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Within the GFZ, the Earth Surface Process Modeling Section specializes in the development of computer models to simulate the processes responsible for the evolution of the Earth's surface, such as bedrock incision by rivers and glaciers in mountain ranges, or the slow weathering of rock in low relief continental interiors. In doing so, we provide a framework to integrate field observations and laboratory measurements, and make predictions about places where no data exists or concerning the future evolution of the Earth's surface. Our section employs a range of researchers who all share a common interest in computer models, but who are from a variety of research backgrounds, including geology, geophysics and mathematics. We also work closely with colleagues in other sections of the GFZ as well as other German and international research institutions and universities.

Early Stage Researcher PhD position, Innovative Training Network “S2S-FUTURE”: modeling the formation of the regolith

Job Vacancy No. 3826

Research objectives

The regolith is the uppermost part of the Earth’s crust, which, because it is in contact with the hydrosphere, is composed of chemically and physically altered or weathered rocks. It is an essential part of the so-called critical zone in part because it is host to the largest fresh water reservoir on Earth, but also because it sustains most life at the Earth’s surface. The processes that control the formation and thus the present-day thickness of the regolith are, however, poorly quantified and few predictive model exists. Our estimates of regolith geometry are based on very sparse measurements and mostly rely on empirical relationships or correlations. Braun et al (2016) recently proposed a simple parameterization of regolith formation under the assumption that chemical alteration controls the rate of propagation of the weathering front through the ability of the flow of water along the interface to remove the product of the chemical dissolution, therefore keeping the system from complete saturation. Although highly simplified, the model is able to reproduce basic observations such as the control of surface erosion rate on regolith thickness and of surface slope on the distribution of regolith (in our out of phase with the surface topography). The first objective of this project is to generalize this model to 3 dimensions and to include it in an existing landscape evolution model (LEM). One of the challenges will be to find a highly efficient implementation that insures that the resulting LEM can be used in a Bayesian scheme to invert for both climate/tectonic control and model parameter values. For this we will need to improve on existing methods to compute the geometry of the water table in an arbitrary regolith geometry. The second objective is to use existing regolith estimates and data collected in WP1 by ESR5 to validate and calibrate the model and to investigate how an extreme climatic event such as the PETM affects weathering rates and is expressed and recorded in the geological archives.

Presentation of the research project (cooperative aspect)

This PhD position is within the framework of a European ITN project named S2S-FUTURE: SIGNAL PROPAGATION IN SOURCE TO SINK for the FUTUre of earth Resources and Energies involving 15 PhD positions. Under the supervision of Jean Braun (Professor, GFZ and University of Potsdam), the PhD student will develop a 2D numerical model of propagation of a weathering front on geological time scales in a variety of environments and will use observations from the Pyrenees. The project involves collaborations with multiple European institutions and industrial partners, including required research stays (secondment) at Université Bourgogne Franche Comté, France (Prof. Emmanuelle Pucéat; 2 months), University of Geneva, Switzerland (Prof. Sebastien Castelltort; 4 months, and Université Rennes 1, France (Prof. François Guillocheau; 4 months). The PhD student will be also involved in scientific/soft-skills meetings and in research activities conducted in other laboratories/companies from Europe and associated countries.
An important component of the training will be the participation to 3 main major “Summer Institutes”:
Summer 2020: “Dragonstone” – South-Pyrenees  Spain and France: an innovative combination of field excursion and computer modeling of surface processes from source to sink.
Summer 2021: “The Factory” – Norway, Great Britain and Switzerland: field visit of modern S2S systems and course intensive program of technical and soft skills to accelerate the students’ research, write and present their results, consolidate their profiles and develop concrete plans for their future.
Summer 2022: “Inside Africa” – South-Africa: an immersion of ESRs in the modern source-to-sink system of a continental-scale large river, the Orange in Southern Africa, with high economic implications for mining industries.
In addition to these major milestones of the program, the PhD students will 1) continuously develop their core research skills via their own research project locally and within the network while at secondments and conferences, 2) receive a mandatory amount of hard and soft-skills training specific to their own doctoral school, along with mentoring by joint supervising bodies, 3) use EGU conferences both as dissemination events for ESRs results and network events for progress reports and evaluations, and 4) collaborate into practical activities aimed at network-structuring legacy deliverables.
The goal of S2S-FUTURE is to understand, quantify and model the sediment routing system from the sediment production (source) to the sediment deposition (sink); its tectonic and climatic controls; and to establish generic rules for a full understanding of signals propagation in S2S systems for building predictive models of sediment location and characteristics. These studies of S2S systems require interdisciplinary approaches combining geomorphology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, geochemistry, tectonic and paleoclimatology coupling observations, quantifications and process modelling. All these skills are integrated in the S2S-FUTURE project.
The objectives of S2S-FUTURE have been designed with primary societal implications in the domains of water, carbon-derived energy, sustainable geological energy and geological storage of non-geological energy, waste geological storage, mineral resources, and building materials. These points have become crucial for sustainable investment and development according to several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals such as SDG#6 (Clean water and sanitation), SDG#7 (Affordable and clean energy) and SDG#13 (Climate action) among others.


