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PhD student in Computer Science / Climate Physics (1.0 FTE)

Job description

We seek to fill a 4-year PhD position on multiresolution flow-field processing for climate applications. This research project is a collaboration between the Department of Information and Computing Science (ICS) and the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU).


Flow and vector-field design is a new and exciting topic that has gained considerable momentum in recent years in geometry processing. It has many applications: from climate analysis, through mass transportation, to computer graphics and animation. Many problems in measuring, reconstructing, and predicting flows are still unsolved. A major problem in both practice and theory is to work effectively with big data and multiple resolutions.


This project applies flow and vector-field design to climate research. More specifically, to upsampling of modelled precipitation fields over rough topographic terrains, such as ice sheet margins. Ice sheets and glaciers gain mass primarily by precipitation; hence, detailed spatial estimates are very useful. Conventionally, Regional Climate Models (RCMs) are used to estimate high-resolution precipitation fields, but computations at high resolution are very slow and storage intensive. Therefore, an alternative approach could be very valuable.


Precipitation over polar glaciated areas is predominantly topography, wind and temperature driven. Generally, climatological precipitation fields are largely determined by how much the topography interacts with the mean atmospheric flow. Hence, high-resolution precipitation fields should be deducible from low-resolution 3D wind and temperature fields, and high-resolution topography. As such, the vector-based upsampling technique must be geometry aware and adaptive. i.e. generate high-resolution fields only for regions with small spatial precipitation patterns.


The main goal of this project is to develop methodology to model multi-resolution scalar and vector fields to estimate high-resolution precipitation fields accurately and efficiently. We will extend these fields to adaptive resolution models. Consistency is a major consideration: the total flow volume must be preserved in each resolution level. In addition, upsampling and downsampling should preserve the topological features of the fields, e.g. sources, sinks, and vortices. Machine learning will be applied in order to learn the necessary adaptivity, and the correct way to upsample precipitation fields.


The successful candidate will study the state-of-the-art in multi-resolution and vector field modelling. Furthermore, the candidate will familiarize him/herself with climate simulations and the primary meteorological and cryospheric concepts. The research team will work together to develop approaches that are likely to give the desired results. The student will implement these multi-resolution approaches, and demonstrate their efficiency and accuracy on real-world data from climate models. Outcomes are analyzed by the team. The research encompasses the formulation of the underlying geometric methodology, targeting publications in relevant journals in computer science, and the demonstration of the use and effect of this methodology on climate modelling, targeting publications in relevant journals in climate research.


Dr Amir Vaxman from ICS and Dr Willem Jan van de Berg from IMAU will advise the candidate jointly. The promotion will be carried out under the supervision of Prof Dr Gerard Barkema of the Department of Computational Sciences.


Applicants should hold a a Master’s degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, or Physics, with an affinity to one or more of these subjects: geometry processing, computational climate research, machine learning and big-data processing. Strong programming skills are essential; a keen interest in geometry and flow fields is an advantage.


The candidate should have a curious and creative mind and a strong interest for interdisciplinary work related to solving fundamental problems on flows. The ideal candidate should have excellent academic qualifications, as well as good communication and collaboration skills. Candidates are expected to be in the upper segment of their class with respect to academic credentials and must show interest in an academic career, including both research and teaching/supervision activities.


Candidates of all nationalities may apply. The university is striving for a more even gender balance in its research and teaching staff, and women are especially encouraged to apply for these positions. Personal circumstances that may be of positive relevance in merit evaluation, for example parental leave, should be mentioned in the list of qualifications (CV).


The candidate is offered a full-time position for four years. The PhD will work on the project (as described above) commencing September 1, 2017, or as soon as possible thereafter. The gross salary ranges between €2,191 and increases to €2,801 gross per month for a full-time employment in the fourth year of the appointment. The salary is supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8,3% per year. In addition we offer: a pension scheme, a partially paid parental leave, flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). Conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities. The research group will provide the candidate with necessary support on all aspects of the project. More information: working at Utrecht University.

About the organization

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The city of Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a charming old center and an internationally oriented culture that is strongly influenced by its century-old university. Utrecht city has been consistently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the Netherlands.


The Faculty of Science consists of six departments: Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Information and Computing Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Mathematics. The Faculty is home to 5600 students and nearly 1500 staff and is internationally renowned for the quality of its research. The Faculty's academic programmes reflect developments in today's society.


The Department of Information and Computing Sciences is nationally and internationally renowned for its research in computer science and information science. The research of the department is grouped into four divisions: Software Systems, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Worlds and Interaction Technology. The Department offers Bachelor programs in Computer Science and Information Science, and four English-language Research Master programs in Artificial Intelligence, Business Informatics, Computing Science, and Game and Media Technology. High enrolment figures and good student ratings make the education very successful.


The Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU) is an interfaculty research institute that focuses on the fundamental aspects of the climate system. Research is organized in five main themes: Ice and Climate, Ocean Circulation and Climate, Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry, Atmospheric Dynamics and Boundary-layer Meteorology and Coastal and Shelf Sea Dynamics. The IMAU currently employs some 15 faculty members, 20 postdocs and 30 PhD students.


The candidate will be working at the department of Computational Sciences, within the group Geometric Computing, which is part of the division Algorithms. The group deals with challenges in representing, manipulating, and analyzing geometric data computationally.

Additional information

For Additional information about the vacancy, contact Dr Amir Vaxman at, work telephone number +31 30 253 92 02.

Promising candidates will be granted an interview in person, or by video conference (for international candidates). As part of the selection procedure, the candidate is expected to give an oral presentation about his/her master research.


To apply, please attach a letter of motivation, curriculum vitae, a copy of the MSc thesis (if available), names and contact details of two references. The application must be done in English.

To apply, please click the application button below.

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