1 PhD fellow position (3-year) in the field of Climate Theory at the RMIB

The position is part of the CriticalEarth project – a Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Innovative Training Network (ITN).


We would like to encourage applications from candidates worldwide wishing to pursue a PhD degree in the field of Climate Theory with an interest in the following research areas; Earth System Modelling, complex mathematics, climate simulation, ocean-atmosphere-land-sea ice processes and tipping point behaviour.

The Dynamical Meteorology and Climatology Unit of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium (RMIB) is offering a PhD Fellowship, referred to as early-stage researchers (ESR) in Climate Theory, starting between 01.03.2021 and 30.09.2021. The Unit is investigating the variability and predictability of atmospheric (and climate) processes by developing and using the tools of dynamical systems theory, chaos theory and stochastic processes.

The position is posted as part of the exciting CriticalEarth project, Multiscale Critical Transitions in the Earth System, funded through the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme under Grant number 956170.

The successful candidate will join a network of 15 PhD Fellows (ESRs), pursuing their research training on new methods for assessing the mechanisms and associated risks of critical transitions in the climate. The focus will be on investigating how complex mathematics can be used to predict and avoid irreversible climate change. The position will offer you an excellent background, working within a strong, cross-disciplinary network among leading Universities and research institutions across Europe and with contacts to industry, governmental- and non-governmental institutions.




Project Description:


Project Title:

Impact of climate change on low-frequency variability and predictability in a hierarchy of climate models


Principal supervisor:  Dr Stéphane Vannitsem, Senior Researcher at the RMIB and lecturer at the Free University of Brussels.


Promotor at the Université Catholique de Louvain: Professor Michel Crucifix


The atmosphere and the climate system display erratic dynamics whose main property is sensitivity to initial conditions. This property is the generic signature of deterministic chaos. Systems displaying such dynamics have been studied for a long time on theoretical and practical grounds. One main characteristic of the solutions of such systems is that they are organized around a dense set of unstable periodic orbits (UPOs). One current conjecture is that these orbits are cornerstones in the development of atmospheric blockings, or decadal variability in the extratropical atmosphere. In a world impacted by climate change, these unstable structures should also display changes that could considerably affect the emergence of blocking or decadal low-frequency variability. Analysing how these UPOs are modified under climate change will lead to a better understanding how climate change will affect the low-frequency variability present in the atmosphere. This investigation will be performed in a hierarchy of climate models of increasing complexity using tools of nonlinear sciences.


Secondments for at least 6 months at Utrecht University (NL) and University of Exeter (UK) will provide training on high resolution coupled ocean-atmosphere models and on ergodic theory of dynamical systems.  


Job description

The positions are available for a 3-year period and your key tasks as a PhD student at RMIB are:

  • To work independently, develop and carry through your research project
  • Comply with the PhD training program at the UCLouvain (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium)
  • Write scientific articles and your PhD thesis with support from your supervisors.
  • Disseminate your research, participate in network related and international conferences and workshops
  • To stay at a partner research institution for at least six months to develop new skills
  • Contribute to the everyday activities at the RMIB


Formal requirements

Applicants should hold an MSc degree in physics or similar with outstanding background results, as well as display good English skills. While not an essential requirement, any relevant work experience or scientific publications (if any) will be taken into consideration. 

Eligibility: Because the aim of  EU ITN projects is to attract candidates from worldwide locations, applicantsmust not have resided and not have carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the recruiting beneficiary for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date — unless as part of a procedure for obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention(1). If you are applying from a location that requires a visa or permit, then we will be able to provide support and advice throughout the process of relocation for you and your family. Feel free to ask us questions in advance if you need more information and reassurance.


The applicant must be an Early Stage Researcher (ESR) i.e. at the time of recruitment she/he must be in the first 4 years (full-time equivalent research experience)(2) of her/his research career and must not have been awarded a doctoral degree.


Further requirements: CriticalEarth will create an exciting environment for you to learn as PhD fellows. Candidates should be able to demonstrate enthusiasm for research and a desire to learn new skills. You should also enjoy working independently and as part of a wider network among other fellows. All fellows must be willing to travel and will be required to complete international secondments.


Application Procedure:

The application, in English, must be submitted electronically to Dr Stéphane Vannitsem (Stephane.Vannitsem@meteo.be).

The deadline for applications is 31 January 2021, 23:59 CET.

Please include

  • Cover Letter, stating which PhD project you are applying for and detailing your enthusiasm and background for applying for the specific PhD project.
  • CV with relevant work experience (if any)
  • Diploma and transcripts of records (BSc and MSc)
  • Other information for consideration, e.g. list of publications (if any)
  • A list of 3 reference names


The Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium wishes our staff to reflect the diversity of society and we welcome applications from all qualified candidates regardless of personal background. The selection will be exclusively based on qualification without regard to gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or age.


For specific information about the PhD scholarship, principal supervisor Stéphane Vannitsem will be happy to answer your questions and provide advice (Stephane.Vannitsem@meteo.be).   For further information about CriticalEarth please consult the project website www.criticalearth.eu.

General information about PhD programmes at UCLouvain is available at https://uclouvain.be/en/sectors/sst/ph-d-ti.html


(1)1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol
(2) This is measured from the date when a researcher obtained the degree which would formally entitle him or her to embark on a doctorate, either in the country in which the degree was obtained or in the country in which the researcher is recruited, irrespective of whether or not a doctorate is or was ever envisaged.



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