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Collaborative PhD Project in Analysis Soil Water Storage

11.10.2017 - University of Melbourne and Forschungszentrum Jülich

The University of Melbourne and Forschungszentrum Jülich are offering a collaborative PhD scholarship in Analysis and Forecasting of Soil Water Storage for Rain-fed Agriculture.

Soil water is a critical resource in many agricultural systems. Climate variability represents a significant risk in these systems, which has been addressed in the past through seasonal weather outlooks. A pilot assessment of the potential to extend season weather outlooks to plant available soil water (PASW) (Western et al., in review) has shown promising results with soil water being more forecastable than rainfall. A variety of key research challenges need to be addressed to progress this pilot to a point where it could be operationally implemented by weather agencies such as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. This proposed project will address these issues through a collaborative PhD project involving Prof Andrew Western (UoM) and Dr Heye Bogena (Jülich).

Project Research Questions
How can initial conditions be best established for soil water outlooks? Key challenges here include developing methods to capture the effect of agricultural management on vegetation water use through remote sensing and terrestrial sensor networks such as Cosmic-ray neutron probes methods and the integration of remotely sensed soil water and evapotranspiration data.

How can forecast models be tuned to local soil conditions? A key challenge in soil water modelling is the accurate specification of soil properties. Methods will be developed using remote sensing will be used to tune soil property estimates available from regional data bases and to estimate current conditions using various model-data fusion techniques.

How reliable are forecasts for different lead times under operation conditions? This will involve assessment of modelling performance at key test sites.
The forecasting methods will involve integration of the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSISM) with meteorological observations and seasonal weather forecasts. The project will utilise information from Cosmic Ray Soil Moisture Probe network data from both Australia (Cosmoz network) and Europe (TERENO Observatory) in testing the methods developed. Prof Western and Dr Bogena both have strong and complementary soil water expertise encompassing modelling, remote sensing and field measurement.

Operational matters
The PhD will be jointly supervised and the student will divide their time between Melbourne (2/3) and Jülich (1/3). The student will be enrolled at University of Melbourne.

A University of Melbourne PhD stipend of $30,000/y will be available to the successful applicant. Interested applicants should forward an application letter, CV, and academic transcripts to:
Professor Andrew Western, Melbourne School of Engineering (, +61 3 8344 7305)