PhD position on the mechanics of the largest subduction earthquake (4 yrs)

Job description:

We are seeking a motivated PhD candidate to work on the research project Fingerprinting vertical land motion from the earthquake cycle above subduction zones. An interdisciplinary team involving Rob Govers (Tectonophysics group) at Utrecht University, Femke Vossepoel (Geophysical Data Assimilation) and Riccardo Riva (Sea Level and Geophysics) from Technical University Delft seeks a PhD student to work in a collaborative programme on the mechanics of the largest earthquakes.

Large subduction earthquakes can induce meter-scale vertical land displacements along seashore regions that can be 100s of kilometres long. The displacements are spatially highly variable in both sign (up or down) and magnitude. Recent observations demonstrate that the displacements evolve rapidly during the early post-seismic period. Vertical land motions continue during other stages of the earthquake cycle. These continual relative sea level changes can be very impactful for coastal communities.

We will use data assimilation for combined updates of steady parameters and states of 3D mechanical finite element models. This innovative approach is designed to overcome the major limitations of recent studies. We will use 3-component GNSS time series, tide gauge data corrected with data from satellite altimetry, leveling data, and available geological data to constrain the (relative importance of the) earth processes that cause vertical motions of the land surface and ocean floor during various stages of the megathrust earthquake cycle.

We investigate two subduction margins where very large earthquakes happened since the GNSS network came online, and where the network density is high (Tohoku and Maule). We constrain the information content of the observations regarding earthquake cycle processes. We will test our hypothesis that these processes are the same at different subduction margins and that observational differences are driven by differences in margin geometry. We will assimilate uplift/subsidence data for the post-seismic period of the 1964 Alaska earthquake, where modern GNSS time series came online ~4 decades after the event. Question will be to what extent the data assimilation tightens the constraints on parameters and model states in a context where we (may have to) assume that the processes are very similar to other margins. If successful, our new approach can be applied to forecast sea level changes due to the megathrust earthquake cycle.

You will be expected to publish the results in papers in top journals. You will work in the Tectonophysics team, led by Dr Govers, which includes 3 PhD students and Postdocs, and a model Support Technician. Up to 10% of your 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 and mutually agreed upon recruitment, which will reflect your training needs and career objectives.

The project is financed for the entire 4-year PhD period by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).


You are an enthusiastic graduate student holding an MSc degree in a relevant field for the position. In particular:

  • you should have a relevant background in numerical geomechanics, ideally with ample experience with FEM;
  • you are expected to be intimately familiar with Linux-like systems, to be fluent in at least one modern computer language (Fortran, C, C++);
  • you should have the ambition to excel in this field, have a background in geophysics, and have a strong interest in earthquakes.

It is essential that you are willing and able to interact in a multidisciplinary team. Important accessory qualifications include positive social/verbal/communication skills, determination, willingness to travel abroad, eagerness to develop multidisciplinary skills, and ability to share and explain results to other researchers (also from other disciplines). You should have excellent written and spoken English skills.

Terms of employment:

The successful candidate will be offered a full-time PhD position at first for one year. Depending on a successful assessment this may be extended to a total period of four years, with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period.

Employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. The gross monthly salary starts with € 2,395,- in the first year and increases to € 3,061,- in the fourth year of employment with a full-time appointment. The salary is supplemented by a holiday allowance of 8% per year and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%. In addition, we offer a pension scheme, collective insurance schemes and flexible employment conditions. Facilities for sports and childcare are available on our main campus (where the Department of Earth Sciences is situated), which is located only 15 minutes away from the historical city centre of Utrecht.

About the organisation:

The Utrecht Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including man’s spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts teaching and research across the full range of the solid Earth and environmental Earth sciences, with activities in almost all areas of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biogeology and hydrogeology. The department hosts a highly international group of more than 100 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and houses, or has access to, a wide variety of world-class laboratories.

Additional information:

For additional information please contact the project leader Dr Rob Govers,

How to apply:

To apply, please follow this link and the guidelines mentioned there. The application deadline is October 25, 2020. Evaluations and interviews are planned soon thereafter. We aim to fill the position during the fall of 2020. Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

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