PhD Fellow in Assessing Trees in African Drylands
University of Copenhagen Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management

PhD Fellow in Assessing Trees in African Drylands

The Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management in Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen is inviting applications for a PhD position in assessing tree cover in African drylands using very high resolution satellite imagery and deep learning. The position will start on October 1st 2020 or as soon as possible hereafter and end after 3 years.

Description of the scientific environment

The Ph.D. fellow will be hosted by the Geography section in the Dept. of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management and collaborating with the machine learning section at the Dept. of Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen.

Project Description

Drylands cover large parts of the African land surface but their tree cover and carbon stocks are largely  unknown. This is because a large proportion of dryland trees grow isolated without canopy closure and most scientific and non-scientific interest is devoted to forests, while the density and size of trees outside of forests is not well documented. However, these non-forest trees play a crucial role for biodiversity and provide ecosystem services such as carbon storage, food resources, livelihoods and shelter for humans and animals. The limited attention devoted to the quantification of dryland trees leads to an underrepresentation of non-forest trees in development strategies and climate/vegetation models, and the economic and ecological importance of non-forest trees is largely unknown at large scale.

The project works towards a wall-to-wall identification of trees in African drylands, and study their carbon stocks and socio-environmental determinants. Trees are not only assessed as canopy fraction of an area, but as individuals, allowing to identify not only their coverage but also their density, crown size, and key ecological services. We will apply very high resolution satellite data in conjunction with fully convolutional neural networks and field surveys. Moreover, passive microwave data are used to develop dynamic canopy cover and carbon density products.

Job description

The position is available for a 3-year period and your key tasks as a PhD student at SCIENCE are:

  • To manage and carry through your research project
  • Attend PhD courses
  • Write scientific articles and your PhD thesis
  • Teach and disseminate your research
  • To stay at an external research institution for a few months, preferably abroad
  • Work for the department

Role of the PhD

The PhD candidate will be part of a team and involved in data preparation, processing and analyses. While the scope of the project aims at the entire African continent. The PhD topic will focus mainly on the Sahel, but the study area can be extended. More specifically, the candidate will:

  • Use RapidEye, PlanetScope and DigitalGlobe satellite imagery to derive dynamic high resolution maps on tree cover, carbon density, and other related variables.
  • Study tree characteristics in relation to growth patterns, environmental variables and human management. 


  • The candidate should hold a Master of Science degree or finish latest in August 2020. A subject related to Geo- or Computerscienes is not a requirement but advantageous.
  • The candidate should have good communication skills in both spoken and written English.
  • Knowledge or the interest to learn machine learning applications, programming (preferably Python) remote sensing software (preferably open source) is expected.
  • Knowledge on dryland vegetation (preferably Sahel) and experience in handling large remote sensing datasets is not a requirement but advantageous.
  • The candidate should bring the willingness to conduct field work in West Africa (likely Senegal).

Terms of employment

The position is covered by the Memorandum on Job Structure for Academic Staff.

Terms of appointment and payment accord to the agreement between the Ministry of Finance and The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations on Academics in the State.

The starting salary is currently at a minimum DKK 331,125 (approx. €43,750) including annual supplement (+ pension at a minimum DKK 53,811). Negotiation for salary supplement is possible.

Application Procedure

The application, in English, must be submitted electronically by clicking APPLY NOW below.

 Please include

  • Cover Letter
  • CV
  • Diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc)
  • Acceptance Letter for the relevant MSc Programme at SCIENCE, if any
  • Other information for consideration, e.g. list of publications (if any)
  • 1-3 reference letters (if any)

 The University wishes our staff to reflect the diversity of society and thus welcomes applications from all qualified candidates regardless of personal background.

The deadline for applications is 20 July 2020, 23:59 GMT +2.

Applications received after the closing date will not be considered.

After the expiry of the deadline for applications, the authorized recruitment manager selects applicants for assessment on the advice of the Interview Committee. Afterwards an assessment committee will be appointed to evaluate the selected applications. The applicants will be notified of the composition of the committee and the final selection of a successful candidate will be made by the Head of Department, based on the recommendations of the assessment committee and the interview committee.
The main criterion for selection will be the research potential of the applicant and the above mentioned skills. The successful candidate will then be requested to formally apply for enrolment as a PhD student at the PhD school of Science. You can read more about the recruitment process at


For specific information about the PhD scholarship, please contact Assistant Professor Martin Brandt (

General information about PhD programmes at SCIENCE is available at


Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, the University of Copenhagen promotes research and teaching of the highest international standard. Rich in tradition and modern in outlook, the University gives students and staff the opportunity to cultivate their talent in an ambitious and informal environment. An effective organisation – with good working conditions and a collaborative work culture – creates the ideal framework for a successful academic career.


Martin Stefan Brandt


Application deadline: 20-07-2020
Employment start: 01-10-2020
Working hours: Full time
Department/Location: Institut for Geovidenskab og Naturforvaltning

If you apply for this position please say you saw it on Physicaloxy


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