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Reconstructing and modelling of river channel and floodplain dynamics Leuven Belgium,  

KU Leuven (company)

Posted on : 02 June 2017

Project Description

  • Floodplains and river valleys represent many ecosystem services such as biodiversity, carbon storage, and water buffering.
  •  However, these ecosystem services could change under influence of climate change, land use change, urbanization or management of water resources.
  •  A sustainable management of floodplains therefore requires fundamental insights into the mid- to long-term geoecohydrological dynamics of rivers and floodplains. 
  • The PhD-project will focus on the geomorphological changes of floodplains and aims to simulate the dynamics of river channels and floodplains in order to forecast future floodplain characteristics under expected socio-ecological changes. 
  • A spatially distributed and coupled hydrology-sediment transport model will be developed to simulate the impact of environmental change on daily to yearly sediment loads in river channels. In addition, a numerical model will be developed that simulates channel morphology dynamics (incision/aggradation  bank erosion/point bar deposition) following changes in flood hydrology and sediment transport. 
  • The combination of both models will make it possible to forecast how environmental change may impact flood frequency and sediment deposition in floodplains. 
  • Detailed measurement of channel morphology, and comparison with older topographic surveys, will be used to validate the channel morphology model, whilst sediment load and discharge records will be used to validate the hydrology-sediment transport model. 
  • Whilst many hydrology, sediment transport and river channel morphology models do exist, these often do not interact sufficiently to simulate the impact of changes in e.g. climate or land cover on flood frequency when also the river channel morphology changes. 
  • There is thus a need to develop channel hydrology models that are capable of simulating changes in river channel morphologies following changes in controlling factors such as river discharge, sediment transport and riparian vegetation. 
  • With this project, it is aimed to develop such a novel and dynamic model that is capable to couple hillslope processes,channel processes and floodplain processes and that is able to simulate the impact of changes in the driving forces on the morphological evolution of channels and floodplains.

We are looking for candidates that:
  • have (or are about to finish) a Master degree in a relevant discipline (geography, earth sciences, geology, environmental sciences, etc.). 
  • have interest in and knowledge of the functioning of river systems. 
  • have ample experience with GIS (e.g. ArcGIS, IDRISI or Q-GIS)  and with numerical modelling techniques (e.g. matlab, python, R or other programs). 
  • are familiar with surveying methods (e.g. levelling, GPS)
  • are keen to expand their field work skills.
  • are able to work indepently but also within a team of researchers. 
  • have a critical and creative mindset, as well as a strong motivation.
  • are willing to contribute to the BSc and/or MSc programs in Geography (e.g. through supervision of practical sessions and/or field trips).

  • We offer a fully funded PhD scholarship for 4 years at the Division of Geography and Tourism within the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences  
  • The Phd-position fits within a larger research project (2017-2021) carried out by scientific partners of the university,  the Institute for Research on Nature and Forest (INBO), the study center for Nuclear Energy (SCK-CEN) and Natuurpunt. 
  • During the project, there will be ample opportunity to interact with local stakeholders (e.g. Flemish Environmental Agency, Regional Landscapes, Nature conservation organisations, etc).
  • Our university  is among the oldest universities in Western Europe, and today it is the largest university in Belgium. 
  • Situated at the heart of Europe, our company offers a vibrant and international setting, supported by fast connections to several European cities.


3000 Leuven Belgium

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