Find out more about graduate research in our school, and what kinds of research projects you can join when you study with us.
If you want to be involved in world-leading research into such fields as geology, atmospheric science, international development, urbanisation, biogeography and earth surface processes, we engage in a range of research projects that are available to our Masters and PhD students.
For more information, take a look at our research groups and themes and contact a potential supervisor, or see the research projects for Honours and Masters students below.
Research projects for Honours and Masters students
The following list outlines the staff research interests and project offerings for prospective Honours and Masters students this year. Some of them may be supported by grants – contact the staff member involved to find out more.
Students undertaking a thesis in the field of urban geography - addressing a significant urban issue or problem, and seeking to inform better urban policies and practices - may be eligible for the $2,000 Applied Urban Geography Award sponsored by Geografia.
Professor Jon Barnett
Jon is interested in supervising topics relating to social vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Australia and the Pacific Islands. He is also interested in research on development and / or environmental issues in the Pacific Islands; climate change and food security; environmental change and migration; and water resource management in the Pacific Islands.
Associate Professor Simon Batterbury
Simon has a background in geography and environmental studies and works on interdisciplinary environmental and development problems. He is interested in a broad array of projects in environmental politics, rural development and political ecology and is happy to devise projects in conjunction with prospective students. Current research in 2019-20 is on community bike workshops in Europe and Australia. For more information, go to his web page of past student projects.
Associate Professor David Bissell
David is interested in supervising topics relating to how different practices of travel are transforming people and places. His own research explores this theme through four projects: understanding how commuting is transforming urban life; how forms of mobile work where couples live ‘together apart’ are changing our sense what ‘home’ is; how mobile digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo are changing production, consumption and governance in the city; and how automation and robotics are changing the future of work.
In each of these projects, he works with social theories that can help to better understand the complexities of contemporary power and politics. David would be delighted to hear from students who are interested in pursuing projects relating to any aspects of cities, mobilities, digital technologies and labour.
Dr Sangeetha Chandra-Shekeran
Sangeetha is a political economic geographer interested in how large complex (socio-)technical systems undergo change over time. In particular, she is interested in questions of state power and capital accumulation in infrastructure governance. Her research has focused on energy (electricity specifically), climate change mitigation and governance in Victoria, California and South Africa.
Some potential projects include:
- The future of electricity networks
- Who owns and who should own smart meter data? Who benefits from smart meter data?
- Inequality and ‘smart’ cities
- The challenges for incentivising energy efficiency
- The Tasmanian energy crisis
- What are the enabling conditions for renewable energy industries?
- Insurance and the financialisation of climate change risk.
Dr Brian Cook
Brian is interested in supervising students exploring topics related to flood management, risk, knowledge, and/or human vulnerability.
Proposals situated in Australia, Bangladesh, India, the UK, and Portugal are welcome, though other contexts may be possible. Brian has experience with both quantitative and qualitative research methods, for example including projects that explore flood impacts on homes or perception‐based analyses. Brian’s recent research has emphasised the ‘power‐holder’ or ‘decision‐maker’, leading to research findings that explore how flood management occurs and how the people making decisions rationalise what they do. This type of research emphasises who benefits and who is negatively affected by flood management practices; ultimately, this informs critiques aimed at social justice and appreciation for the disproportionate impact of disasters on (often already) vulnerable individuals. As part of these projects, he has collaborated with NGOs in the developing and developed world. Alternately, he has experience with analyses at the local scale that explore how people experience, perceive and understand disasters.
Overall, his research tends to use controversies as entry points, allowing for analyses that prioritise the multiple, entwined understandings that fuel controversy, rather than attempts to ‘uncover a solution’. These methodologies can lead to policy‐relevant findings, and it is hoped that future projects will follow a similar path.
Brian hopes that that projects will have a purpose and will be student‐driven, and asks that students seeking supervision consider:
- What interests you?
- What skills do you wish to develop?
- How does your project fit with your wider aspirations?
Potential topics might include:
- Analyses of flood mitigation efforts by individuals, communities, groups, or local government in the context of the 2011 Victorian floods.
- Controversy over the Victorian desalinisation plant (Wonthaggi Desalination Plant) and questions over technical intervention compared to individual behavioural changes.
- Flood management in Bangladesh, India, or the wider Ganges‐ Brahmaputra Basin.
- The role of scientific knowledge within flood management relative to ‘alternate’ knowledge such as local, indigenous, or perceptions of people who have experienced disasters.
For further information, please get in touch with Brian who is happy to discuss potential ideas.
Professor Barbara Downes
Our freshwater ecology and biogeography group has a variety of projects on offer that tackle all sorts of ideas and theories relating to biological diversity in rivers and streams. These projects will appeal to those who want to get out and do field work rather than just use existing data sets or do desktop modelling. Projects vary in the amount of laboratory and field work needed and can be adapted to different types of interest. Most projects are connected with one of two, on-going Australian Research Council grants (see below). However, alternative suggestions for projects are always welcome!
