Two PhD positions “Elevated Low Relief Landscapes in Mountain Belts: Active Tectonics or Glacial Reshaping? A Case Study in the Eastern Alps”

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Two PhD positions within the FWFproject “Elevated Low Relief Landscapes in Mountain Belts: Active Tectonics or Glacial Reshaping? A Case Study in the Eastern Alps

This project will focus on the evolution of elevated low relief landscapes (plateaus) in active mountain ranges. The project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the government of Salzburg for a period of three years and will commence in March 2019. Details of the research project are available under:

Duration of the employment

The two PhD positions will be fully financed for 36 months. In accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Austrian Universities in Austrian (§ 26 “Kollektivvertrag für die ArbeitnehmerInnen der Universitäten“ Verwendungsgruppe B1), a salary of € 2,096,00 gross per month (14 x) for a 30-h / week employment.

Desired skills and experience

The successful candidate should have:


  • Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Geology, Geomorphology, Geophysics, Geochemistry, Computational Science

Excellent skills and practical experience in one or more of the following research areas:

  • experience in numerical simulationtools and programming skills (e.g. C++, Fortran, Python, R, Matlab…)
  • ability to work in rugged alpine terrain and caves
  • experience with lab-work and chemical preparation of rock samples
  • knowledge of the principles of earthsurface dynamics (in particular the interaction of processes driven by climate and tectonics)
  • autonomous and proactive working
  • written and spoken English proficiency
  • skills in dissemination of scientific results (e.g. writing scientific publications)
  • flexibility and the ability to workin a team

Specification of the main focus of the two PhD positions:

  • PhD-candidate A will work at the University of Salzburg under the supervision of Jörg Robl.She/He will focus on morphometry and landscape evolution modelling (glacialerosion). A stay abroad at Aarhus University (David Egholm) is planned. For this position we seek for an ambitious young scientist with a strong affinity to numerical modeling. Experience with field work in alpine environments is an advantage.
  • PhD-candidate B is based in Graz and will work under the supervision of Kurt Stüwe. She/He willfocus on cosmogenic nuclide dating of cave sediments. A stay abroad at the SUERC Glasgow (Derek Fabel, Fin Stuart) is planned. For this position we seek for a motivated researcher with a strong affinity to lab work and caves. The ability to work in rugged alpine terrain and caves is a prerequisite.

A tight cooperation between all team members is expected. Amongst others this will include joint field work in the Eastern Alps, meetings in Salzburg and Graz, GIS and modelling workshops, conference visits, and paper writing.

The Application should include:

  • letter of motivation for the desired position (PhD-A: Salzburg or PhD-B: Graz)
  • CV (academic career, scientific publications, research interests, skills)

The applications can be submitted until December 31 to the following Email address:


Smoothing the planform geometry of river networks

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In previous posts (here, here, here), I have covered some of the tools and applications of smoothing in the analysis of river networks. Thereby, I have focused on the analysis of river profiles (see also our paper here). However, these tools can also be used to smooth and analyse the planform patterns of river networks.

Here is how:

DEM = GRIDobj('srtm_bigtujunga30m_utm11.tif');
FD = FLOWobj(DEM,'preprocess','carve');
S  = STREAMobj(FD,'minarea',1000);
S  = klargestconncomps(S);
y = smooth(S,S.y,'k',500,'nstribs',true);
x = smooth(S,S.x,'k',500,'nstribs',true);

[~,~,xs,ys] = STREAMobj2XY(S,x,y);
Upper panel: Original river network data. Lower panel: Smoothed river network.

Now what is this good for? First, simplification by smoothing might help in visualization. Second, the smoothed river coordinates can be used to derive metrics such as planform curvature of river networks. These metrics are strongly affected by the circumstance that river networks derived from digital elevation models are forced to follow the diagonal and cardinal directions of the grid. This results in local flow directions in steps of multiples of 45°. Changes in flow direction thus occur in jumps, and accordingly planform curvature of river networks are highly erratic. These erratic values may hide some of the larger-scale curvature patterns that we might be interested in.

The STREAMobj/curvature function features an example that shows how to accentuate larger-scale curvature patterns using smoothing. Following up on the code above, deriving curvature from smoothed planform coordinates can be done as follows:

y = smooth(S,S.y,'k',100,'nstribs',true);
x = smooth(S,S.x,'k',100,'nstribs',true);
c = curvature(S,x,y);
box on
% center 0-value in colormap
caxis([-1 1]*max(abs(caxis)))
h = colorbar;
h.Label.String = 'Curvature';
Planform curvature of the river networks.

Clearly, the amount of smoothing determines the spatial scale of curvature. Here, the chosen smoothing parameter (K=100) accentuates the bends at a scale of a few hundred meters.

There are a number of applications for this kind of analysis. Lateral erosion of rivers may undercut slopes and it may be interesting to investigate if planform curvature metrics help to detect and predict locations of landsliding. Just an idea…

mappingapp – a tiny tool to map points along river networks

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TopoToolbox has a new tool. Ok, it’s a small tool with limited functionality, but it might be helpful if your aim is to map points along river networks. “Mapping points can be easily done in any GIS!”, you might think. True, but as I am currently working on knickpoints in river profiles (see also the automated knickpointfinder), I wrote this tool to quickly map knickpoints both in planform and profile view of the river network.

So, here is mappingapp. Give it a try.

DEM = GRIDobj('srtm_bigtujunga30m_utm11.tif');
FD = FLOWobj(DEM);
S  = STREAMobj(FD,'minarea',1000);
DrZMINIW4AEMnH6.jpg large.jpg
mapping-app. A tiny tool to map knickpoints along river profiles.

