PhD position - Predicting the evolution of soil loss and carbon release in peatlands under hydrological changes

Peatlands and organic soils are important ecosystems for the regulation of the global carbon cycle. They behave as major carbon sink reservoirs resulting from imbalance between intake from photosynthesis and release from organic matter decomposition. Peatlands have seen their natural functions deteriorating in consequence to multiple anthropogenic activities, overprinted by global changes. Major peatland areas have been drained to increase land surface available for farming. It is now well known that such activities lead to strong modifications in their natural biogeochemical functions, turning peatlands into a major source of carbon.

However, our understanding of the feedback mechanisms between land use, hydrology and the carbon cycle in peatlands remains insufficient to allow accurate predictions and design efficient land management practices. Specifically, this PhD project aims at addressing a central question: what is the role of groundwater in controlling the dynamics of soil loss and carbon release?

The research will be developed on the Seeland, a major agricultural production area in Switzerland, where intensive drainage designed to develop farming have induced soil subsidence and decomposition. The PhD student will specifically: 1) explore coupled hydrogeological and biogeochemical processes involved by analysing data from in-situ monitoring systems deployed on the Seeland; 2) calibrate an existing numerical model to predict carbon fluxes under climate and hydrogeological forcing; and, 3) test the impact of climate and land management scenarios on the evolution of carbon fluxes and soil loss in order to identify sustainable practices.

The PhD position is based at the Centre for Hydrogeology and Geothermics (CHYN) at the University of Neuchâtel under the supervision of Dr. C. Roques, Prof. P. Brunner and Prof. D. Hunkeler. The CHYN offers a stimulating research environment with about 50 collaborators. The candidate will benefit from a comprehensive pool of field and laboratory equipment, technical support staff and a dynamic PhD school.

Required qualifications

The successful candidate must have an MSc in Earth and Environmental Sciences or related fields and be strongly interested in research. Knowledge and experience in hydrology, biogeochemistry and numerical modelling are important. Programming skills (Python, matlab) are required. Fluency and excellent writing skills in English are required.


Beginning: June 2022 (or upon agreement) for 3 years with an option to extend 1 year.

Application and additional information

Applications should include a concise statement describing the motivation to work on this research project, copies of your academic qualifications and names of two referees. The application should be submitted as one single pdf file to Please use "[Application Seeland PhD] your name" in the subject of your email. Deadline for the application is set to March 25, 2022.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any additional questions regarding the position. Please use the same email address with "[Question Seeland PhD] your name" in subject.

posted: 16 February 2022     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.