Project 1: Improving the biodiversity of streams damaged by land clearance for agriculture
The project is supported by an ARC Linkage grant and involves collaboration with Melbourne Water and the Arthur Rylah Institute (State Gov. Dept. of Environment, Land, Water & Planning).
Project synopsis: Many streams have been damaged by land clearance for agriculture, which has resulted in fewer detritus (leaves, bark, wood from bankside vegetation, which provides food and living space for aquatic species) entering streams. Additionally, many streams have been de-snagged, which has removed the capacity of streams to retain detritus in situ, which may explain low species diversity in these streams. In this project, we will test hypotheses regarding the relations between the amount of riparian vegetation, wood loading and channel characteristics and hydrology on the capacity of the stream to retain in-stream detritus (e.g. by logs, branches, etc.). We will also be conducting a multi-river field experiment to test whether increased retention improves detritus densities and hence the biological diversity of streams.
- How does retention vary in restored Victorian streams? You can build on some research that has developed a method for measuring natural retention in streams to test hypotheses about the relationship between retention and aspects like width and extent of riparian zones in streams where effort has been made over the last decade to repair the vegetation of riparian zones (e.g. by Melbourne Water). This will provide a way of testing the effectiveness of riparian planting.
- What is the role of drift dispersal? Assess the role of drift dispersal (dispersal of invertebrates in stream currents) in bringing about improvements in biological diversity by measuring the rate of arrival and departure at experimental sites compared to controls. Theoretically, experimental sites will accumulate individuals in search of resources (higher arrival than departure rate) whereas control sites will show no such effect (arrival and departure rates will be equivalent).
- What is the role of adult dispersal and recruitment? What is the role of adult dispersal and egg-laying in bringing about improvements to biological diversity rather than the movement of animals in the drift? We know some species of insects lay their eggs on bark and wood so the establishment of these species may be done through adult flight between streams rather than by drift dispersal.
Project 2: Explaining species diversity in a fractal world
This project is supported by an ARC Discovery Grant and involves collaboration with Prof Steve Rice (Loughborough University, UK) and Dr Rebecca Lester (Deakin University, Warrnambool).
Project synopsis: A central question in ecology asks how habitat patchiness interacts with dispersal abilities of different species to determine species diversity in particular localities. A new model in ecology proposes that fractals (a clever way of measuring environmental complexity) can capture both habitat patchiness and species' responses. If true, then measuring the fractal dimensions of landscapes and the dispersal ability of species will help explain the diversity of species that should be present. We will use aquatic insects that lay their eggs as egg masses on emergent rocks in streams to test this new model. Various projects are possible looking at egg distributions and fractal dimensions in rivers.
The following two projects are also feasible:
- How does emergent rock availability change with discharge? Emergent rocks are more likely to be found in riffles and thus are spatially variable along channels, but availability is also strongly related to discharge. Can we model the relation between emergent rock density, water depths and discharge? Are these relations also fractal in nature? Off-the-shelf hydraulic models are unlikely to work in many streams that do not have “well-behaved” riffle/pool sequences, necessitating alternative approaches. It is anticipated you would work with time lapse cameras installed at field sites (capable of taking pictures at night as well as during the day) and depth sensors to develop a method for calculating emergent rock availability over time that can be calibrated with discharge variation. This project would be co-supervised by Steve Rice.
- Using dispersal metrics to understand altitudinal gradients in species distributions and diversity. Species distribution patterns are associated with altitudinal gradients, and this is certainly true for stream-dwelling aquatic insects. Some species only occur at high altitude locations with cooler temperatures, and these cool streams may be viewed as “islands” in a sea of warmer, low altitude habitats. This raises interesting ecological questions about the dispersal abilities of species restricted to high altitudes and the connectivity of their populations: Are they more likely to be good dispersers with well-connected populations, leading to strong similarities between high altitude communities? or poor dispersers that avoid the risk of becoming “lost” in the sea of unsuitable habitat, potentially resulting in strong differences between communities? These questions are also for important predicting the impacts of climate change because global (and local) rises in temperature mean that high altitude species may be particularly vulnerable to habitat change/loss. Measuring dispersal directly is very difficult, but we can develop metrics that are proxy measures of dispersal ability. Many stream insects have a terrestrial, flying adult stage. Wing morphology is correlated with flight capability (i.e. dispersal capability), so we can use wing morphology to develop dispersal metrics. In this project, you can make use of existing samples to measure the wing morphology of many insect species (particularly caddisflies) from a range of sites at different altitudes. You can also collect your own samples. You will test hypotheses about the relationships between wing morphology, putative flight ability and the altitudinal ranges of species.
