PhD Position Antarctic Ice Shelf Melt and Hydrology

PhD Position Antarctic Ice Shelf Melt and Hydrology

Published Deadline Location
17 Jul 16 Aug Delft

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As a PhD candidate you will study the surface melt and hydrology on Antarctic ice shelves to understand their role on ice shelf stability

Job description

Mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest uncertainty in current sea level rise projections and this uncertainty is largely related to the response of ice shelves. Ice shelves are the gatekeepers of Antarctica as they buttress the contribution of grounded ice to sea level rise. Although several processes have been identified that are key for future ice shelf instability and retreat, assessing how much, how fast ice shelf instability will contribute to future sea level rise remains a major uncertainty.  This uncertainty is mainly the result of our limited quantitative understanding of many of the processes that control ice shelf instability. One of these processes is hydrofracturing as a result of ponding meltwater.

Surface meltwater and melt-albedo feedbacks at the surface of ice shelves are crucial drivers for ice shelf instability through hydrofracturing with important potential impacts as surface melt is projected to increase strongly in the coming century. However, to assess this impact we need improved models that better parameterize surface melt, the associated meltwater hydrology and their impact on hydrofracturing.

The objective of PhD project therefore is to develop and provide novel high-resolution remote sensing observations of surface conditions related to melt to better understand how, where, and how much surface meltwater is formed and where it goes. Within the project you will first combine various remote sensing data sets (optical, (in)SAR, scatterometers) related to melt, albedo and hydrology to get high-resolution estimates of melt and hydrology across all Antarctic ice shelves. Second, you will run offline models (snowmodels, surface energy models, hydrological models) to determine the relative importance of the atmospheric drivers (e.g. warming, changes in foehn/katabatic winds), hydrological conditions and the feedback processes (e.g. melt-albedo feedback) on the satellite observed melt.

During your project, you will work in close collaboration with remote sensing and modeling experts at Delft University of Technology and the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU). Your results will be used to validate and calibrate surface melt models over Antarctica 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.

We aim to start the project on 1 Dec 2020. Your application should include a detailed CV, the abstract of your MSc thesis, at least two references, and a letter of motivation in a single PDF file.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


Required skills:

  • MSc in Remote Sensing, Geosciences, Aerospace Engineering, Geophysics, Glaciology, Hydrology or a related discipline;
  • Strong programming skills (Python, R or similar);
  • 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
  • Affinity with snowmodels, surface energy models, hydrological models
  • Experience or interest 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 student 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
  • TUD00344


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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