PhD opportunity – Quantifying the ice and water content of permafrost with dielectric methods

Website Carleton University

NSERC PermafrostNet

This fully funded PhD studentship will be based at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. As part of NSERC PermafrostNet (, the Permafrost Partnership Network for Canada, it will have an outstanding training environment. A start in the Fall (September) term 2021 is anticipated; with flexibility in responding to e.g., COVID-19 related travel restrictions. Applications by August 10, 2021 are encouraged to ensure optimal support, applications will be received until the position is filled.

PROJECT: This project will develop and improve methods for measuring and monitoring ground-ice content and permafrost thaw directly. This is important because changing soil characteristics govern the impacts of permafrost thaw on the natural and built environment, but permafrost temperature alone reveals these changes only incompletely. This project will advance: (a) the understanding of soil thaw close to 0ºC based on temperature-dependent dielectric spectroscopy in the laboratory, (b) in situ measurement of liquid water content in permafrost for tracking thaw, and (c) the geophysical detection of ground ice. This will be achieved with laboratory and field-deployed Spectral-Induced Polarization (SIP) and other dielectric sensors to estimate ice and water content of soils under changing temperature conditions. Sensors for installation in the field will be used to monitor thaw in permafrost. Within NSERC PermafrostNet, results will be compared with differential scanning calorimetry on small samples and CT-scanning obtained from cores, where solute contents and macroscopic ice content will provide further evidence to support the interpretation of dielectric spectra. SIP work is planned in the vicinity of Inuvik, co-located with other projects. A laboratory setup for temperature-dependent dielectric spectroscopy and field instruments for SIP, three field installations with dielectric sensors in permafrost and funding to work with advisor David Stillman at SWRI in Boulder, Colorado are available.

The supervisor of this thesis will be Stephan Gruber (Carleton University) and the advisory group will include David Stillman (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado), Jocelyn Hayley (University of Calgary) and Daniel Fortier (Université de Montreal).

PROFILE: The successful candidate will have (1) a master’s degree in a relevant discipline (e.g., geophysics, soil physics, geography, atmospheric science, environmental engineering or geotechnical engineering); (2) demonstrated skill in programming and data analysis; (3) previous experience (or a demonstrated interest) in cold regions; as well as (4) excellent written communication in English.

FUNDING: This PhD studentship is fully funded for twelve months per year, for up to four years. International students are now eligible to receive a bursary that will reduce their tuition to the amount paid by domestic PhD students.

APPLICATION: Send a cover letter, c.v., copies of transcripts, a writing sample, and contact details for three references to Stephan Gruber (

NSERC PermafrostNet and Carleton University are strongly committed to fostering diversity within their community as a source of excellence, cultural enrichment, and social strength. We welcome those who would contribute to further diversification including, but not limited to women; visible minorities; First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; persons with disabilities; and persons of any sexual orientation or gender identity and expressions.

ENVIRONMENT: NSERC PermafrostNet is a pan-Canadian research network of 12 universities and more than 40 partner organisations, incorporating territorial, provincial and federal governments, Indigenous communities, industry, and international partners. It is funded for five years. Central activities such as network management and a data scientist will be housed in Carleton’s new Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments (ARISE) Building. The training environment in PermafrostNet maximises impact, job readiness and longer-term employability of its 60 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and northern research assistants. Students and trainees will forge a broad network of connections and benefit from diverse experiences in universities, in Arctic fieldwork and during internships. The focus on data sharing, simulation and knowledge products for stakeholders will further support employability and academic excellence. Our training environment will be respectful, diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Permafrost research at Carleton University is prominent and based on multiple initiatives involving several faculties and researchers. The research of Chris Burn is focused on the relations between climate and permafrost, supported by long-term field investigations. He held a Northern Research Chair, recently received the Polar Medal from the Governor General of Canada and co-leads Theme 5 of PermafrostNet. Stephan Gruber joined Carleton in 2013 as a Canada Research Chair, investigates permafrost thaw and is the principal investigator of PermafrostNet. He has been co-editor-in-chief of The Cryosphere and a lead author in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Shawn Kenny focuses on engineering practice related to pipelines and other infrastructure in cold environments. In PermafrostNet, he leads projects on infrastructure design and risk management. Steve Kokelj (Northwest Territories Geological Survey), Stephen Wolfe (Geological Survey of Canada) and Peter Morse (Geological Survey of Canada) are Adjunct Professors and key collaborators in PermafrostNet. Many other faculty members at Carleton work in permafrost environments with fields of expertise that include glaciology, human geography, cybercartography, public policy, engineering and Earth science. The permafrost research group at Carleton has close ties, and joint seminars with, researchers from other institutions in Ottawa such as the Geological Survey of Canada, the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, the National Research Council and the University of Ottawa. Boosted by the eight PhD students and three master’s students added by PermafrostNet, there will be a cohort of 15–20 graduate students working on permafrost research concurrently during the coming five years. This critical mass is further increased with the interdisciplinary master’s program in Northern studies and the collaborative master’s in data science that are offered at Carleton. As the leading institution in PermafrostNet, Carleton will host the research manager and the data scientist.

As Canada’s capital, Ottawa provides unique opportunities for research and engagement with diverse groups and institutions nationally and internationally. It has a population of almost one million and reflects the country’s bilingual and multicultural character. The proximity of the Gatineau Park makes Ottawa attractive to outdoor and sports enthusiasts.

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