PhD candidate in isotope hydrology (M/F)

Reference : ERIN-2018-004

Type: PhD Student
Contract type: Fixed term contract
Duration: 12 months (+24 months + potentially 12 months extension)
Place: Belvaux



The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology offers an outstanding opportunity for joining its newly created doctoral training unit (DTU) in hydrological sciences: ”HYDRO-CSI: Towards a holistic understanding of river systems: Innovative methodologies for unraveling hydrological, chemical and biological interactions across multiple scales”. The total number of positions in this DTU is 14 – embracing four complementary thematic clusters on (1) high frequency monitoring of hydrological processes, (2) new hydrological tracers, (3) remote sensing applied to hydrology, and (4) hydrological forecasts and predictions under change. Academic partners are the TU Vienna (Austria), University of Luxembourg, Wageningen University (The Netherlands) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany). The DTU HYDRO-CSI is funded in the framework of the PRIDE scheme of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR), and coordinated by Prof. Laurent Pfister.

The main objective of the DTU HYDRO-CSI is to train a new generation of highly skilled experts with a view to contribute to solving some of the most pressing challenges related to water resources research and management: hydrological system complexity, non-stationarity of boundary conditions, high-frequency monitoring of environmental processes, global change impact assessment.

The offered fully paid PhD position is embedded in cluster (1) of the DTU and focuses on the spatial and temporal variability of isotopic signatures in stream water and precipitation. The position is envisaged to start between June 1st 2018 and December 1st 2018 and will extend over a maximum duration of 4 years. The PhD candidate will be part of the Catchment and Eco-hydrology research group (CAT) at the Department of Environmental Research and Innovation (ERIN) at LIST. Furthermore, the PhD candidate will be affiliated with TU Vienna (Vienna Doctoral Programme on Water Resource Systems, Prof. Günter Blöschl).




Prior work in the nested catchment set-up in the Alzette River basin (Luxembourg) has shown the strong controls exerted by bedrock geology on fundamental hydrological functions of water collection, storage, mixing and release. However, precipitation and stream water sampling protocols for isotope analyses essentially remained restricted to  fortnightly or daily time steps (except for isolated events that were sampled at hourly intervals) in distinct locations. A major shortcoming of these protocols is their supposed lack of representativeness. Isotope signatures of O and H in precipitation are indeed known to exhibit a large variability in space and time. Amplitudes may be related to the origin of air masses, latitudinal and altitudinal effects, as well as event-specific convective processes (the latter prone to unfold within hours to minutes).

The recent advent of new (field deployable) instruments for monitoring isotope signatures in precipitation and stream water has paved the way for investigating their variability at unprecedented temporal resolution. The prospect of handling large numbers of water samples for O and H stable isotope analyses also has paved the way for citizen-science based initiatives – where precipitation samples are collected in multiple point locations over large river basins. The collected datasets ultimately provide maps of isotope signatures in precipitation of unprecedented spatial resolution.

Here, we propose to leverage prior work at LIST on high spatial and temporal resolution monitoring of isotope signatures in precipitation and stream water by extending the use of a new generation of laser and mass spectrometers to gain new insights into both seasonal and event-based O and H stable isotope signatures and related rainfall-runoff transformation processes across a wide range of physiographic settings (in the Alzette River basin in Luxembourg and the HOAL experimental catchment in Austria).

Through the proposed position, you will contribute to solve pressing challenges and research questions posed by global change impacts on river systems – more specifically the need for high frequency monitoring of hydrological processes for gaining a better mechanistic understanding of extreme rainfall-runoff events. You will evolve in an international team of experts with multiple and complementary expertise and skills in environmental sciences. The DTU provides a unique training and career development framework, geared to building up the next generation of experts in water resources research and management.

As the successful appointee you will:

  • Design, craft and implement your research proposal, based on a thorough analysis of the current state-of-the art in isotope hydrology
  • Build a set of testable hypotheses related to non-stationarity of hydrological systems and their response to global change
  • Build-up on past and ongoing research on the spatial and temporal variability of isotope signatures of O and H in a nested catchment set-up in Luxembourg
  • Explore the potential for new generations of laser and mass spectrometers to measure stable isotopes of O and H in precipitation and stream water (and possibly groundwater, soil water and plants)
  • Design and implement an innovative (high-frequency) tritium sampling protocol for precipitation and stream water
  • Carry out your own snapshot water sampling in Luxembourg’s river system for isotope analyses with a view for identifying spatial and temporal patterns in precipitation and stream response
  • Translate the newly gained data on isotope signatures in precipitation and stream water into new mechanistic conceptualisations of rainfall-runoff transformation (with a view to global change and non-stationarity of hydrological systems)

With a view on navigating your future career as an expert in water resources research and management, you will:

  • Advance isotope hydrology science through an ambitious research project with both fundamental and applied aspects
  • Use forefront technologies in laser and mass spectrometry to measure stable isotopes of O and H in water at high frequencies
  • Be introduced to an international network of leading experts in isotope hydrology, catchment hydrology, hydrochemistry, etc
  • Sustain scientific recognition via publications in leading peer-reviewed journals and communications in international conferences


  • No restrictions apply as to the nationality of the candidates
  • Candidates shall be available for starting their position between June 1st 2018 and December 1st 2018
  • Driving licence class B

Place of employment and main place of work

  • Primary supervisors at LIST: Dr. Laurent Pfister, Dr. Julian Klaus and Dr. Tom Wirtz
  • Primary work location:  Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), Belvaux, Luxembourg
  • Duration and location of secondment/s: Regular stays at the TU Vienna are foreseen (up to 50% of total project duration).

Application procedure

The application can be submitted via LIST’s job portal: If there are any questions regarding the procedure please contact our HR office ( The application must include:

  • A motivation letter oriented towards the position and research field and experience
  • A current scientific CV, which includes full contact details
  • Two reference letters or full contact details of two referees
  • A copy of master (or similar) degree that allows for the enrolment on a doctorate degree

Applications will be reviewed on-going until the position is filled. An assessment committee will be appointed to review the applications and candidates selected based on Network-wide guidelines, which aim to ensure equal opportunities. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview either in person or by Skype.

The main criterion for selection will be the existing skills, knowledge, and research career potential of the applicant, match with the project, and fulfilment of the above mentioned qualifications. Candidates from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

The LIST is committed with equality of opportunities and gender balance.





  • Master (or similar) degree in Hydrology, Environmental or Civil Engineering, and related disciplines


  • Highly motivated to be part of an international DTU and to perform high quality research in isotope hydrology
  • Interest in isotope hydrology and stable isotope measurements, basic skills in programming (R, Matlab, or similar), ability to carry out field work
  • Strong background in hydrology
  • Isotope hydrology as an asset
  • Programming: R, Matlab
  • Field work experience


  • Fluent in English (spoken and written) is mandatory
  • French and/or German is an asset


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Dr habil. Laurent PFISTER
Dr Julian KLAUS