01 July 2019

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Please apply through the online vacancy link before September 1st of 2019.

The application material should include a letter of motivation, a curriculum vitae, copies of university and high-school degrees(including grades) and either two letters of recommendation or contact information of two people that can be contacted for reference.


Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from Prof. Dr. Erik Smolders via or Dr. Mieke Verbeeck via

You can apply for this job no later than September 01, 2019 via the online application tool
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Apply before 01 September 2019

You will be based in the Division Soil and Water Management that conducts basic and applied research on the bioavailability of macro- and micronutrients and of toxic elements, in soils and in the aquatic environment.

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The Flemish region cannot cope with the guidelines set out in the European Water Framework Directive for good water quality, mainly due to excess nutrients. Over 80% of the rivers and lakes exceed the phosphate (P) limit. The P concentrations in surface water fail to decrease despite reduced P emissions during the last 20 years. We have recently shown that P concentrations in Flemish waters are mainly affected by internal loading of the sediment, a process that is accelerated by the specific geophysical conditions of a lowland river system that makes it susceptible to redox cycling.


The objective of this project is to estimate the natural fraction of that process,i.e. the pre-anthropogenic concentration range of P in surface water of Flanders. In addition, this project wants to quantify the role of human development on the current P concentration range. An archaeological and geophysical approach will be used to infer historic time trends (10,000 y BP-current) in sediment and surface water P in relation to the past population density and agricultural development. The historical reconstruction will be complemented with emission modelling and experiments on internal loading. The expected scientific outcomes are new information on past population history and the role of human development on regional enrichment of sediments and waters with P. The expected practical outcome is the provision of tools for the government to make regional specific nutrient limits.


The PhD candidate will work at KU Leuven in close collaboration with a PhD in archeology at U Gent on this project. The PhD candidate will be responsible for sampling lake and river sediments, for chemical characterization of these sediments, for laboratory incubation studies and for modelling historical migration of P in soils and sediments. The project ensures technical assistance for sampling and chemical analyses.


We seek an enthusiastic PhD student to work in an FWO collaborative project between soil scientists and archaeologists on the identification of pristine (natural,pre-anthropogenic) backgrounds. The candidate must hold a MSc degree (at the start of the contract) that ensures appropriate knowledge in analytical and environmental chemistry and earth sciences. Experience in field sampling, working with GIS software and geochemical speciation programs is not necessary but can be helpful.

You approach scientific problems with determination and eager to develop multidisciplinary skills. Furthermore, good communication skills and a collaborative attitude are highly appreciated. You also have excellent written and spoken English skills.


You will be offered a PhD position at the KU Leuven, while being subjected to the requirements of the Arenberg Doctoral School. More information on these requirements can be found at Further, you will be involved in state-of-the-art research in understanding and mitigating the effect of anthropogenic activity on environmental quality.

Facilities for sports and child care are available on our campus (where the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is situated), which is located only 15 minutes away from the historical city centre of Leuven. You will also profit from local activities and guidance within the PhD training regulated by the Arenberg Doctoral School.