PhD Position Remote Sensing of Ice Shelf Firn Processes

PhD Position Remote Sensing of Ice Shelf Firn Processes

Published Deadline Location
17 Jul 16 Aug Delft

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As a PhD candidate you will study the changes in the firn layer on Antarctic ice shelves by combining various remote sensing data sets with firn models

Job description

Antarctic mass loss is the largest source of uncertainty in current sea level rise projections. Ice shelves are the floating gatekeepers that surround 75% of Antarctica’s coastline and buttress the contribution of grounded ice to sea level rise. Hence, ice shelf instability plays a key role in this uncertainty. The health of an ice shelves is, among other things, dependent on the firn layer on their surfaces, as this layer of compacted snow has the capacity to store meltwater. Once saturated, however, the remaining water will pool in surface features which may cause hydrofracturing and the eventual collapse of the entire ice shelf. A good understanding of subsurface processes in the firn layer, such as refreezing and meltwater retention, are therefore key to improving our understanding of current and future ice shelf stability. Unfortunately, field measurements of these processes are difficult to obtain due to the large extent and hazardous environment of Antarctica.

In this project, the successful applicant will combine various remote sensing data sets, such as backscatter and brightness temperature from Sentinel-1, Sentinel-3, CryoSat-2 and ASCAT, AMSR-E/AMSR2, to study changes in the firn layer. This will be compared to the output of a regional firn model, which you will couple to a snow microwave radiative transfer model to simulate the interaction of electromagnetic waves with the snowpack based on its physical properties. The multi-satellite set of observations and the a-prior knowledge of the microwave scattering sensitivity to snowpack properties from the coupled model will then be used to constrain the firn model in a Bayesian approach.

During your project, you will work in close collaboration with modeling experts at the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU). It is expected that you will spend part of your time there. Your results will be used to validate and calibrate their model and eventually improve our projections of future ice shelf stability.

This position is part of the HiRISE project, a collaboration between researchers at Utrecht University, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and Université Libre de Bruxelles, and funded by the Netherlands Orgsanisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The project combines field measurements, satellite data and climate models to chart the current state of Antarctica’s ice shelves with high resolution and accuracy and reduce the uncertainty in projections of sea level rise. The HiRISE team will eventually consist of four PhD candidates, four postdocs and one technician. During the project, you will spend part of your time at one of the collaborating institutes and actively exchange your results, ideas and plans during regular meetings with the other team members.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


Required skills:

  • MSc in Remote Sensing, Geodesy, Aerospace Engineering, Geophysics, Glaciology, Geosciences or a related discipline;
  • Strong background in statistics
  • Strong programming skills (Fortran, Python, R or similar);
  • Experience with statistical/mathematical software environments such as R or Matlab;
  • Experience in development of data processing algorithms;
  • Good reporting and presentation skills;
  • Excellent level of written and spoken English
  • Ability to work independently, to critically assess own results and to cooperate within a wider research team;

Desirable skills:

  • Affinity with remote sensing of ice sheet and ice shelf processes
  • Experience in handling large data sets and parallel computing, high performance computing or cloud computing    

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, a discount for health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities. The minimum salary mentioned is the salary in your first year. The salary mentioned as the maximum will be your salary in your fourth year.

As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment; an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor; and a Doctoral Education Programme aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills. Please visit for more information.


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context. At TU Delft we embrace diversity and aim to be as inclusive as possible (see our Code of Conduct). Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale.

Challenge. Change. Impact! 


Faculty Civil Engineering & Geosciences

The Faculty of Civil Engineering & Geosciences (CEG) is committed to outstanding international research and education in the field of civil engineering, applied earth sciences, traffic and transport, water technology, and delta technology. Our research feeds into our educational programmes and covers societal challenges such as climate change, energy transition, resource depletion, urbanisation and the availability of clean water, conducted  in close cooperation with a wide range of research institutions. CEG is convinced that Open Science helps to achieve our goals and supports its scientists in integrating Open Science in their research practice. The Faculty of CEG comprises 28 research groups in the following seven departments: Materials Mechanics Management & Design, Engineering Structures, Geoscience and Engineering, Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Transport & Planning, Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Civil Engineering & Geosciences.

Department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing
The position is located within the department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing (GRS). We seek to advance the understanding of dynamic processes on—and human interaction with—Earth, with a focus on geodesy and atmospheric sciences. The approach is based on the development of observation technology as well as the modelling of processes. Our ambition is to create an interdisciplinary research environment in which scientific staff and students explore, learn, and teach. GRS (with about 110 staff members of which 25 faculty staff) conducts a research programme in the disciplines of geodesy, remote sensing, data science, earth-oriented space research, and climate and atmospheric sciences. It focuses on the interrelation between new observational techniques and applications in engineering and geosciences, including the development of space-borne,  airborne, and ground-based methods and models. The department has an internationally leading role in research related to 2D and 3D surveying, geodesy, satellite remote sensing, natural hazards, geodynamics and climate studies. Please check

Within GRS, the PhD candidate will be part of the cryospheric research team (incl Stef Lhermitte and Bert Wouters) that focuses on the opportunities at the intersection of remote sensing and modelling to assess and model the effect of climate (change) in the polar regions and its impact on the hydrological cycle, sea level rise, etc.


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2395—€3061 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD00343


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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