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PhD position: “Trace element cycling across Southern Ocean fronts and in coastal East Antarctica”

Netherlands, Noord-Holland, TexelOcean systems (OCS)

Job description

The Department of Ocean Systems (OCS) at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research is looking for a highly motivated PhD candidate with a background in marine (biogeo)chemistry or a related field. In this 4-year position, you will investigate bio-essential trace elements in the Southern Ocean, in order to constrain the role of Antarctic shelf sediments and glacial melt as a source of bio-available Fe, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn and Co to offshore waters. Additionally, trace element data will be used in a larger project to unravel what has driven changes in ocean circulation in the past.

The advertised position is part of a large international collaborative project on East Antarctic Ice Sheet Instabilities (EASI) with a multidisciplinary consortium of scientists revolving around three expeditions with R.V. Polarstern to the Indian Ocean sector of Antarctica. The overall aim is to investigate the history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) and its interaction with changes in Southern Ocean circulation, where the second expedition, EASI-2 focusses on interactions between the Southern Ocean and the EAIS.

The EAIS is the largest continental ice mass in the world and may be more vulnerable to changing temperatures than previously thought. It is therefore potentially a ‘sleeping giant’ with regards to potential near-future sea level rise. Currently, the EAIS is somewhat protected as the current water-column structure prevents intrusion of such warm ocean waters. However, this may change as the position and strength of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) was to change in the near future, as has happened in the past. To establish the current sensitivity of the EAIS in a warming climate, the EASI-2 expedition aims to record the history of the position of the ACC and other major Southern Ocean fronts, and to unravel what has driven changes in the past.


Besides changing ocean currents, another crucial factor in global climate change is primary productivity in the ocean that transports CO2 from the atmosphere into the deep ocean and sediments. As such, there is a strong interaction between primary productivity and changes that lead to ice sheet melt or collapse, where increased productivity would slow down global warming and ice sheet melt, but reduced productivity would result in the opposite effect. However, based on current understanding it is not possible to accurately predict the magnitude, or even directionality of change. Marine primary productivity is, like ice sheet melt, influenced by changes in ocean currents, but in the Southern Ocean also strongly driven by availability of bio-essential trace metals. Continental margin sediments and glacial melt are key, but poorly quantified trace metal sources to ocean waters. Therefore, we will also assess the role of Antarctic shelf sediments and glacial melt as a source of bio-available Fe, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn and Co to offshore waters.


Researchers in the Department of Ocean Systems (OCS) study open-ocean processes from a variety of disciplines including physical and chemical oceanography, marine geology, paleoceanography and deep-sea ecology. We investigate the past and present ocean in order to assess its future role in the Earth system. We collect data during oceanographic research cruises and conduct experiments both at sea and in the laboratory at our home base on Texel. The department carries out work in diverse environments all around the globe, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and from the Caribbean to the North Sea.

This PhD position is focused on the biogeochemistry of trace metals within the EASI-2 project. You will answer critical questions about the water column: What is the distribution of trace metals in the water column over the fronts of the ACC? Are margin sediments and glacial melt from the EAIS relevant sources of trace metals for primary productivity in the Southern Ocean? How might these answers change in the future under local pressures and global climate change?

To answer these questions, you will have the opportunity to collect new samples at sea while participating in an expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica aboard the icebreaker F.S. Polarstern. Combined with findings from other project participants you will help to build reconstructions of past changes in critical ocean currents as well as current fluxes of essential metals.

During the project you will be based at NIOZ on Texel, but you will also have regular interaction with (co)supervisors located at the Radboud University Nijmegen and Geomar in Kiel.

Job requirements


You must have completed an MSc degree in oceanography, Earth sciences, environmental (biogeo)chemistry, marine biology, natural sciences or a related discipline. Laboratory (trace metal) experience would be advantageous. Your application should show how your knowledge and experience will help you succeed in this position. You will need to participate in a multi-week sampling expedition. Due to the international character of our research, an excellent command of spoken and written English is essential.

We strive to ensure that our staff reflect the diversity of society, including age, gender and cultural background. We therefore very much appreciate candidates who are able to increase the diversity of NIOZ.


The project is funded for 4 years and starts in May 2023. Employment of this full-time position is at Royal NIOZ. After a 12-month probationary period and successful evaluation, the position is extended for 36 months for a maximum employment of 4 years. The salary is compliant to the CAO-OI (Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Research Institutes), a pension scheme, a holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary, a year-end bonus of 8,3%, flexible work arrangements and arrangements and 42 days of holiday leave (fulltime position). You may expect attractive secondary employment conditions. We offer generous relocation expenses for employees coming from abroad and support with finding accommodation.

Royal NIOZ is located on the beautiful island of Texel in the World Heritage Wadden Sea. Texel offers sun, wind and beach, and a diverse but moderate level of facilities, including a thriving tourist industry, shops, sports facilities, primary schools and a high school. It is connected to the mainland by an hourly to half-hourly ferry service, with crossings taking 20 minutes. The Royal NIOZ is situated next to the ferry terminal.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please submit a CV, a cover letter, and names and contact information of at least 2 references. The cover letter should clearly state your motivation and suitability for this position. To apply for this position, click the apply button on the right.

For additional information about this vacancy, please contact Prof Dr Rob Middag (project leader). For additional information about the procedure, please contact HR via Please visit the Department of Ocean Systems here.

Closing date for applications: 12th February 2023. We aim to invite suitable candidates for an interview in the second half of February. There will be a two-step interview process. The first interview will take place via Teams. Successful candidates will then be invited for a second interview in person at NIOZ Texel.