PhD Position in Long Term Hydrodynamic and Morphodynamic Modelling

Catholic University of Leuven Department of Civil Engineering

In the framework of the Testerep project, a PhD position is opened. Testerep is an SBO (Strategic Basic Research) project funded by FWO (The Research Foundation - Flanders). The research will be carried out in the Hydraulics and Geotechnics Section of the Department of Civil Engineering at KU Leuven. The research of this section covers Urban and River Hydrology and Hydraulics, Coastal Engineering, Coastal and Estuarine Hydrodynamics, Remote Sensing, Sediment Mechanics, Eco-Hydro-Morphodynamics and Geotechnical Engineering. This vacancy is embedded in the fields of coastal and estuarine hydrodynamics and morphodynamics.


The project Testerep aims at understanding long term (5000 BP - present) evolution of a particular area of the Flemish coast. Relative sea-level rise is not only a threat for the coastal plain and its society now, but has posed a risk throughout time. The interaction between past environmental conditions, the palaeogeomorphology and the strategies developed by people to live in this coastal landscape, has been pivotal in shaping the large-scale coastal dynamics (e.g. silting up of tidal inlets and land loss through erosion) that have led to the present-day situation. This past evolution can offer valuable lessons for future actions aimed at creating a more sustainable coastline. The former Testerep peninsula, once located on the Flemish coast, is the ideal case study to derive such lessons. Its preserved southern portion is now part of the polders and beach, while its northern side, including the medieval city of Ostend, has been lost to the sea. To study the evolution and eventual demise of Testerep over the past 5000 years, existing data on historic natural (e.g. tidal inlets) and manmade (e.g. dikes) features will be supplemented with new on- and offshore data from LiDAR, seismic, magnetic and EMI surveys, cores, excavations, and samples for pollen, radiocarbon and OSL. All information will be integrated and studied using GIS analyses and morphological and hydrodynamic modelling to advance multidisciplinary research across the sea-land boundary. Resulting products will include palaeogeographic maps, state-of-the-art 3D reconstructions and interactive 3D simulations. The new multidisciplinary knowledge and powerful visuals, highlighting the natural and human-induced past coastal landscape change, will be used to raise public awareness on coastal dynamics and current threats, to stimulate blue tourism, to support heritage management, and to inspire sustainable coastal management strategies for the future.

The PhD work will focus on the morphological and hydrodynamic modelling of the palaeolandscape evolution using state of the art models. The main hypotheses are:

(i) The Testerep peninsula was morphologically relatively stable but continued anthropogenic land reclamation changed the sand transport patterns. As long as strong tidal currents kept the tidal gully open during flood-tide, sand transported during flood/ebb would be redeposited at slack-tide and feed the beach at ebb/flood-tide. Gradual narrowing and closing of the tidal gully through land reclamation interrupted this sediment transport pattern, reducing the natural feeding of the sea-ward side of Testerep. This resulted in gradual erosion and/or storm-induced erosion of the peninsula.

(ii) For most of its Holocene history, the coastal landscape was characterised by tidal marshes. During storms, these tidal marshes could absorb a considerable amount of the wave energy and therefore limit the erosive impact of storm surges.

(iii) The genesis of Testerep may be related to a process of natural nourishment from a shoreface connected sand ridge. Availability of offshore sand may have caused progradation of the coastline, creating land (Testerep) protruding c. 1 km seaward from neighbouring areas.

In the PhD-work, these (and possibly other hypotheses) will be tested to examine the implications of natural environmental conditions and man-made interventions on the morphological dynamics of the former coast. This in turn will help to better understand present-day coastal vulnerabilities and inform future decision making on coastal management approaches.


You hold a Master degree in Civil Engineering, Physical Oceanography or a related area.  Knowledge of and interest in numerical simulation of coastal hydrodynamics (currents and waves) and coastal morphodynamics is essential. Please submit any thesis, report or other publication demonstrating your experience in hydrodynamic and morphodynamic modelling. Proven experience in scientific programming is an asset. Experience with the Telemac software ( and/or Xbeach ( is considered a plus.

You have an excellent command of English both for oral and written communication.

You are creative, you are able to work independently and formulate/tackle research problems. You are willing to work in a multidisciplinary team.

 Preferred starting date: a.s.a.p.


We offer a dynamic, friendly andstimulating international research environment. .The duration of the contract is 1 year, with yearly extension to a maximum of 4 years, after yearly evaluation. The salary and appointment terms are consistent with the general rules at our university.

KU Leuven is a research-intensive, internationally oriented university that carries out both fundamental and applied scientific research. Our university is highly inter- and multidisciplinary focused and strives for international excellence. In this regard we actively work together with research partners in Belgium and abroad.

You will work in Leuven, a historic, dynamic and lively city located in the heart of Belgium, within 20 minutes from Brussels, the capital of the European Union, and less than two hours from Paris, London and Amsterdam.


For more information please contact Prof. Jaak Monbaliu, tel.: +32 16 32 16 61, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than January 31, 2022 via the
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  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: January 31, 2022
  • Tags: Burgerlijke Bouwkunde