have excellent written and spoken English skills and be highly motivated to work in an international multidisciplinary team.

Terms of employment:

You will be offered a full-time PhD position, initially for one year with extension to four years in total upon a successful assessment in the first year, and 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 € 2,395 in the first year and increases to € 3,061 in the fourth year 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, collective insurance schemes and flexible employment conditions.

About the organisation:

The Utrecht Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. With a population of 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 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 tenured staff of over 45 scientists and more than 110 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Our research programme spans four intertwined themes: Climate & Life, Earth interior, Earth materials, and Environmental Earth Sciences. We house or have access to a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

The PhD project is based within the Structural Geology & Electron Microscopy Group. The group focuses on fluid-rock interaction and rock deformation processes in the Earth at all scales, from nanostructures to plate boundaries, using tools ranging from advanced electron and X-ray microscopy to field geology. Their investigations concentrate on studies of the Earth's crust, upper mantle and polar ice sheets, with emphasis on the microstructure and composition, transport properties, rheology and tectonic history. The group's research finds applications in geohazards, energy, environment, climate and cryosphere related topics. The broad goal of the research is to provide a fundamental understanding of Earth material behaviour, which is needed to model and to interpret both natural and human-induced phenomena occurring within and at the surface of the Earth.

Additional information

For informal questions, please contact the project leader, Dr Oliver Plümper, at o.plumper@uu.nl.

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. The application deadline is May 15, 2021. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. The preferred starting date is September 1 or October 1, 2021.

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

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posted: 06 April 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.