PhD Position in Numerical Modelling of Plastics Dispersal in Aquatic Environments
Catholic University of Leuven

Since participation in the JPI Oceans project WEATHER-MIC, the Sediment Mechanics Research unit of KU Leuven has been investigating the modelling of plastic dispersal by currents, waves and turbulent drift in the aquatic environment by adapting their sediment transport modelling software. A major challenge is the derivation of proper settling velocity formulae that can take into account the wide variety of properties of the particles as well as their variation in time due to weathering, fragmentation and biofouling. In the framework of a new Strategic Basic Research project for Clusters (cSBO), entitled “Plastic Flux for innovation and Business Opportunities in Flanders”, PLUXIN for short, funded by Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), the Hydraulics Section of the KU Leuven Department of Civil Engineering is offering (at least) one full-time PhD position for 4 years (contract to be renewed annually after evaluation). The multidisciplinary project is in collaboration with Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), project coordinator, the Environmental Toxicology Unit of the University of Ghent, the Ecosystem Management Research Group of the University of Antwerp and the Remote Sensing Division of Flanders Institute for Technological Research (VITO). Since we are also preparing another project proposal (to be funded by the EU, with starting date 1 January 2021), we will keep the 2nd and 3rd ranked candidates on our list for possible later recruitment.


The main task of the PhD project will be the development, calibration and validation of a versatile numerical modelling tool in the TELEMAC modelling system ( to simulate the fluxes and fate of plastics in the Scheldt Estuary and along the Belgian coast. The model will take into account the 3D spatial distribution in an original way.Innovative methods will be developed to account for a varying size distribution by fragmentation and for biofouling effects.

Field data will be collected at different locations along the Scheldt Estuary and a few coastal ports by the project partners, and samples will be analyzed for their plastic content. In addition VITO will develop, test and optimize remote sensing techniques to collect additional data. 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 behaviour under various condition in collaboration with researchers from UGent.


Candidates should beholding a MSc degree in Engineering (or equivalent), with demonstrated experience in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in hydraulic or morphodynamic applications in estuarine and coastal environments..

Proven experience in scientific programming of numerical methods (the finite element method in particular) is a strong asset.

Specific experience in the modelling of hydrodynamics(turbulence, waves) and sediment transport (or other two-phase flow systems) is an asset.

Experience of modelling in TELEMAC-TOMAWAC-GAIA/SYSIPHE is an additional asset.

Please submit any thesis, report or other publication(s) demonstrating your experience in numerical modelling of (complex)fluid flow problems. 

The candidate is expected to be creative, being able to carry out research investigation independently, and willing to work in a multidisciplinary team.

He/she should be proficient in English, have excellent scientific writing, planning and communication skills, and be an enthusiastic team player.

Candidates passing the first selection round will be given an assignment to solve a small CFD problem, analyze and discuss the results in a brief scientific report.


We offer an open, stimulating and multi-disciplinary research environment.

Duration of the contract: 1 year, with yearly extension to maximum 4 years, after yearly evaluation.

The salary and appointment terms are consistent with the general rules 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 August 31, 2020 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: August 31, 2020
  • Tags: Burgerlijke Bouwkunde

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