Associate Professor Wolfram Dressler
Wolfram is looking for students to participate in the following projects:
- Indigenous memory, meaning and resistance in oil palm ruptured landscapes in southern Palawan island, the Philippines, and East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
- The changing nature of charcoal production and property rights in mangrove ecosystems in northern Palawan Island, the Philippines. Awesome area – cool topic. (with Dr Paula Satizabal)
- The social histories of edible birds’ nests harvesting in Taytay karst systems in northern Palawan Island, the Philippines. Awesome area – cool topic. (with Dr Paula Satizabal)
- Wolfram Dressler, Tim Werner and Rebecca Runting are interested in working with an Honours or Masters student on mapping the expansion and impacts of nickel mining infrastructure on ancestral domains, forest cover and livelihood security on Palawan Island, the Philippines. The student should have sound technical skills in GIS mapping and an interest in environmental and social justice.
Professor Russell Drysdale
Russell is interested in the study of past changes in Earth’s climate and environment, particularly over the last 5 million years (encompassing the Pliocene epoch and the Quaternary period). His principal focus is extracting climate and environmental information (rainfall, temperature, soil/plant activity, etc.) from geochemical proxies preserved in speleothems (cave carbonate deposits, such as stalagmites), and correlating these changes with data from ice sheets, ocean and lake sediments, and climate models. Russell’s projects usually involve some fieldwork and always involve analytical work. Therefore, field and laboratory training are provided, in addition to intellectual skills acquired from the project itself. Russell runs the stable isotope laboratory in the Geography Building and works in close collaboration with the isotope geochemistry group in the School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He is part of the UoM Speleothem Research Group.
Russell is willing to discuss topics related to the above, but has two specific projects available for 2022:
The timing and character of glacial Termination IX in Italian lake sediments: Termination IX (spanning the transition from the Marine Isotope Stage 20 (MIS 20) glacial to the MIS 19 interglacial) is an important time slice in global climate studies because it occurred as glacial-interglacial cycles switched from a 40-kyr periodicity to a ~100-kyr periodicity. This termination is also important because it is one of only two terminations within the last million years that lacks firm radiometric age constraints. This project will involve the study lake sediments from the Sulmona Basin spanning T-IX. It will involve field sampling of the succession, laboratory processing of the samples at the University of Pisa, and stable isotope analyses in the School of Geography at Melbourne University. Dating of tephra layers that occur throughout the succession will be carried out by European colleagues, with the ages forming a key part of the student’s thesis.
Palaeotemperatures during past warm periods in southern Australia: In this project, a recently developed method for estimating past temperatures from speleothems will be used to determine how warm regions across of southern Australia reached during past intervals regarded as being potential global warming analogues: the Last Interglacial (128 ka), Marine Isotope Stage 11c (420 ka) and the late Pliocene (3.2 Ma). This is a low risk project in that the samples are already available and the analyses will be conducted in our own laboratories.
Associate Professor Jane Dyson
Jane is a social geographer working broadly on social and political action, inequality and development. In particular, her research takes an ethnographic approach to understanding young people (mostly) in India in relation to education, work, migration, health, cultural practice and politics. A separate strand of work has examined student food insecurity in Australian Universities, including UniMelb. Jane has used film in her work and is interested in a range of non-written forms of research. Jane would be interested in supervising projects in Australia and beyond on alternative political practice, experiences of social inequality and the intersections between livelihoods/work and social change.
Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher
Michael specialises in environmental reconstruction using microfossil, stable isotope, geochemical and sediment analyses. He has ongoing research projects in Australia, New Zealand and southern South America and is especially interested in contrasting and comparing Southern Hemisphere environmental changes over multiple timescales and placing these changes within regional and global contexts. Current projects include:
- Assessing the influence of climate change on the resilience, tipping points and collapse in critically endangered ecosystems. Some Tasmanian rainforest communities are on the brink of extinction, with climate change increasing the incidence and magnitude of fires that destroy this fire-sensitive vegetation. This project will use detailed ecological data stored in lake sediments from Tasmania to assess the long-term ecosystem dynamics of critically endangered rainforest communities. A region-wide collapse of many rainforest systems occurred in response to fire around 3000 years ago. Recent modelling suggests that rainforest was lost from areas in which the climate was marginal for rainforest survival today, indicating that climate must have changed at these locations in the past, reducing their resilience to fire and resulting in eventual collapse. This project will combine ecosystem modelling of the resilience space of rainforest in Tasmania with high-resolution palaeoecology to test how climate affects the resilience of rainforest to climatic change and fire.
- Australian bushfires: what drives long-term trends in bushfires in southern Australia? Currently, climatic conditions associated with the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation are a key factor in the frequency and magnitude of southern Australian bushfires, but we know very little about what drives bushfire trends over longer, multiple decades or centuries, time‐scales in this region. This project will seek to document trends in bushfire history recorded in lake sediments by analysing changes in the amount of charcoal deposited through time in sensitively located Tasmanian lakes. This project will provide information vital to the understanding of what factors influence the frequency and magnitude of bushfires in this part of southern Australia over time‐scales previously invisible to Australian landscape managers.
