Share this Job

Postdoctoral Research Associate - Root Dynamics and Ecosystem Processes

Date: Dec 27, 2021

Location: Oak Ridge, TN, US, 37830

Company: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Requisition Id 6322 


Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.


The Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) science focus area at ORNL is seeking a Postdoctoral Research Associate with a passion for studying the natural world, motivated to take on the challenge of improving our understanding of linkages between root dynamics and ecosystem processes under changing environmental conditions.


The Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) science focus area at ORNL has an ongoing and long history of belowground ecology research and we are seeking a post-doctoral candidate for an exciting new opportunity to investigate the response of fine-root and fungi phenology to warming and elevated [CO2] in a climate change experiment in northern Minnesota (The SPRUCE experiment, We expect the successful candidate to also explore their own interests within the broad scope of belowground responses to environmental change within the SPRUCE experiment. This position resides in the Environmental Sciences Division (ESD) and Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).


The TES program at ORNL is focused on advancing mechanistic understanding of terrestrial ecosystem processes and applying such advances to terrestrial biosphere models for simulating impacts of climate change. This science focus area encompasses multiple disciplines spanning experiment, data, model and supercomputing to investigate how critical ecosystems may respond to climate change, and how feedbacks from those responses affect global climate.


The flagship ORNL-TES ‘Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments’ (SPRUCE) field experiment is located in Marcell, MN at the southern edge of the boreal forest in a high carbon peatland expected to be particularly vulnerable to projected changes in climate. Ten large, open-topped field chambers have been built within a black spruce – Sphagnum bog ecosystem. Five enclosures are currently being warmed—above- and belowground—in a regression design (+0 to +9 °C), while another five are being warmed in the same regression design, and also exposed to elevated CO2 concentrations (+500 ppm) to facilitate understanding of response thresholds of key mechanisms associated with ecosystem carbon, water and energy fluxes. Additional information can be found online about the SPRUCE project ( or Climate Change Science Institute (


Major Duties/Responsibilities: 

  • Lead experiments and leverage existing sets of data (standard and high-resolution minirhizotron images, environmental data, aboveground phenology, etc.) to tackle questions related to above-belowground linkages and peatland responses to global change
  • Research may involve multiple trips to northern Minnesota throughout the growing season
  • Publication of scientific results in high-impact peer-reviewed journals in a timely manner
  • Collaborate with internal DOE and external University researchers to comprehensively assess belowground responses to treatments in the SPRUCE experiment, and to explore above-belowground linkages in peatland ecosystems
  • Develop novel hypotheses and successfully complete self-directed study of plant, soil, or ecosystem level processes
  • Participate in monthly SPRUCE teleconferences
  • Periodic travel to various conferences for presentation of results and interactions with other researchers
  • Ensure compliance with environment, safety, health and quality program requirements
  • Maintain strong commitment to the implementation and perpetuation of values and ethics


Basic Qualifications:

  • A PhD in Root Ecology, Ecosystem Ecology, or a related field completed within the last 5 years
  • A passion for understanding the natural world
  • An excellent record of productive and creative research demonstrated by publications in peer-reviewed journals
  • Expertise, as measured through first-author publications and/or major conference presentations focused on root ecology and one or more of the following disciplines: ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, peatland or wetland ecology, global change ecology, or ecosystem modeling
  • Expertise in experimental field ecological research and associated laboratory approaches


Preferred Qualifications:

  • Expertise and experience in minirhizotron data analysis, soil nutrient dynamics, ecosystem carbon and water fluxes, ecosystem modeling or an appreciation of data-model interactions
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Motivated self-starter with the ability to work independently and to participate creatively in collaborative teams across the laboratory 
  • Ability to function well in a fast-paced research environment, set priorities to accomplish multiple tasks within deadlines, and adapt to ever changing needs


Applicants cannot have received their Ph.D. more than five years prior to the date of application and must complete all degree requirements before starting their appointment. The appointment length will be for up to 24 months with the potential for extension. Initial appointments and extensions are subject to performance and the availability of funding.


Moving can be overwhelming and expensive. UT-Battelle offers a generous relocation package to ease the transition process. Domestic and international relocation assistance is available for certain positions. If invited to interview, be sure to ask your Recruiter (Talent Acquisition Partner) for details.

For more information about our benefits, working here, and living here, visit the “About” tab at



This position will remain open for a minimum of 5 days after which it will close when a qualified candidate is identified and/or hired.

We accept Word (.doc, .docx), Adobe (unsecured .pdf), Rich Text Format (.rtf), and HTML (.htm, .html) up to 5MB in size. Resumes from third party vendors will not be accepted; these resumes will be deleted and the candidates submitted will not be considered for employment.

If you have trouble applying for a position, please email

ORNL is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants, including individuals with disabilities and protected veterans, are encouraged to apply.  UT-Battelle is an E-Verify employer.

Nearest Major Market: Knoxville