PhD position to investigate Benthic iron cycling in fjord environments – Deadline 30 June 2022

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is a world-class research institute with more than 250 scientists and scientific collaborators covering a wide range of disciplines from biology to geology, oceanography to taxonomy, and palaeontology to ecology. Research at RBINS is used to support national and international decision-makers, which enables our researchers to have a direct impact on society. The Ecosystems data processing and modelling unit (ECOMOD) within the Operational Directorate Natural Environment (OD Nature) is specialized in hydrodynamic and biogeochemical modeling, with a strong focus on coastal environments.

Ghent University is one of the most important educational and research institutions in the Low Countries. More than 9000 employees and 41000 students live up to the motto “Dare to Think” every day. Ghent University’s mission statement is characterised by qualitative
education, internationally renowned research, and a pluralistic social responsibility. The Marine Biology Research group as part of the Biology Department and Faculty of Sciences, has a long tradition in marine research with a focus on benthic ecosystems. Both aspects of biodiversity and the link to ecosystem functions and services, as well as the sustainable management of marine ecosystems and their biological resources, are key research areas.

The Ecosystems data processing and modelling unit at RBINS and the Marine Biology Research group at UGENT are looking for a full-time (100%) Doctoral student to investigate Benthic iron cycling in fjord environments (4 years, f/m/x), Iron availability limits marine productivity and controls the intensity of the biological carbon pump and oceanic CO2 uptake. Dissolved iron (dFe) is only present in trace concentrations in seawater because it is very insoluble in oxygenated seawater. The sources of dFe to the ocean thus regulate its availability for primary productivity. Glacial meltwaters represent an important source of iron to the ocean. A large fraction of glacial meltwaters transit through fjords before reaching the open ocean. Because of its low solubility, iron recycling from fjord sediments, and in particular the activity of the benthic communities, plays a critical role in modulating ice-to-ocean iron fluxes. However, the impact of benthic fauna on fjord iron cycling and ice-to-ocean fluxes remains largely unquantified.


This PhD project will target benthic iron cycling in fjord sediments, with particular attention to the role of benthic macrofauna communities. The successful candidate will participate in research cruises to Iceland and Greenland, collect and process sediment samples, and identify benthic communities. Iron minerals will be characterised through a series of laboratory extractions. The PhD student will be engaged in the interdisciplinary research project CANOE (‘Climate chANge impacts on carbon cycling and fOod wEbs in Arctic fjords’). This project aims to investigate the influence of glacial melt on biogeochemistry and food web structure and stability in Greenlandic fjords.

We seek a candidate with a background in marine science, biogeochemistry, biology, or related fields.

The selected candidate will be jointly supervised by Dr. Ulrike Braeckman (UGent) and Dr. Sebastiaan van de Velde (RBINS), will be affiliated with both RBINS and UGent and is expected to closely interact with all involved institutes.

  • You are highly motivated to conduct research within an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers, and thus build a professional network and academic career;
  • You will perform fundamental research within the domain of marine biogeochemistry and ecology;
  • You prepare and participate regularly in sampling campaigns at sea on location in
    Arctic and (sub-)Arctic fjords.
  • You have a strong interest in marine biogeochemistry and ecology;
  • You are willing to participate in research cruises with lengths of a few days to a few months;
  • You are flexible and willing to divide your time between the labs in Brussels and Ghent.
  • You will support education activities at Ghent University by supervising bachelor and master thesis projects, and by assisting in practical and theoretical biology and ecology classes.


We are looking for a flexible and creative person, who is highly motivated to tackle new and complex questions at the interface between physics, geochemistry, and biology.

You hold a masters degree (MSc) – or are expected to have one before the starting date of the position – in marine science, biogeochemistry, biology, or a related discipline in the Natural Sciences, and have a strong interest in cross-disciplinary research.


  • You are creative, possess excellent organisational skills, and have a cooperative mindset;
  • You are an excellent team player, and enthusiastic to learn new technologies;
  • Strong communication skills in English are essential, including the ability to present to both academic and non-academic audiences.


  • Candidates who have experience with marine field (e.g. sediment sampling) and laboratory (e.g. sequential extractions) techniques are particularly encouraged to apply.

We offer

  • A dynamic, vibrant, and stimulating work environment at both the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and Ghent University;
  • Opportunities to participate in sea-going expeditions ;
  • Opportunities to present your work at international conferences;
  • A full-time contract as a doctoral student for four years (2 years at RBINS, with evaluation after year 1, followed by 2 years at UGent);
  • A working environment right in the heart of the capital of Europe (Brussels) and dynamic student-hub Gent;
  • Free public transport and/or bike allowance between home/work.

How to apply

  • Applications should be sent by email to (subject: candidature CANOE-PhD) and should include a cover letter specifying the motivation to apply for the position (max. 2 pages), a short CV, including an abstract of the master thesis, a copy of the highest degree obtained and contact details of 2 references.
  • The deadline for the application is 30th June 2022 (by midnight CET).
  • We will perform a pre-selection and invite selected candidates for an interview. The selection committee will review the applications immediately after the application deadline. These interviews will take place by mid-July 2022 by videoconference. The planned start date is 1 September 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.
  • For informal inquiries, please contact Dr. Sebastiaan van de Velde ( or Dr. Ulrike Braeckman (

For more information, please follow this link.

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