- Does Australia play ball when it comes to global climate change? Our climate changes, whether driven by human activity and/or natural process, and we must develop an understanding of how the Australian climate system responds to global shifts in climate if we are to successfully adapt to new climatic scenarios on our unique landscape. Reliable climate data in Australia barely spans a century, yet most significant shifts the global climate system occur over multiple centuries or millennia. This project will seek to understand how part of southern Australia responds to global climate change by analysing changes in microfossil composition through time in lake sediments. The project will focus on high‐altitude lake sediments in south‐west Tasmania, a region critically located between the major climate systems influencing southern Australian climate.
He is also open to discussion about other projects that focus on environmental change in the southern hemisphere over time.
Dr Rachel Hughes
Rachel is a human geographer with interests and expertise in the sub-disciplinary field of cultural geography, political geography and legal geography. She welcomes supervision enquiries related to any of the following: the relationship between place, space and law; transitional justice and truth-telling processes in Southeast Asia and Australia; the geopolitics of conflict and redress; diasporic cultures of memory; heritage sites of southeast Asia; the cultural politics of museums and museum visitors, and geographies of creative practice.
Associate Professor David Kennedy
David is a coastal geomorphologist specialising in the response of coastal landforms (particularly coral reefs, estuaries and rocky coasts) to climatic and environmental change.The below projects are fully funded; however, you can also customise your own study. If you are interested in coasts please contact David as there are many research opportunities available for honours and masters study.
- Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program. In collaboration with Deakin University and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning David has co-established the Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program, a $3 million investment focusing on the coastal and shallow marine environments of Victoria. Drones, field surveying and marine surveying aboard the RV Yolla provide many opportunities for research projects from Gippsland to Discovery Bay on beach and dune dynamics and response to sea level rise and storms. Projects will also align with the National Centre for Coasts and Climate.
- Wave dynamics onshore platforms in Victoria. Using the latest wave probes, this project will explore the energy transfers that occur as waves break across shore platforms. Fieldwork is core to this project and involves experiments based around Lorne as well as the Mornington Peninsula.
- Higher sea levels in Victoria. Almost nothing is known about how much higher sea levels in Victoria were in the recent past, yet such information is essential for understanding future climate change. This project will involve field mapping of highstand deposits around Victoria.
- Sediment dynamics in estuary mouths. Using the latest techniques in sedimentology this project will involve coring of estuaries in Victoria to unravel questions related to acidification, entrance opening and infill related to sea level change.
- Basaltic and/or carbonate shore platform development in Port Philip and Western Port Bays. This project involves investigating the morphology of shore platform developed in basalt and/or carbonate rocks locally and determining the boundary conditions of their formation.
Dr Vanessa Lamb
Vanessa would look forward to supervising students interested in studying pressing environmental problems which are also of political and social significance. This includes research which examines, for instance, environmental governance (particularly related to water or transboundary issues), the human dimensions of environmental and climate change, social and environmental justice, politics of conservation, and/or the unintended consequences of development. Geographical focus is open, but research is focused mainly in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand) or Chinese investment in Southeast Asia.
Two specific projects for 2022:
- Role of young environmental activists and online networks in mainland Southeast Asia: This project will focus on the multifaceted roles of young people in environmental activism in Southeast Asia, particularly in relation to their significant and innovative responses to uneven development, rapid urbanisation, and shift in development funding in the region. The idea emerges out of a long-standing collaboration with activists but was developed specifically for the potential of “online only” research in 2021 (but could include fieldwork if international travel becomes possible). Interested students should send a brief description of their research interests and relevant background experiences. This project comes with potential funding.
- Building Cities: Rivers, coasts and the impacts of sand mining: Sand mining is a global US$70-billion industry. This project will focus on the issue of sand mining and its social and environmental impacts. These cross-border flows, and their local impacts, are very much understudied, but presently, sand is being extracted at large volumes in mainland Southeast Asia’s rivers and beaches for export to Singapore and other cities across the region and in Australia. Interested students should send a brief description of their research interests and relevant background experiences. This project comes with potential funding.
Dr Jan-Hendrik May
Hendrik (Henne) May is a geomorphologist with a focus on Quaternary landscape evolution in the Southern Hemisphere. His main interest is reconstructing the impact that climatic changes have on landscape-scale Earth surface processes utilizing field and laboratory methods as well as remote sensing and GIS. He has ongoing research projects in several parts of Australia (e.g. Flinders Ranges, lower Murray River, Top End) and cooperative projects in NW Argentina and China. Possible HSc and MSc research projects include (but are not restricted to):
Using source-bordering dunes to reconstruct the late Quaternary fluvial history of the lower Murray River. The lower Murray River downstream of Mildura shows a series of fluvial terraces and alluvial plains that attest to episodes of alternating incision and stability. Very little information exists regarding the hydrological and sedimentary characteristics of these paleo-rivers. Here, source-bordering dunes and sand-ramps along the lower Murray offer promising but so far unexplored archives for the reconstruction of fluvial and aeolian processes over time. This project looks at using field work in combination with sedimentological and pedological methods to unravel the depositional history of these archives.