Currently, the GUI is limited to a few basic tools. You can map a single point which automatically snaps to the river network S. The zoom tools allow you to navigate the DEM. You can add a new point using the + button. This will make the previous point permanent and add a new row to the table. Finally, the table can be exported to the workspace. The table contains the coordinates and z-values as well as a column IXgrid. IXgrid contains the linear indices into the DEM.

Controls of mappingapp

Multiple colormaps in one axis

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I recently mentioned that MATLAB now lets you easily use different colormaps in one figure. The trick is to provide the axis handle as first input argument to the colormap function call.

DEM = GRIDobj('srtm_bigtujunga30m_utm11.tif');
ax(1) = subplot(2,1,1);

ax(2) = subplot(2,1,2);
% Use the axis handle as first input argument
% to colormap

Multiple colormaps in one figure.

However, how do you use multiple colormaps in one axes? That’s a little more tricky. Below, you find commented code that shows how to plot a colored and hillshaded DEM together with a stream network colored with ksn-values.

% Some data (DEM and ksn of river network)
DEM = GRIDobj('srtm_bigtujunga30m_utm11.tif');
FD  = FLOWobj(DEM);
A   = flowacc(FD);
S   = STREAMobj(FD,'minarea',1000);
k   = smooth(S,ksn(S,DEM,A),'K',1000);

% Create a new figure
hFig = figure;
% Call imageschs which has some parameter/value pairs
% to control colormap and colorbar appearance 

% Get the current axes
h_ax = gca;
% Create a new axes in the same position as the
% first one, overlaid on top.
h_ax_stream = axes('position', get(h_ax, 'position'),...
% Plot the stream network               
% Make axis invisible
% Create a colorbar
hc = colorbar(h_ax_stream,'Location','southoutside');
% ... and label it
hc.Label.String = 'ksn';
% Adjust color range
caxis(h_ax_stream,[0 200])
% Perfectly align both axes
set(h_ax_stream,'position', get(h_ax, 'position'),...
                'DataAspectRatio',[1 1 1]...
% Link both axes so that you can zoom in and out            

% Resizing the figure may screw it all. Using the figure
% property ResizeFcn makes sure both axes remain perfectly
% aligned
hFig.ResizeFcn = @(varargin) ...
    set(h_ax_stream,'Position',get(h_ax, 'position'));

Multiple colormaps in one axis.

The trick is to use additional axes. The difficulty lies in perfectly aligning them and to make alignment robust against resizing the figure.

Limits to hydropower expansion in the Himalayas

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The Upper Trishuli 3A hydropower project following the Gorkha Earthquake in 2015. Red lines are mapped coseismic landslides.

The 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal caused severe losses in the hydropower sector. The country temporarily lost ~20% of its hydropower capacity, and >30 hydropower projects were damaged. In our paper that was just published in Geophysical Research Letters, we show that the projects hit hardest were those that were affected by earthquake‐triggered landslides. These projects are located along very steep rivers with towering sidewalls that are prone to become unstable during strong seismic ground shaking. A statistical classification based on a topographic metric that expresses river steepness and earthquake ground acceleration is able to approximately predict hydropower damage during future earthquakes, based on successful testing of past cases. Thus, our model enables us to estimate earthquake damages to hydropower projects in other parts of the Himalayas. We find that >10% of the Himalayan drainage network may be unsuitable for hydropower infrastructure given high probabilities of high earthquake damages.

Of course, we conducted the analysis primarily using TopoToolbox. A few functions that we used and partly developed for the purpose of our analysis are

  • STREAMobj/chitransform
  • STREAMobj/mchi
  • STREAMobj/smooth
  • STREAMobj/hillslopearea


Schwanghart, W., Ryan, M., Korup, O., 2018. Topographic and seismic constraints on the vulnerability of Himalayan hydropower. Geophysical Research Letters, in press. [DOI: 10.1029/2018GL079173]

see also Nature News article by Jane Qiu, 2018. Landslides pose threat to Himalayan hydropower dream. [DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-06212-8]

Overview of scientific colormaps

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Visualization is a vital part of scientific presentation and communication. This is why I have recently added some utilities that support making plots in TopoToolbox (see also my previous blogs “Jet is dead” and “Better colormaps with TopoToolbox”). One of the major additions has been Fabio Crameri’s scientific colormaps which are accessible through the function ttscm that you’ll find in the folder colormaps.

Fabio recently amended his compilation by a number of color schemes that I have now added. Please see an overview of the available colormaps in the figure below which I created by following lines of code.

DEM = GRIDobj('srtm_bigtujunga30m_utm11.tif');
cmaps = ttscm;
for r = 1:numel(cmaps); 
   imageschs(DEM,[],'colormap', ttscm(cmaps{r}),...

Shaded topography of the Big Tujunga Catchment visualized by different scientific colormaps.

You can find some more information about these colormaps here and here.

Finding knickpoints in river profiles

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Did you know that TopoToolbox has a function to identify knickpoints in river profiles? Well, if you don’t know, now you know.

The function is called knickpointfinder. It uses an algorithm that adjusts a strictly concave upward profile to the actual profile. Offsets between the actual and the concave upward profile occur where the actual profile has convexities. Relaxing the concavity constraint where offsets attain a maximum will adjust the concave profile to the actual profile. knickpointfinder adjusts the profile iteratively until offsets fall below a specified tolerance value. Look at the animation below which probably explains more than a thousand words.

Animation of the example found in the knickpointfinder help.

Using knickpointfinder is easy. Just see the function help to run the example whose results are shown above.

Final result with adjusted network and identified knickpoints (red squares). The size of the squares relates to the offset between the actual profile and the strictly upward concave profile.

Let us know how well knickpointfinder suits your needs. Note that this algorithm is not yet published, so please give credits to our TopoToolbox paper if you are using this algorithm in your work.