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PhD candidate in Modelling of Urban Metabolism and Ecosystems (M/F)

Reference : ERIN-2017-001_ESTIMUM

Type: PhD Student
Contract type: Fixed term contract
Place: Belvaux
Context: The successful candidate will join the RDI Unit on Life Cycle Sustainability and Risk Assessment (LiSRA) of the Environmental Research and Innovation (ERIN) department of LIST. With a team of more than 170 scientists and engineers from life science, environmental science, and IT science, the ERIN department has the necessary interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to tackle major environmental challenges our society is facing today: climate change mitigation, ecosystem resilience, sustainable energy systems, efficient use of renewable resources, environmental pollution prevention and control.
Interest for the research unit
Cities are complex and dynamic systems in continuous evolution, whose metabolism can generate massive impacts on the environment and human health. Assessing the sustainability of urban metabolism (UM) has therefore been a challenge for many years, to disclosure sources of impact, reduce their negative effects, and ultimately support a sustainable management and design of urban spaces.

On one hand, a plethora of advanced models, methodologies, and tools were proposed and applied at various geographical scales, spatial resolutions and scope, identifying main patterns of consumption and profiling best practices to minimize the related impacts. These are mostly based on detailed linear compilations of life cycle information on UM inputs and outputs.

On the other hand, promising efforts were made in revealing the non-linear relationships and cause-effect chains among the UM elements, typically using a system dynamics approach. In this case, the analysis may go well beyond a static input>black-box>output modelling framework, but still the resolution is somehow affected by oversimplifications of real UM conditions. The two modelling perspectives show both advantages and drawbacks, and their combination seems a valuable solution to exploiting their complementary functions.

While no consensus exists on best practices for UM sustainability assessment, urban designer, planners and policy makers need more understanding and support instruments to predict changes in cities and implement the most effective and sustainable solutions to improve the welfare of citizens. One of the major challenges concerns the enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services, which are essential inputs for the functioning and maintenance of human well-being but, at the same time, scarcely considered in current marketplaces for their actual beneficial value to mankind.

In this regard, the RDI Unit “LiSRA” is developing knowledge, transferable (software) technologies and practical methods for the integrative evaluation and management of the sustainability and toxicological risks of human driven systems. Its final purpose is to foster sustainable, technology driven eco-innovation in industry and to support sustainability oriented policy-making. Among the cross-cutting topics of interest for LiSRA is the assessment of environmental, economic and societal consequences of implementing nature-based solutions in cities.

To this end, a PhD topic has been identified within the framework of a recently funded Luxembourgish FNR CORE 2016 project, i.e. “ESTIMUM” (Ecosystem Service Toolbox developed from multi-scale Integrated Modelling of Urban Metabolism). ESTIMUM aims at developing a toolbox for the valuation of ecosystem service trade-offs (e.g. air purification, noise reduction, urban cooling, runoff mitigation, food provision) in urban regions, called MIMES-TUM: Multiscale Integrated Model of Ecosystem Services Tailored for Urban Metabolism.

This would become an instrument for scenario analysis of urban metabolism capable to simulate the environmental, physical and socio-economic benefits and costs of nature-based solutions. In ESTIMUM, MIMES-TUM will be formulated and tested to forecast the value of urban ecosystem services in three European cities that vary by size, agglomeration density, environmental characteristics and socio-economic and cultural dimensions: Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), Lisbon (Portugal) and Siena (Italy). The position will therefore give the PhD Candidate a unique opportunity to work with a diverse team of researchers and decision-makers along a European dimension’s environment.

Main mission
The PhD project activity is set up to address the most fundamental research questions of ESTIMUM, supporting the advance of knowledge for the MIMES-TUM framework development. The scope of the PhD will be narrowed on the Lisbon case study, to enable a smooth execution of the PhD work under the guidance of a renowned research group at the “Instituto Superior Técnico” (IST) of Lisbon (http://www.umsc.pt/). The title of the Dissertation is: “Advancing knowledge on the assessment of urban ecosystem services with a multi-scale integrated system dynamics approach applied to the Lisbon’s urban metabolism”. The main research question is: how to improve the assessment of human impacts on the provision of ecosystem services in cities? The aim is to develop an original methodology to assess urban ecosystem services and apply it to the case of Lisbon’s UM.

While the PhD Candidate will be free to choose and test alternative methods to address the above research question, a roadmap is given on the possible approach to follow, which is based on ‘system dynamics’ (as outlined for the ESTIMUM methodology). In this regard, the technical know-how of the PhD Candidate will contribute to i) develop a consistent and extensive collection of data and interpretation of results in MIMES-TUM, provided with constant advices from, and exchange with, the PhD promoter and the ESTIMUM’s principal investigator, and ii) help to find solutions to optimize models integration and to quantify the value of urban ecosystem services in different UM scenarios. The envisaged outcome of the PhD will be a dissertation report focusing on the research progress in UM assessment. Some chapters of this report shall contain an extract (or the full text) of peer-reviewed articles submitted to journals with I.F.>2 (PhD candidate as a first author), where at least 2 out of 3 must be already accepted for publication to obtain the PhD diploma. Such a publication track will speed up the writing of the dissertation and guarantee its scientific quality.

The Candidate will spend at least 60% of his/her time at LIST, and the rest at IST-Lisbon. In Portugal, he/she will apply to one of the existing PhD programs of IST, which most closely relates to the PhD thematic. Within this, the Candidate will attend some courses in the first two PhD semesters, to gain the necessary knowledge and ability to model and assess human impacts on ecosystem services. After the 1st year of PhD, the Candidate will present the PhD topic and progress to the ESTIMUM Steering Committee, through an extended presentation of 45 min: a GO/NO-GO decision will then be taken up on the continuation of the project. The Candidate will also give periodical seminars for other colleagues both at LIST and IST-Lisbon.
Education: He/She holds a Master degree in Engineering, Mathematics or Physics

Competencies:He/She has proven organizational skills and thinks interdisciplinary; he/she is able to work independently and creatively, as well as in synergy within a team
He/She has proven competences in programming for system dynamics modelling or related
Verified skills in economics, natural/environmental science and statistics will be considered an asset, as well as an overall knowledge on life cycle assessment (LCA) and ecosystem service valuation tools

An advanced knowledge of English (both spoken and written) is required; Portuguese language skills can be useful, although not mandatory


Candidates interested in the above position can apply online on our website: www.list.lu
The application file should include:

  • A CV
  • A motivation letter
  • Reference contact(s) / letter(s) of recommendation
  • Any other document you may think useful to be considered in your application file