  • 3-years full-time employment contract
  • Attractive salary tuned to living standards of the hosting country.
  • Based in one of the top European institutions in Earth Sciences located in Potsdam and within commuting distance to Berlin.
  • Be part of a large and enthusiastic international team, where own initiatives and ideas are encouraged, with the opportunity to sculpting the future of Source-to-Sink research and network in Europe.
  • Possibility to collaborate with a large network of international research groups engaged in the ITN.


  • The candidate should be in the first four years of their research career. They should not have a doctoral degree and must fulfil the eligibility criteria and mobility rule (see below).
  • The candidate should hold or be about to obtain a Master’s degree in earth sciences, physics, engineering or applied mathematics.
  • Excellent technical skills including experience in numerical modeling and programming.
  • Training in the Earth sciences, preferentially sedimentology or geomorphology with demonstrated abilities (high marks) in applied mathematics.
  • Proficiency in written and spoken English.
  • The ability to work both as part of a team, and independently, coupled with excellent communication, organizational and problem-solving skills.
  • Availability to travel for training events and research secondments.

Eligibility criteria for this position:

Recruiting is in accordance with the European rules for Marie Curie Initial Training Networks. Early-stage researchers (ESR) can be of any nationality. They must be, at the time of recruitment by the host organization, in the first four years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers and have not yet been awarded a doctoral degree. The research career starts after the degree that enables a student to proceed with a PhD (usually, the Master degree).

Mobility rule:

At the time of the recruitment by the first host institution, the ESRs must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of their first host institution for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date. Short stays such as holidays and/or compulsory national service are not taken into account.
Starting date: 15th August 2020
Fixed term: 3 years
Salary: employee gross remuneration maximum 3560 euros per month if the conditions for family allowance are met (otherwise 500 euros less)
Working hours: full-time (currently 39 h/week); The position is, in principle, suitable for part-time employment.
Location: Potsdam
You can expect a very diverse and challenging job in an international work environment that is characterized by exciting research projects. The compatibility of work and family life is of particular concern to the GFZ. Therefore, it offers the opportunity for flexible working time and workplaces. Moreover, there is a kindergarten located on the research campus.
The GFZ is a partner with Geo.X (www.geo-x.net), and as such it is well connected with other geoscience institutions in Potsdam und Berlin. Geo.X forms the largest regional cluster of geoscientific expertise in Europe and offers excellent opportunities for cooperation and development.

How to apply

A single pdf file needs to be submitted including:
  • a cover letter, stating your research motivation and interests; including relevant background and career plan (max 1 A4 page)
  • a Curriculum Vitae, including academic background, previous research and/or industrial experience (max 2 A4 pages)
  • Degree transcripts (with marks)
  • English language qualification certificates (or equivalent)
Reference letters:
  • at least 2 confidential reference letters from academics (including name, position and email address of the referee) (max 1 A4 page, with substantiated assessment of the applicant’s technical skills, creativity, innovation ability, working capacity, efficiency and level of independence) must be sent directly to the contacts below.
Please submit your application online by 1st March 2020 using the "Apply" button.



Equal opportunity is an inherent part of our personnel policy. Therefore we are particularly welcoming applications from qualified women. Severely disabled persons will be given preferential treatment in the case of equal qualification. We will retain your application documents for at least three months, even if the application is not successful.
If you have any questions regarding this job offer, please feel free to call Ms Buge at +49 (0) 331-288-28878.