2 PhD positions in Environmental and Soil Sciences: PhD-1: Investigating Gradients and Emissions of N2O in Soil Profiles and Across Landscapes; PhD-2: Drivers of N2O Emissions from Mineral and Organic Fertilisers

The Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences, invites applicants for 2 PhD positions within Environmental and Soil Sciences. Both PhD projects focus on emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) from agricultural soils and the mechanisms and factors controlling these emissions.

PhD-1 is part of the pioneer research center LandCRAFT which aims to bring transformational solutions to agricultural systems, and is funded by a large grant from five Danish private and public research foundations. The focus will be within the research area ‘Landscape experimentation’. The project is lead by Aarhus University and includes partners from University of Copenhagen, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Colorado State University.

PhD-2 is part of the research project KlimaGødning (Modeling the climate impact of fertiliser use in Danish agriculture), funded by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The project aims to to develop a new nitrogen (N) modeling approch that can calculate reliable estimates of N2O emissions at the field level from soil biogeophysical conditions and farm activity data, especially related to mineral and organic N fertilisation.  

The project builds on the agroecosystem model Daisy and entails developing and expanding the current Daisy N submodel to include a more advanced approach to simulation of N2O emissions. The project is lead by University of Copenhagen, and includes partners from Aarhus University and SEGES Innovation. Starting date for both positions is expected to be 1st October 2023 or as soon as possible thereafter.

The PhD projects:

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a very potent and important greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential approximately 300 times stronger than CO2. About 70% of the global N2O emissions comes from agricultural fields as a consequence of N fertilization of crops, whether in mineral or organic form. Formation and consumption of N2O is driven by microbial N turnover and takes place at different depth in the soil profile.

This affects N2O transport through diffusion and mass flow in the profile, which eventually results in emissions from the soil surface. However, our understanding of where in the profiles and where along water availability gradients the formation and comsumption of N2O takes place is still incomplete.

 It is also still poorly understood how these processes are affected by environmental conditions like water content, oxygen content, as well as availability of ammonium, nitrate and decomposable organic matter from mineral or organic fertilisers. Our current models do not describe these process and their interactions to a satisfactory degree.

Water availability gradients are generated from well-drained areas to poorly drained areas or from the top of a slope to a depression in the landscape, and significant changes in chemical and physical properties occur along such a gradient.

The overall aim of the PhD-1 project is to understand the mechanisms leading to different emissions of N2O along water availability gradient within the landscape, and to use the knowledge to identify where and when along the gradients N2O is formed and degraded and ultimately emitted to the atmosphere.

Such knowledge is necessary to build better models and to develop effective mitigation strategies for reducing N2O emissions from agricultural systems. In order to pursue this aim, experiments at various scales from small controlled mesocosm systems to field measurements will be conducted.

Soil parameters such as water content, O2, pH, N, and C dynamics will be monitored and related to gradients of N2O formation and emission.  State-of-the-art measurements, including N2O microsensor technology and tubes for N2O sampling, planar optical sensors (optodes) (O2, and pH) will provide datasets with a high spatial and temporal resolution capturing the parameter interaction in both vertical and horizontal gradients. 

Isotopic labelling can be introduced in various places including labelled nitrate and ammonium as well as NO and N2O. This will allow for a more accurate interpretation of the factors affecting N2O formation and consequently better estimates of where and when N2O is formed along gradients within the landscape.

When mineral or organic fertilisers are applied in agricultural fields, it is well-known that this will stimulate microbial N turnover processes, such as nitrification and denitrification, which may potentially lead to emissions of a small fraction of the applied N as N2O. However, ammonium-based and organic fertilisers like manure or  crop residues may also stimulate significant O2 consumption, leading to conditions more favourable for N2O formation and emission.

The overall aim of the PhD-2 project is to improve our knowledge of how mineral and organic fertilizer types and management interact with key controlling factors, such as crop and crop residues, soil type and climate (precipitation and temperature) in controlling N2O emissions.

The PhD project will include experimental work, both in the lab and in the field to produce new datasets on N2O emissions and key controlling factors, but will also involve contributions to computer model development, testing and application, so a good understanding of modelling principples will be an advantage.

Model development will mainly be conducted by other project participants, initially based on utilising existing datasets on N2O emissions from earlier and concurrent projects, feeding into the development and calibration of a new N2O submodel component of Daisy for more valid N2O estimates. Later, the PhD student may contribute to the validation of the developed model to predict N2O emission data from own experimental activities, as well as from selected farmers field areas, to identify situations or areas with high N2O emission risk, and effective measures to mitigate these risks.

Who are we looking for?

For both positions we are looking for candidates with professional as well as personal skills and qualifications as stated below:

  • Professional qualifications relevant to the PhD project, including a MSc degree in environmental science, soil science, physical geography, agronomy or a related discipline.
  • Solid knowledge about soil biogeochemistry and soil physics, in the context of agricultural systems.
  • Interest and flair for conducting experimental environmental research and experience with physical and chemical analyses of soil.
  • Experience with the experimental techniques and approaches described above will be an advantage.
  • Knowledge about modelling of environmental processes or agricultural systems will be an advantage for PhD-2.
  • Good computer skills, experience with advanced data management and analysis, including statistical tools and methods.
  • Relevant work experience or other professional activities will be an advantage
  • Excellent English language skills (written as well as oral)
  • Good communicative and interpersonal skills.

