PhD position, vegetation modeling - Potsdam, Germany

A PhD position in vegetation modeling is available at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Potsdam, Germany.


The AWI is a member of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) and funded by federal and state government. AWI focuses on polar and marine research in a variety of disciplines such as biology, oceanography, geology, geochemistry and geophysics thus allowing multidisciplinary approaches to scientific goals.

The position is limited to three years. The salary will be paid in accordance with the German Tarifvertrag des öffentlichen Dienstes (TVöD Bund), up to salary level 13 (66%). The place of employment will be Potsdam.

As a PhD student at AWI, you will be a member of the Helmholtz Graduate School for Polar and Marine Research (POLMAR) or another graduate school.


Climate changes lead to vegetation composition changes at a location. Unfortunately, the involved processes and their interactions such as adaptation of species to the new environment or distribution acting across temporal and spatial scales are complex and thus their impact widely not understood. To foster our understanding of vegetation changes responding to climate changes, AWI will make use of data from field work and model the important processes.

AWI is looking for one PhD student (m/f/d) that is enthusiastic about timely scientific questions about land surface processes in the Arctic and consequences on ecosystem services, especially on vegetation dynamics, starting as soon as possible.

The focus are vegetation dynamics and involved processes on long time scales. Therefore, the main tasks lay in the interface of model development and data analyses.

The project focuses on boreal forests in Siberia, which cover millions of square kilometers from northernmost treelines to mixed-species forest in the warmer south. Overall, they face strong environmental changes especially warming temperatures for which the consequences on vegetation dynamics and ecosystem services are still uncertain.

However, to understand the fate of boreal forests under global warming we need not only to understand the complex interplay of forest species with their environment and disturbances (permafrost, wildfire, land use), but also the adaptation of species to changing environments must be taken into account. Consequently, a simulation model needs to be developed to consider these processes in order to predict vegetation dynamics more realistically.

Following a validation of the model, the importance of the newly implemented processes for historical treeline and forest dynamics shall be evaluated. Further, the validated model can be used to run simulation experiments to improve our understanding about responses of Siberian boreal forests under climate warming in the next decades.


- Processing and analyzing available data
- Interpretation of results of the data analyses to implement dynamically adapting traits of tree individuals into an individual-based forest model (programming language C++)
- Parameterization of the models and analyzing the impact of potential processes by running sensitivity studies
- Forcing simulations with the models using climate scenarios for the 21st century to predict the vegetation dynamics
- A doctoral degree with suitable publication activity as well as the presentation of the achieved results at international conferences are supported and expected.


- You must hold a master’s degree or equivalent degree in bio- or geosciences (Biology, Geoecology, (Geo)Physics or related disciplines)
- Good knowledge of data processing and programming (C ++, R or similar languages) is required
- Advanced English skills (written and spoken) are a prerequisite
- In general, good skills in communication and writing are expected, plus a high capacity for teamwork
- The offered positions offers a chance to work together in a team addressing current scientific questions about vegetation dynamics. AWI supports and expects the completion of the dissertation including relevant publication and presentation of gained results at international conferences.

Beneficial experience

- Experiences in molecular biology and (geo)statistics
- Previous knowledge in field work and permafrost land surface dynamics and permafrost


Applications close 31 July 2019.

Please forward your application using Reference number 67/D/Geo-b.

Only online applications will be accepted.

To apply go to: or

Further information

For further information please contact or another graduate school. Dr. Stefan Kruse (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +49(331)288-2218).

Informal questions about this position can be emailed to Sigrun Graening: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.