PhD Opportunity: Subarctic palsa mires, Umeå University

PhD in “Physical Geography with a focus on groundwater dynamics in subarctic palsa mires” at Umeå University, Sweden

Umeå University is one of Sweden’s largest higher education institutions with over 37,000 students and about 4,700 employees. The University offers a diversity of high-quality education and world-leading research in several fields. Notably, the groundbreaking discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was made here. At Umeå University, everything is close. Their cohesive campuses make it easy to meet, work together and exchange knowledge, which promotes a dynamic and open culture.

The ongoing societal transformation and large green investments in northern Sweden create enormous opportunities and complex challenges. For Umeå University, conducting research about – and in the middle of – a society in transition is key. They also take pride in delivering education to enable regions to expand quickly and sustainably. In fact, the future is made here.

The Department of Ecology and Environment Sciences at Umeå University is looking for a PhD student in Physical Geography with a focus on groundwater dynamics in subarctic palsa mires.
Start date 2024-08-01 or as agreed. The application deadline is 2024-05-04.

Project description:

Ongoing climate change, which is amplified in the Arctic, affects the presence and movement of water in the landscape. Increases in precipitation and the proportion of rain (versus snow) are projected for northern Fennoscandia, as are increases in evapotranspiration and in the occurrence of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. How these collective changes will affect groundwater and surface water levels in the region is currently unclear. Yet, they do know that groundwater levels and soil moisture have a strong impact on the stability of the permafrost in peatlands containing palsas and peat plateaus – permafrost landforms that are currently thawing in the region. These so called palsa mires store large amounts of carbon, which is vulnerable to being released to the atmosphere if permafrost thaws or groundwater levels change.

In this project, they will investigate how water levels in lakes and wetlands are affected by the climate in northern Fennocandia, with a particular focus on the hydrological dynamics of palsa mires. They will combine field measurements with remote sensing and GIS techniques to better estimate the sensitivity of water levels to climate throughout northern Fennoscandia. The results from this project are intended to provide a better understanding of how groundwater levels in palsa mires respond to changes in climate, making it possible to better predict future changes in permafrost and the carbon cycle in these areas.

The PhD student will investigate variation and changes (in time and space) in lake water and groundwater levels using remote sensing, GIS, and statistical methods. The position also includes responsibility for collecting and analyzing field measurements of water levels in northern Scandinavia. A large part of the work consists of independently formulating research questions, analyzing data, and communicating scientific results in writing.

The position is financed by Umeå University. The main supervisor will be Dr. Ylva Sjöberg, with Ryan Sponseller as assistant supervisor.


To be admitted for studies at third-cycle level the applicant is required to have completed a second-cycle level degree, or completed course requirements of at least 240 credits, of which at least 60 credits are at second-cycle level, or have an equivalent education from abroad, or equivalent qualifications. To fulfil the specific entry requirements to be admitted for studies at third-cycle level within the subject of physical geography, the applicant is required to have completed courses within a first-cycle subject relevant to physical geography comprising at least 120 credits. At least one course at second-cycle level in a subject that is relevant to physical geography shall have been completed, as well an independent piece of work (degree project) with relevant specialization of at least 15 credits. The eligibility requirements must have been met when the position is taken up.

They are looking for a person with an interest in climate, hydrology and spatial analysis, preferably with experience in arctic fieldwork and an academic background in physical geography, earth science, or a similar field. The applicant should also have good ability to write and speak in English, initiative, independence, and good cooperation skills. Strong credentials include solid experience with GIS, remote sensing, programming, hydrological modelling, as well as good knowledge of hydrology and water chemistry. Evaluations will be based on the application and on interviews.

Terms for the employment:

The employment is expected to result in a doctoral degree and the main assignment for the doctoral student is thus to be part of the research education, which includes participation in the described research project but also to take relevant courses. Teaching and other departmental work (up to a maximum of 20%) can be included. The employment is limited to four years at full time or up to five years if teaching and other departmental work is performed. The salary is fixed according to the established salary level for doctoral students.

Deadline: 4 May 2024


You apply through their recruitment system in English or Swedish and should include:

  • A short (max 2 pages) description of why you are interested in the position
  • CV
  • Copy of certificates from higher education
  • List of completed university courses and the grades
  • Copy of publications/degree thesis
  • Contact information of two reference persons

Documents sent electronically should be in MS Word or PDF format. 


If you have questions regarding the position, please contact Ylva Sjöberg ( or Ryan Sponseller (