Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

PhD position on ‘Sediment deposition on continental slopes from combined bottom currents and sediment gravity flows, Utrecht University

Application deadline: 7 March 2021

The Department of Earth Sciences currently seeks a highly motivated, high-potential applicant for a PhD position to work within the research project “Sediment deposition on continental slopes from combined bottom currents and sediment gravity flows”.
Sediment deposits on continental slopes provide a record of past oceanographic and climate conditions. They also host vast reserves of oil and gas that will be vital during the global transition to renewable energy sources. Furthermore, the processes that transport and deposit the sediment pose geohazards to marine infrastructure, and introduce anthropogenic pollutants in vulnerable deep marine ecosystems. Two types of currents dominate sediment transport and deposition on continental slopes: sediment gravity flows that travel down the slope through submarine canyons, channels, and gullies; and bottom currents that are part of the ocean circulation and commonly flow along the slope. Natural examples of mixed sediment gravity flowbottom current systems are increasingly being described in literature. Unfortunately, two communities of researchers have historically specialized in either gravity-driven sediment transport or bottom-current sediment transport. Consequently, the growing body of research is confusing when it comes to recognising the governing mechanisms behind continental slope deposition in mixed systems: rather similar deposits are explained with hypotheses of diametrically opposed bottom current directions. This confusion is caused in part by the absence of a quantitative modelling framework for sedimentation in mixed systems, which prevents hypotheses from being tested. This research project aims to establishes an integrated modelling framework for mixed-system sediment transport and deposition.
The candidate will develop the first scaled laboratory experiments of mixed systems, as an extension of established sediment gravity flow experiments performed previously in the Eurotank Flume Laboratory. They will configure an existing numerical model to simulate combined sediment gravity flow and bottom current sediment transport for the first time. Following the corroboration of the model approach, the candidate will apply the model to two real world datasets to establish its predictive capability and help uncover the governing processes behind observed continental slope deposits. These activities combined have the potential to achieve a step-change in our ability to model and understand sediment deposition on continental slopes, which will be of use for fundamental research into the past configurations of planet Earth and has applications in the deep-offshore petroleum industry, for marine infrastructure design and planning, and for evaluations of the environmental impact of transport of pollutants into the deep oceans. The project can therefore serve as a stepping stone in a career in fundamental ocean science or various societal and economic ocean-related activities.

The research team includes project leader Dr Joris Eggenhuisen, Dr Ricardo Silva Jacinto (L'Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer, IFREMER, Brest), and Dr Elda Miramontes (Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences, MARUM, Bremen). Technical support is provided by a technician in the Eurotank Flume Laboratory. The research will mainly be performed at Utrecht University, but extended stays in the partner institutes in France and Germany are included in the project planning.

Up to 10% of the candidate's time will be dedicated to assisting in the BSc and MSc teaching programmes of the Department of Earth Sciences. A personalised training programme will be set up, mutually agreed on recruitment, which will reflect the candidate's training needs and career objectives.


The successful candidate should be ambitious and have an MSc (or equivalent) in Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, Oceanography, or in Physics or Engineering if they have demonstrable affinity with fluid flow and sediment transport in natural environments. Experience with one or more of the following topics would be an advantage: analytical (laboratory) skills, modelling of fluid dynamics and sediment transport, oceanographic datasets, and deep-marine sediments. A broad interest in ocean sediments, and the willingness and capacity to interact with the team members, are essential. The candidate should be proficient in English and have excellent scientific writing and presenting skills. The candidate is an enthusiastic team player and has good communicational skills.

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Tuesday 26 January 2021