What can desert pavements tell us about paleoenvironmental change in Australia’s drylands? In most dust producing regions in the world, only very few records exist on longer-term dust production and deposition. Desert pavements provide a novel but so far understudied archive to reconstruct late Quaternary dust deposition and paleoenvironmental change in Australia’s outback. This project looks at the sedimentological, pedological and chronological histories of desert pavement sites around the Flinders Ranges to infer episodes of dust accretion and then applies geochemistry to study variations in dust sources.
Understanding paleoenvironments and human interactions around a mid-Holocene shell midden in South America’s largest inundation savannah (co-supervised by Dr. Amy Prendergast). Due to continuous processes of fluvial reworking and sedimentation, early to mid-Holocene archaeological sites are extremely rate in the Amazon basin. Anthropogenic shell middens discovered in the northern Bolivian inundation savannah provide valuable windows into past human-environmental interactions during the mid-Holocene. While these middens clearly document a long history of human occupation by hunter-gatherers in the region, much less is known with regard to the type of existing resources, their seasonal to longer-term variability in the landscape, and their link to the natural and paleoenvironmental dynamics in a tropical riverine environment. Therefore, this thesis aims to produce high-resolution records of paleoenvironmental change and seasonal resource use by applying microscopic, geochemical and sclerochronological techniques to freshwater apple snail shells (Pomacea spp.) from a midden in the Bolivian Amazon. This will provide a framework for interpreting the long-term human-environment interaction in the region.
Dr Celia McMichael
Celia works on interdisciplinary research problems with a focus on: international health and development; and forced migration. She has experience working in the areas of environmental disaster and population health (Sri Lanka), childhood infectious disease (Peru, Angola), water/sanitation/hygiene (WaSH) in low income countries (Nepal, Philippines), refugee resettlement and wellbeing (Australia), and climate change and managed retreat/relocation (Fiji). Celia has experience with qualitative, quantitative and ethnographic research methods. She is interested in supervising topics related to health geography and (forced) migration.
Dr Sarah McSweeney
Sarah is a coastal geomorphologist who specialises in landform response to environmental and human-driven change. She currently has ongoing research projects in Australia and New Zealand. A main focus of Sarah’s research is the evolution, management, and entrance processes of estuaries that intermittently close to the ocean. Entrance closure has a management and biological interest due to flooding and poor water quality. Sarah has experience in running field-based projects including morphological surveying and sediment coring of estuaries, beaches, and tidal flats. She is also keen to incorporate modelling and spatial analysis into projects (e.g. ARC GIS, Matlab).
Potential projects could include:
Evolution of Intermittently Open/Closed Estuaries
This project will investigate how changes in sea level, wave conditions, climate, and sediment delivery influence estuary evolution. We will undertake field work at two estuaries on the Great Ocean Road including - sediment coring and surveying. This would be coupled with spatial analysis of topographic data. From this, we can then compare rates of infill and determine the key processes delivering sediment into these estuaries.
Reconstructing the Holocene evolution of a sub-tropical estuary (Far North QLD)
The tropical rivers of Far North QLD deliver large amounts of sediment to the ocean. Estuaries store a portion of this material, but much of it is still exported offshore (e.g. to the Great Barrier Reef). This project will use existing field data (sediment cores), paired with hydrological modelling and spatial analysis, to reconstruct the evolution of a tropical estuary over the last 8,000 years.
Storm impacts on beach ridges at Wilson’s Promontory
Beach ridges are indicators of past sea level and storm wave heights. This is useful to understand how they have evolved in the past and how they may respond to future climate change. This project will use spatial and bathymetric data to analyse the morphology of a beach ridge plain in Wilson’s Promontory. We will then undertake field work to collect sediment samples to provide vital information about the processes of deposition. This work includes a trip to the Prom and some challenging but fun field work.
Sarah is also happy to take students who want to customize their own project in any area of coastal geomorphology and management. Some funding is available for field costs associated with projects
Associate Professor Lisa Palmer
Lisa is a human geographer who teaches and researches on human-environment relations and indigenous approaches to environmental and social governance. Her research takes a critical ecological approach and is focused on south-east Asia (particularly Timor Leste) and indigenous Australia. She is currently working on an ARC project on Sprit Ecologies and Customary Governance in Timor Leste. She is interested in supervising students in the area of post-conflict development and difference and conservation and cultural environments.