We welcome applications for either PhD-1, PhD-2 or for both PhD positions (in the same application) – please state which positions you apply for and the motivation for your choice in the cover letter.

Our group and research – what do we offer? The Soil Fertility research group focuses on soil fertility issues and environmental impacts related to sustainable agriculture with a special focus on nutrient cycling and climate change.

Our research aims at a mechanistic understanding of soil nutrient and organic matter dynamics at both the level of micro-scale biogeophysical processes and at eco-system scales, in the pursuit of increased nutrient use efficiency, improved crop productivity and reduced environmental impacts from agriculture.

The group is part of Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PLEN), Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen. We are located in Copenhagen, with main campus in Frederiksberg and field trial facilities at our experimental farm in Taastrup, 20 km from the main campus.

Our research facilities include modern laboratories, growth chambers, greenhouses and experimental fields. We offer creative and stimulating working conditions in a dynamic and international research environment.

The PhD-1 will also collaborate with researchers within the LandCRAFT pioneer research center. PhD-2 will collaborate with researchers from the Agrohydrology and Daisy groups (at PLEN), Aarhus University – Foulum and SEGES Innovation.

Principal supervisor for PhD-1 will be Associate Professor,Sander Bruun, Soil Fertility research group, sab@plen.ku.dk, phone +45 3533 3481.Co-supervisor will be Professor Per Ambus, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources.

Principal supervisor for PhD-2 will beProfessor,Lars Stoumann Jensen, Soil Fertility research group, lsj@plen.ku.dk, mobile: +45 2122 2039. Co-supervisors will be Assistant Professor Simon Fiil Svane, Agrohydrology research group and Associate Professor Sander Bruun.

The PhD programme: The PhD positions available is a three year full-time study within the framework of the regular PhD programme (5+3 scheme).

To be eligible for the regular PhD programme, you must have completed a degree programme, equivalent to a Danish master’s degree (180 ECTS/3 FTE BSc + 120 ECTS/2 FTE MSc) related to the subject area of the project, e.g. agronomy, biology or environmental sciences. Terms of employment in the regular programme: Employment as PhD fellow is full time and for maximum 3 years.

Employment is conditional upon your successful enrolment as a PhD student at the PhD School at the Faculty of SCIENCE, University of Copenhagen. This requires submission and acceptance of an application for the specific project formulated by the applicant.

The terms of employment and salary are in accordance to the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations on Academics in the State (AC). The position is covered by the Protocol on Job Structure.

Responsibilities and tasks in the PhD programme

  • Carry out an independent research project under supervision and in collaboration with other partners in the project 
  • Complete PhD courses corresponding to approx. 30 ECTS / ½ FTE
  • Participate in active research environments, including a stay at another research institution, preferably abroad
  • Teaching and knowledge dissemination activities
  • Write scientific papers aimed at high-impact journals
  • Write and defend a PhD thesis on the basis of your project

We are looking for the following qualifications (see also specific qualifications above):

  • Professional qualifications relevant to the PhD project
  • Relevant publications
  • Relevant work experience
  • Other relevant professional activities
  • Curious mind-set with a strong interest in the subjects related to the position
  • Good language skills

Application and Assessment Procedure

 Your application including all attachments must be in English and submitted electronically by clicking APPLY NOW below.

Please include

  1. Cover letter of application (max. one page), including your motivation for applying for the specific PhD project, please indicate (and motivate) if you apply for PhD-1, PhD-2 or both.
  2. Curriculum vitae including information about your education, experience, language skills and other skills relevant for the position
  3. Original diplomas for Bachelor of Science or Master of Science and transcript of records in the original language, including an authorized English translation if issued in another language than English or Danish. If not completed, a certified/signed copy of a recent transcript of records or a written statement from the institution or supervisor is accepted.
  4. Publication list (if relevant)
  5. Reference letters (if available)

Application deadline:

The deadline for applications is Sunday 20th of August 2023, 23:59 GMT +2.

We reserve the right not to consider material received after the deadline, and not to consider applications that do not live up to the abovementioned requirements.

The further process: After deadline, a number of applicants will be selected for academic assessment by an unbiased expert assessor. You are notified, whether you will be passed for assessment. The assessor will assess the qualifications and experience of the shortlisted applicants with respect to the above mentioned research area, techniques, skills and other requirements.

The assessor will conclude whether each applicant is qualified and, if so, for which of the two models. The assessed applicants will have the opportunity to comment on their assessment. Interviews with selected candidates are expected to be held end of beginning of September 2023. 

Questions: For specific information about the PhD fellowship, please contact the principal supervisor. The University of Copenhagen wishes to reflect the surrounding community and invites all regardless of personal background to apply for the position. 

Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, the University of Copenhagen promotes research and teaching of the highest international standard.

Rich in tradition and modern in outlook, the University gives students and staff the opportunity to cultivate their talent in an ambitious and informal environment. An effective organisation – with good working conditions and a collaborative work culture – creates the ideal framework for a successful academic career.

Contact: Lars Stoumann Jensen E-mail: lsj@plen.ku.dk

Contact: Sander Bruun E-mail: sab@plen.ku.dk

Application deadline: 20-08-2023

Employment start: 01-10-2023

Working hours: Full time

Department/Location: Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences


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