PhD Position in Numerical Modelling of Plastic Dispersal from Rivers to the Sea
Catholic University of Leuven Sediment Mechanics Research

The Sediment Mechanics Research unit of KU Leuven has a wide experience in studying particle transport in the aquatic environment, with special attention to cohesive and non-cohesive sediments. A multiscale approach is used to start from fundamental process studies at laboratory scale to end up with large scale geomorpholodigical engineering applications.Since participation in the JPI Oceans project WEATHER-MIC (2016-2019), we have been investigating the modelling of plastic dispersal by currents, waves and turbulent drift in the aquatic environment by adapting our sediment transport modelling software. In the framework of the recently awarded European H2020 project LABPLAS “Land-Based Solutions for Plastics in the Sea” (2021-2025), the Hydraulics Division of the KU Leuven Department of Civil Engineering is offering a full-time PhD position for 4 years (contract to be renewed annually after evaluation). This multidisciplinary project is in collaboration with 15 academic and industrial partners from all over the EU under the coordination of the University of Vigo (Spain). Starting expected in May or June 2021.


The main task of the PhD project will be the development and validation of a versatile numerical modelling tool in the TELEMAC modelling system ( to simulate the fluxes and fate of plastics in one or more European rivers (a.o. the Elbe) and the North Sea. The model will take into account the 3D spatial distribution in an original way. Innovative methods will be developed to account for different polymer types, a varying size and shape distribution by fragmentation and for biofouling effects.

Results will be used to feed a biogeochemical model and a foodweb model, and subsequently upscaled to provide input to a EU scale model. (The latter three models are developed and used by project partners).  

The TELEMAC model development will be in collaboration with another PhD student (on the parallel running Flemish PLUXIN project – whose focus is the Scheldt river and the Belgian coastal zone.

Field data will be collected and analyzed by project partners, complemented by available data inthe literature or from other projects. Additional laboratory tests will be carried out to study sedimentation behavior of plastic particles under different conditions These data will be used for calibration and validation of the numerical model. Besides the numerical work, the candidate will also be involved in experimental work on the settling behavior of plastic particles under various condition in collaboration with researchers from partners.


Candidates should beholding a MSc degree in Engineering (or equivalent), with demonstratedexperience in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in hydraulic or morphodynamicapplications in estuarine and coastal environments.. Proven experience inscientific programming of numerical methods (the finite element method in particular)is a strong asset. Please submit any thesis, report or other publicationdemonstrating your experience in numerical modelling of (complex) fluid flowproblems. Specific experience in the modelling of hydrodynamics (turbulence,waves) and sediment transport is an asset. Experience of modelling in TELEMAC-TOMAWAC-GAIA/SYSIPHEis an additional asset.

The candidate isexpected to be creative, being able to carry out research investigation independently, andwilling to work in a multidisciplinary team. He/she should be proficient inEnglish, have excellent scientific writing, planning and communication skills,and be an enthusiastic team player.


We offer an open, stimulating andmulti-disciplinary research environment. Duration of thecontract: 1 year, with yearly extension to maximum 4 years, after yearlyevaluation. The salary and appointment terms are consistent with the generalrules at Leuven University.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Erik Toorman, tel.: +32 16 32 16 59, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than March 01, 2021 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: March 1, 2021
  • Tags: Ingenieurswetenschappen

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