Dr Catherine Phillips
Catherine is a human geographer whose research focuses on human-environment relations in terms of everyday practices and environmental governance processes. Her work combines more-than-human geographies, cultural environmental studies, and science and technology studies, with field experience in Canada, South Africa, and Australia. She is interested in supervising students exploring topics related to alternative agriculture and food initiatives, discard/waste studies, and urban natures (especially forests, soils, and pollinators), and is happy to work through possibilities with prospective students.
Dr Amy Prendergast
My research focuses on exploring the deep time relationship between humans and their changing environments. I am a palaeoenvironmental and archaeological scientist who uses interdisciplinary research to study how humans and our hominin ancestors responded to rapid environmental changes over the past several million years. I have active research projects across North Africa, Western Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific.
I specialise in generating high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records from carbonates (such as shells, teeth, otoliths, and speleothems) preserved in archaeological sites to study how humans responded to environmental changes at the local scale. My research involves new environmental proxy development, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, archaeological science, and seasonal resource use. I am interested in supervising topics related to all these areas of research. A list of potential topics is provided below but I am also happy to develop projects to suit a student’s specific interests. All projects will involve some field and/or lab component. Training will be provided.
Potential research topics:
Was the spread of plant and animal domestication in the Mediterranean influenced by climate change? The domestication of plants and animals and the shift from hunter-forager to pastoral-agricultural lifeways in the Neolithic was one of the biggest changes in the history of humankind. In the Mediterranean, this began at different times and occurred in different ways across the region. This project seeks to characterise the potential influence of rapid climate change events in the Neolithic transition. It will involve generating high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records from archaeological sites across the Mediterranean using carbonate geochemistry.
Exploring how prehistoric tropical communities adapted to Late Pleistocene to Holocene environmental change in Vietnam. This project combines archaeological, geological and ecological history of the Tràng An massif World Heritage site, Ninh Binh, Vietnam. We will use geochemical records from land snail shells preserved in several archaeological sites to reconstruct local environmental conditions experienced by the region’s past inhabitants. This project will involve aspects of modern proxy validation as well as palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.
Calibration of new high-resolution sea surface temperature proxies for southeastern Australia using mollusc shell chemistry Mollusc shells have periodic growth increments which allow the reconstruction of chronologically constrained records of palaeoenvironmental variability at unparalleled high temporal resolution. Studying the growth and chemistry of these periodic growth increments is known as sclerochronology. There are few high-resolution marine palaeoenvironmental proxies available for southeastern Australia. Mollusc shell sclerochronology holds great promise for reconstructing quantitative, sub-seasonally resolved sea surface temperature and salinity records from this region via the analysis of shells from Late Pleistocene to Holocene archaeological sites. However, before these archives can be used for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, it is necessary to undertake modern calibration studies to understand how geochemical variations are influenced by local environmental conditions, kinetic and vital effects. This allows the generation of quantitative and reliable proxy records of environmental change. This project will use field and lab-based sclerochronological methods on intertidal mollusc species to calibrate new high-resolution palaeoenvironmental proxies for southeastern Australia.
Using giant clam shells to reconstruct past environments and cyclone activity in the tropical Pacific Giant clams (Tridacna spp.) are one of the major carbonate components of tropical reef systems. Their shells have annual growth increments. By analyzing the growth and chemistry of these increments it is possible to reconstruct past environmental conditions as well as short term events such as cyclones. This project will employ these techniques on modern and fossil clams to provide a palaeoenvironmental and palaeostorm reconstructions from the Late Holocene using samples from the Great Barrier Reef and Polynesia.
Understanding paleoenvironments and human interactions around a mid-Holocene shell midden in South America’s largest inundation savannah(jointly supervised with Dr Jan-Hendrik May) Early to mid-Holocene archaeological sites are extremely rare in the Amazon basin. Anthropogenic shell middens provide valuable windows into past human-environmental interactions in the northern Bolivian inundation savannah, and hold clues on the type of existing resources, their seasonal to longer-term variability in the landscape, and their link to the natural and paleoenvironmental dynamics in a tropical riverine environment. This project addresses these questions via developing high-resolution records of paleoenvironmental change and seasonal resource use by applying microscopic, geochemical and sclerochronological techniques to freshwater apple snail shells (Pomacea spp.) from a midden in the Bolivian Amazon.
Professor Ian Rutherfurd
Ian is a geographer interested in water and rivers. His research areas are fluvial geomorphology (which is the role of rivers in shaping the earth), and hydrology. He has a special interest in stream restoration, interactions between vegetation and river processes, and management of river systems (including integrated catchment management). A theme through his work is understanding the physical processes of change in rivers, and especially how rivers respond to (and recover from) human disturbance. He is happy to supervise most Honours and Masters projects that relate to biophysical aspects of water and rivers, and human interaction with rivers. As an indication of his interests, he presently supervises a group of PhD students working on: processes of river avulsions and anabranching, roles of vegetation in river processes, designing mining river diversions, the role of riparian vegetation in improving water quality, and recovery of streams filled with sand-waves.
