PhD position: Groundwater dynamics in Flanders and impact on denitrification

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Belgium

October 22, 2022

Description

PhD position: Groundwater dynamics in Flanders and impact on

denitrification

(ref. BAP-2022-690)

Last modification : Thursday, September 15, 2022

In the context of the Arvesta chair on nutrient flows in Flanders and in the context of a VLAIO-funded project on irrigation, the Division of Soil and Water Management is looking for a PhD student for research on groundwater dynamics and its impact on denitrification. The Division of Soil and Water Management is one of the five divisions in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of KU Leuven. The main mission of the department is to carry out state-of-the-art scientific research with respect to the functioning of geo- and ecosystems at different spatial and temporal scales, including the interaction between humans and the environment and the sustainable management of natural resources.

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Project

Flemish agriculture needs to rapidly evolve because of the nitrogen crisis and more frequent droughts. Flemish agriculture has to reduce its emissions of nitrogen into water and there is a need for more and more efficient irrigation. There are two interrelated bottlenecks for both challenges: (i) Flanders does not have a calibrated dynamic groundwater model and (ii) Flanders has no spatial model to estimate denitrification in soil and groundwater.

The surplus nitrogen in Flemish agriculture causes nitrate leaching from soil to groundwater. However, the conversion of nitrate to N2O or N2 in the soil and groundwater ensures that a large part of the residual nitrogen in the soil does not end up as nitrate in the surface water. This denitrification depends on the redox potential in the soil and the residence time of the water in the soil, both of which are related to the structure of the soil and the groundwater flow. Flanders has a very good digital soil map and map of the subsoil (DOV) and has an extensive phreatic monitoring network with digitally available data on the groundwater level and its chemical composition. That data is rarely statistically analyzed to know where and when denitrification takes place. Moreover, there is no link between existing models for nitrate leaching and groundwater models because the latter are not available as a dynamic (non-stationary) model. Jülich's research group developed a dynamic groundwater model for Germany with a resolution of 600x600 m and makes 10-day predictions. This spatial model also covers Flanders, but it has never been verified with the time series of groundwater levels in Flanders.

The aim of the research is to calculate denitrification in the Flemish subsoil so that area-specific N fertilization recommendations can be drawn up, namely the lowest recommendations where denitrification is low and vice versa. Roughly three steps are required for this. (1) the statistical analysis of data on nitrate concentrations in groundwater in relation to soil structure, land use and groundwater level; (2) calibrating the groundwater model with data from the phreatic groundwater and refine it to a resolution of 60x60 m (3) targeted periodic sampling of groundwater in 2-3 selected transects to estimate the dynamics of nitrate in the subsurface in relation to the redox zone. It is estimated that 2/3 of this research will consist of modelling and statistical analysis and 1/3 of fieldwork and associated analyses in the laboratory. The doctoral student will also be involved in educational activities and in dissemination of the results to the government.

Profile

We seek a candidate with a master degree in Bioscience engineering, Water resources engineering, Physical geography, Geology or an equivalent master degree that is relevant for the above mentioned tasks.

The successful candidate will have the following profile:

  • Creative with a strong interest in research
  • Good academic performance at the MSc and BSc levels, with good performance on the master thesis in particular
  • Good knowledge of the relevant chemical and physical processes in soil and groundwater
  • Experience with simulation modelling and computer programming (e.g., Python, Fortran, C, Matlab, R, etc.).
  • Demonstrated capacity to write (scientific writing) and communicate in English. Being fluent in Dutch is an added advantage but not a must (communication with farmers).
  • Good interpersonal skills: able to work in a team and to communicate with both farmers and other researchers.
  • Offer
  • Full-time doctoral scholarship for 2 years. After positive evaluation, the scholarship is extended with 2 additional years (4 years in total).
  • Multi-disciplinary and international professional environment in the Division Soil and Water Management.
  • Leuven is a charming historical university town, with a central location in Western Europe.
  • The PhD student will be embedded in a project team consisting of other PhD orpostdoc researchers and the three supervisors at KU Leuven (Erik Smolders, JanVanderborght and Jan Diels).
  • At KU Leuven, PhD students are expected to obtain their PhD degree within 4 years. More information on the remuneration with a doctoral scholarship can be found at the following link:

    https: // www. kuleuven.be/personeel/jobsite/en/phd/phd-information#working- conditions

    Interested?

    Only persons strictly matching the above profile should apply. Submit your CV, along with a motivation letter, and two names for references on-line. For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Jan Diels, tel.: +32 16 32 97 44, mail: jan.diels@kuleuven.be or Prof. dr. ir. Erik Smolders, tel.: +32 16 32 96 77, mail: erik.smolders@kuleuven.be or Prof. dr. ir. Jan Vanderborght, tel. +32 16 37 21 49, mail: jan.vanderborght@kuleuven.be

    The position will remain open until suitable candidate is identified.

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

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