Skip to content Skip to navigation

PhD: Ocean life on the brink: Quantifying the collapse of marine ecosystems during the Permo-Triassic climate crisis (DFG) (molecular fossils)

Project Title

Ocean life on the brink: Quantifying the collapse of marine ecosystems during the Permo-Triassic climate crisis (DFG) (molecular fossils)


Universität Hamburg

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr. William Foster (Universität Hamburg), Prof. Dr. Jörn Peckmann (Universität Hamburg), Dr. Daniel Birgel (Universität Hamburg)

Funding Status

Funding is in place for this project

Project Description

The position in accordance with Section 28 subsection 3 of the Hamburg higher education act (Hamburgisches Hochschulgesetz, HmbHG) commences on October 1st 2021. This is a fixed-term contract in accordance with Section 2 of the academic fixed-term labor contract act (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, WissZeitVG). The term is fixed for a period of 36 months. The position calls for 65% of standard work hours per week**.
This is a PhD student position tied to the Emmy Noether Research Group led by Dr. William Foster and the selected candidate will be expected to work as part of a growing research team.

The project aims to better understand how hypothesised drivers of extinction in shallow marine ecosystems (i.e., thermal stress, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation) during the Permo-Triassic climate crisis led to the most catastrophic extinction event of the Phanerozoic. Although our understanding of this major event has improved dramatically over the last decade, a number of important questions remain unanswered. This Emmy Noether Group will focus on novel, high resolution datasets using the fossil record, the molecular fossil record, and inorganic geochemical proxies for environmental conditions that can be quantitatively integrated to investigate the direct responses of marine ecosystems to specific environmental changes. The project will, therefore, include fieldwork as a team to Svalbard, China, Italy and Turkey (please note that participation in the fieldwork is not essential for this position and all associated costs are already covered by the project). The integration of the geochemical and body fossil records through the Permo-Triassic crisis will provide novel insights into climate-ecosystem feedbacks during major and rapid climate warming, and will be the first to (1) statistically investigate the relationship between the body fossil and geochemical records; (2) reconstruct the environmental controls on the collapse, ecological structure and composition of marine ecosystems; and (3) will elucidate how climate change at a high rate and magnitude directly affects marine ecosystems.


Duties include academic services in the project named above. Research associates may also pursue independent research and further academic qualifications.

Specific Duties:

The PhD student will investigate changes in the abundances of molecular fossils, more specifically lipid biomarkers, across the Permian-Triassic transition using newly collected material. Changes in the composition of lipid biomarkers provide information on changes in the prokaryote community that can also be used to reconstruct a large suite of environmental conditions, i.e. variations in redox conditions and primary productivity. It would be preferred if the student could also analyse molecular fossil record by integrating multivariate statistical methods. The student will deliver regular progress reports, contribute to research seminars, write research papers, and present research results at international conferences. Experiences and skills gained will be of potential use in a variety of careers in research, academia and industry.

Research Training

The project will provide training in collecting and analysing molecular fossil records. The successful applicant will also have the opportunity of undertaking a range of skills-based modules through the postgraduate training programme at the Universität Hamburg, including having the further development of writing and presentations skills.
The successful candidate will also benefit from interactions with the entire Emmy Noether research team and staff at the Universität Hamburg, including Dr. Daniel Birgel.


A university degree in a relevant field. We are looking for a candidate who has demonstrable interests, skills and experience in geobiology/palaeoecology, with evidence of having successfully undertaken a geoscience research project at undergraduate or master’s level. Additional experience of one or more of the following would be an advantage: molecular fossils (lipid biomarkers), working in a research lab, geological fieldwork, multivariate statistics, computer programming in R, Matlab or Python. The applicant should be fluent in English and engaged in teamwork. German language fluency is not required, but a willingness to learn German is expected.

Expected start is 1st October 2021 or as soon as possible after this date.

Contact Name

William Foster

Contact Email

Closing Date

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Expiry Date

Wednesday, February 3, 2021
PalAss Go! URL: | Twitter: Share on Twitter | Facebook: Share on Facebook | Google+: Share on Google+