Examples of Honours topics include:
- Long-term impacts of historical gold mining on rivers. We have a large grant to investigate how Victorian rivers have recovered from the massive impacts of historical gold mining. This involves working with archaeologists, chemists and a multidisciplinary team tracking large volumes of sediment from mining, including with mercury contamination.
- Large wood in rivers. Large logs in rivers are critical to the health of streams, but they have been removed from rivers in their millions to increase flood conveyance. There are numerous research projects available around large wood and rivers that would suit students interested in physical and biological processes.
- Movement of large wood in rivers. Large, dead tree trunks are critical in the biological and physical functioning of rivers. How wood moves in Australian rivers is poorly understood (especially because our timber is so dense and rots so slowly). Jams of wood under bridges also represent a major flood hazard. Recent floods moved large amounts of wood in rivers, and there are some excellent projects available in this area.
- River avulsion processes. Most rivers experience changes of river course where the river quickly or slowly moves into a new course on the floodplain. How this process actually occurs requires plenty of interesting research. We now have abundant LIDAR remote sensing data for Victorian floodplains that allows several fantastic project meshing GIS work with field investigations. Target floodplains would be the Murray, Ovens, and Snowy Rivers.
- Estuary mouth opening. Governments spend a large amount artificially opening estuaries, but they often close soon afterwards. A PhD student has recently completed a great project on the artificial opening of estuaries that intermittently close. However, the role of river discharge in this process remains poorly understood.
- Riparian vegetation and property values. Revegetating riparian areas (land along stream banks) is a major management activity. There is an argument about whether landholders increase or decrease their property values by fencing off streams. A multidisciplinary project!
- The impact of small and medium-sized towns on river condition. There has been a huge amount of research done on the impacts of large cities on streams within that city (e.g. the effect of Melbourne on the Yarra). This research shows that streams are dramatically affected by stormwater from small areas of directly connected impervious surfaces. By contrast, there has been little work done on the impact of small and medium-sized towns on river condition. Most small towns are located on a waterway of some type. This project would (a) explore the spatial distribution of towns in relation to the spatial distribution of rivers and streams (b) The impact of towns on the river, in particular, channelisation for flood mitigation, and the impact of stormwater on the stream.
Note: Funding would be available to support fieldwork and other costs associated with most projects.
Melbourne Water support for Honours Thesis projects in 2022
Melbourne Water is wanting to provide support for Honours projects in Geography (note that is a year-long research project) for 2022. Supervision would be with Professor Ian Rutherfurd and Dr Kathryn Russell (School of Geography)
Project 1&2: There is a new focus from MW on erosion and sediment into Westernport Bay from agriculture and gullies in the catchment leading to the two following projects.
- How active is my gully? Mapping rate of incision and recovery of gullies, and connectivity of gully sediment sources to sinks in Westernport catchment, using GIS analysis and field verification.
- Runoff in transition: Understanding the temporal dynamics of the hydrologic transition from agricultural to urban land, using infiltration testing of soils, and GIS mapping of impervious surface change through the urban development process.
Project 3: MW is also interested in understanding the changes and the form/morphology of urban streams in Melbourne.
- Remote sensing of ecologically-relevant geomorphic attributes of Melbourne streams that capture habitat availability and channel complexity. It would incorporate field assessment of geomorphic complexity at a sample of sites and compare that to remotely sensed metrics derived from LiDAR, IR or visible imagery using automated or semi-automated GIS processes. The aim would be to find a metric or set of metrics that best represent geomorphic complexity or habitat availability but can be rolled out broadly without field assessment.
Students on any of these projects would work as part of a research team with excellent support, access to resources, as well as funding for any costs associated with the project. Students would learn skills in GIS, remote sensing, have plenty of fieldwork, and make good contacts with the water industry.
Dr Rebecca Runting
My research centres on developing and evaluating strategies to manage ecosystem services under global change. I also examine the economic and conservation value of using different spatial modelling and planning methods, using case studies from Australia’s coastal wetlands and the tropical forests of Indonesian Borneo. For coastal wetlands, I have developed approaches for integrating economic methods (ecosystem service markets and Modern Portfolio Theory) with conservation planning. My research on the island of Borneo analyses the potential of different planning strategies to achieve multiple competing policy objectives. I am currently exploring land-sparing and land-sharing strategies for forest management on the island, while accounting for the spatial heterogeneity of biodiversity and ecosystem services. I have experience in linking research methods from ecological modelling, economics, and operations research.
I am open to discussion about projects exploring spatial planning in the context of ecosystem services and/or global change, but am particularly interested in supervising students for the following project:
Sparing or sharing for tropical forests under climate change?
