The Chair of Engineering Geology at ETH Zurich invites applications for two PhD positions in the areas of geomechanical modelling, and alpine hydrogeology. These projects form part of a collaborative effort aimed at gaining insight into the manner in which the generation of bedrock fractures due to large scale topographic changes controls groundwater flow dynamics and solute transport in a large Alpine basin (the Matter Valley, Switzerland).

A 3D FEM of predicted differential stress magnitudes (MPa) and surface strain (m) for the present-day landscape in the Central Swiss Alps. The model was generated in COMSOL Multiphysics, and does not currently incorporate displacements as a result of erosion and topographic change.

Mountains occupy a critical position within the water cycle. They act as “water towers” which progressively deliver water accumulated during periods of precipitation or snowmelt to surface and groundwater systems at the valley floor. However, the mechanisms of groundwater recharge, storage, and discharge remain poorly understood in such environments. This is, in part, due to a lack of knowledge into i) the distribution of bedrock fractures and aquifer compartmentalization of the mountain slopes and ii) the dearth of hydrological data available. Hydraulically conductive near-surface fractures develop in response to a redistribution of bedrock stresses as glaciers and rivers progressively erode the alpine landscape. A mechanistic description of landscape evolution – combining field observations and geomechanical modelling – can provide critical insight into the spatial distribution of fracture networks driving groundwater flow dynamics. Similarly, hydrological and geochemical observations will provide key information into the degree of bedrock fracturing and its connectivity at the watershed scale. Leveraging the complementary nature of these observations, insights into streamflow recession and groundwater chemistry derived from the parallel hydrogeological investigation, will help constrain the geomechanical study and provide independent verification of assumed spatio-temporal variations in fracturing as a result of valley evolution. The hydrogeological project specifically aims to connect the complementary nature of hydro-geomorphological characteristics of the landscape to better constrain the spatial distribution of groundwater resources and their dynamics.

Tectonic uplift and incision by powerful Alpine rivers is gradually transforming the glacial topography of Alpine Valleys. This change propagates from the lower end of the valleys to the top, and is evident as the slope on the western (left hand) side of the Matter Valley becomes less steep and more V-shaped as we look down-valley. The upper limit of this transition is marked by the large rockfall deposit from the Randa instability, evident in the foreground. Matter Valley, Switzerland. 46.097943° 7.789149°

The successful geomechanical modelling candidate must have an MSc in Earth Sciences, Environmental Engineering or related field and be strongly interested in research. Knowledge and experience in rock mechanics, geomorphology, and / or numerical modelling are important. Good technical and writing skills are desired. The duration of the position is 3 years. You will be tasked with constraining a 3D geomechanical model capturing bedrock fracturing in response to fluvial and glacial erosion since the mid-Pleistocene Transition (~0.94- 0.89 Ma). Characterization of selected tributary catchments will involve engineering geological mapping, evaluation of progressive fluvial and glacial erosion, and interpretation of results from (ambient vibration) seismic investigations. The candidate will be required to work in a multidisciplinary team tasked with synthesizing field observations in order to transfer geomechanical model results to hydrogeological properties (these are required inputs to the complimentary hydrogeology PhD project).

The successful alpine hydrogeology candidate will have strong skills in applied hydrogeology, a passion for Earth sciences and willingness to work in multidisciplinary projects. Candidates with demonstrated field skills are strongly encouraged to apply. The successful candidate must have an MSc in Earth Sciences, Environmental Engineering or related field and be strongly interested in research. This position will start in fall 2018 and last for three years. You will be tasked with i) undertaking a geological and hydrological characterization of selected watersheds, ii) deploying a field monitoring system to quantify water and solute fluxes within these watersheds, and iii) modelling the impact of structural heterogeneities on groundwater flow partitioning and solute transport. The candidate will be required to work in a multidisciplinary team tasked with synthesizing field observations in order to transfer geomechanical model results (developed as part of the complimentary PhD project) to hydrogeological properties.

The Department of Earth Sciences of ETH Zurich has been consecutively ranked #1 for four years in the QS World University Rankings, Earth & Marine Sciences. The Chair of Engineering Geology consists of approximately 25 multidisciplinary scientists involved in a leading research and teaching program in quantitative engineering geology and hydrogeology. Detailed information about the Department of Earth Sciences and the Chair of Engineering Geology is available on the website:

We look forward to receiving your online application including a cover letter, a curriculum vitae which describes your complete personal details and career history, complete course grades and transcripts, digital copies of both Bachelor and Master theses, and one representative publication (if applicable). Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal.

For further information regarding the advertised position, please contact Dr. Kerry Leith, or Dr. Clement Roques, Engineering Geology, ETH Zürich.