Doctoral student to investigate the role of benthic fauna in natural alkalinity generation in marine sediment

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is a world-class research institute with more than 250 scientists and scientific collaborators covering a wide range of disciplines from biology, taxonomy and oceanography to geology, palaeontology and anthropology. Research at RBINS is used to support national and international decision-makers, which enables our researchers to have a direct impact on society. The Ecosystems data processing and modelling unit (ECOMOD) within the Operational Directorate Natural Environment (OD Nature) ( is specialized in hydrodynamic and biogeochemical modeling, with a strong focus on coastal environments.

Ghent University is one of the most important educational and research institutions in the Low Countries. More than 9000 employees and 41000 students live up to the motto “Dare to Think” every day. Ghent University's mission statement is characterised by qualitative education, internationally renowned research, and a pluralistic social responsibility. The Marine Biology Research group ( as part of the Biology Department and Faculty of Sciences, has a long tradition in marine research with a focus on benthic ecosystems. Both aspects of biodiversity and the link to ecosystem functions and services, as well as the sustainable management of marine ecosystems and their biological resources, are key research areas.

The Ecosystems data processing and modelling unit at RBINS and the Marine Biology Research group at UGENT are looking for:

A full-time (100%) Doctoral student f/m/x to investigate the role of benthic fauna in natural alkalinity generation in marine sediments (4 years RBINS/UGent)

The ocean is the largest sink for atmospheric CO2. The ability of the ocean to take up CO2 is controlled by the alkalinity of seawater. Marine sediments generate ~30 Teq alkalinity per year globally, which is equivalent to an uptake of ~1 Pg CO2 annually from the atmosphere. Research into artificial ways of enhancing the ocean’s alkalinity is rapidly accelerating, yet there is still considerable uncertainty surrounding the natural sources of alkalinity, and specifically, the role of benthic fauna communities in generating alkalinity has not been constrained. The seabed is populated with benthic fauna which, through their burrowing and ventilation activities in the sediment, affect the transport of solids and fluids in the sediment. By controlling sedimentary transport, benthic fauna can change the carbonate saturation state within the sediment and the rates of pyrite formation and denitrification. Since all these processes determine sedimentary alkalinity generation, benthic fauna is expected to have a large influence on natural alkalinity generation.

Job description

This PhD project will target alkalinity generation in coastal sediments, with particular attention to the role of benthic macrofauna communities. The successful candidate will participate in regular research cruises to the Belgian Part of the North Sea, help run a large mesocosm experiment in Antwerp, measure alkalinity via titration methods, collect and process sediment samples, and identify benthic communities.

We seek a candidate with a background in marine science, biogeochemistry, biology, or related fields.

The selected candidate will be jointly supervised by Prof. Ulrike Braeckman (RBINS/UGent) and Dr. Sebastiaan van de Velde (RBINS/University of Antwerp) and is expected to closely interact with all involved institutes (RBINS in Brussels, Antwerp University, and Ghent University). At the beginning of the project, it is expected that the candidate will spend most of their time will be spent at the University of Antwerp.

  • You are highly motivated to conduct research within an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers, and thus build a professional network and academic career;
  • You will perform fundamental research within the domain of marine biogeochemistry and ecology; 
  • You prepare and participate regularly in sampling campaigns at sea;
  • You have a strong interest in marine biogeochemistry and ecology;
  • You are willing to participate in research cruises with lengths of a few days to a few weeks;
  • You are flexible and willing to divide your time between the labs in Antwerp, Brussels, and Ghent.
  • You will support education activities at Ghent University by supervising bachelor and master thesis projects, and by assisting in practical and theoretical biology and ecology classes.

Profile and qualifications

We are looking for a flexible and creative person, who is highly motivated to tackle new and complex questions at the interface between physics, geochemistry, and biology.

  • You hold a master's degree (MSc) - or are expected to have one before the starting date of the position - in marine science, biogeochemistry, biology, or a related discipline in the Natural Sciences, and have a strong interest in cross-disciplinary research (holders of foreign Master diploma will have to apply for a diploma equivalence procedure);
  • Candidates who have experience with marine field (e.g. sediment sampling) and laboratory (e.g. carbonate chemistry measurements) techniques are particularly encouraged to apply.
  • You are creative, possess excellent organizational skills, and have a cooperative mindset;
  • You are an excellent team player, and enthusiastic to learn new technologies;
  • Strong communication skills in English are essential, including the ability to present to both academic and non-academic audiences.

We offer

  • A dynamic, vibrant, and stimulating work environment at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, University of Antwerp and Ghent University;
  • Opportunities to participate in sea-going expeditions ;
  • Opportunities to present your work at international conferences;
  • A full-time contract as a doctoral student for four years (2 years at RBINS with salary scale SW1, with evaluation after year 1, followed by 2 years at UGent);
  • Free public transport and/or bike allowance between home/work;

 Want to apply?

  • Applications should be sent by email to (subject: candidature CANOE-CC-PhD) and should include a cover letter specifying the motivation to apply for the position (max. 2 pages), a short CV (max. 1 page), an abstract of the master thesis, a copy of the highest degree obtained and contact details of 2 references.
  • The deadline for the application is 8 December 2023 (by midnight CET).
  • We will perform a pre-selection and invite selected candidates for an interview. The selection committee will review the applications immediately after the application deadline. These interviews will take place by mid-December 2023 and by videoconference. The planned start date is 1 February 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.
  • For informal inquiries, please contact Dr. Sebastiaan van de Velde ( or Prof. Ulrike Braeckman (

We encourage diversity and attach great importance to an inclusive working environment and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, or age. We encourage people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics to apply.