The land sparing versus land sharing debate aims to resolve the question: should land use be separated to deliver production and biodiversity objectives in separate locations (sparing), or should these objectives be integrated in the same location (sharing)? There is currently a limited understanding of how either sparing or sharing strategies would perform under dynamic processes, such as climate change. This project will focus on the forest estate in Indonesian Borneo, which is a major evolutionary hotspot, contains high species richness and endemism, and includes charismatic species such as the Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). However, many of these species are threatened by climate change, and will face substantial distribution shifts in the future. This project will determine the effectiveness of sparing and sharing strategies for biodiversity and timber production under climate change using spatial optimisation methods. This will show whether sparing, sharing, or a mix of strategies, is optimal for tropical forests under a changing climate. The project will involve working in the R modelling environment. You will learn about emerging ideas in spatial planning and the application of optimisation methods to conservation.
Other potential projects include:
Land swaps for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and economic outcomes in Indonesian Borneo.
Assessing restoration opportunities for blue carbon in Queensland’s coastal wetlands.
Dr Kate Shaw
Kate’s research looks at cultures of cities – at how and where people live, work and play. Questions of access and affordability are crucial to these choices. She’s especially interested in places where land is not put to its ‘highest and best’ (economic) use – places that are valued more for their use than their potential exchange. If they are not maximising economic return, they are likely available for relatively low rent, and this enables all sorts of activities to flourish. These places encourage use for production, not just consumption, and can be the most interesting and engaging places in a city.
Her current project focuses on urban renewal in the 21st century, exploring ways of improving on the renewal projects of the last 50 years. It is looking at the jurisdictional capacities for building social equity and cultural diversity: the legislative, regulatory, financial, political and cultural barriers to and facilitators of socially equitable urban development. Where do policy and planning interventions succeed in making a city more interesting, equitable and diverse, how and why?
Her background is in alternative cultures, with a particular interest in Melbourne’s live music and indie arts scenes. She advises governments and campaigns on local planning and policies to maintain them. At the moment she is Deputy Chair of the City of Melbourne’s Creative Spaces working group, a member of the Victorian State government’s live music roundtable, and advisor to the City of Sydney’s live music task force.
Kate is interested in supervising theses that engage with questions around urban renewal, gentrification, housing markets, social equity, cultural diversity and urban policy.
Dr Ariane Utomo
Ariane is a social demographer, working in the field of marriage and family in Indonesia. Her overarching research interest is to examine the relationship between the family and four dimensions of social change in contemporary Indonesia: globalisation, economic development, demographic transition, and democratisation following the political reforms of 1998. Her research and teaching activities are centred on how social change are reflected in attitudes to gender roles, school to work transition, women’s employment, changing marriage and fertility patterns, and the nature of social stratification in Indonesia. She is interested to supervise students working on topics related to population, development, and social change in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In particular, she is keen to supervise projects looking into marriage and family, and on the intersections between gender, labour market, and the future of work in the region.
Dr Ellen van Holstein
Ellen is an urban geographer, interested in the participation and inclusion of communities in shaping urban spaces. In this Ellen focuses on the practices of citizens as they respond to top-down mechanisms such as government policy and looks at how these practices affect social and political inequalities. Ellen has researched these dynamics in the context of community gardens and citizen participation programs. She is currently working on the project ‘The Disability Inclusive City’, looking at the participation of people with intellectual disability in the production of space in the city. Ellen is interested in working with students on projects focused on any of these three empirical topics.
Professor Mark Wang
Mark is interested in supervising topics relating to urban / development / environmental issues in East Asia and China. The following list provides some of the potential projects:
- China’s South-To-North-Water-Diversion project
- Environmental or disaster-related resettlement or poverty alleviation resettlement in rural China
- Urban demolition or land acquisition in China
- Urban restructuring in China
- The new generation of migrant workers: Social/spatial mobility and skill accumulation
- Urban transition and new urban spaces: globalisation and its impact on cities
- Other development and environmental issues
We have many local contacts and good access to the field sites and informants. Plus, many other possibilities.
Dr Ilan Wiesel
Ilan is an urban geographer, specialising in the processes that produce spatial advantage or disadvantage for people living in cities, and the agency of different people and ‘social groups’ from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds - from the very-low-income to the super-rich – in these processes. Ilan is interested in both theoretical and applied research that aims to inform housing policy, social policy and urban planning that will reduce social inequality in cities.
Ilan is interested in supervising research in the fields of social and urban geography, especially around the following topics:
- Housing and social inequality
- The drivers and outcomes of spatial segregation in cities and beyond
- The geographies of social disadvantage
- The geographies of people with disability
- The geographies of elites
- Applied research housing policy, social policy and urban planning that will reduce social inequality in cities.
- Justice and care-ethics in the city