Department Seminars

Department Seminars

Monthly Department Seminar Schedule

The Department holds monthly seminars presented by guest speakers and academic staff. These are open to all students and Macquarie University staff to attend.

2019 Seminar Series

Seminar 8 - 6 August

When: Tuesday, 6 August 2019 - 12:00pm

Venue:  Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker:  Mike Ritchie (MD) and Ron Wainberg (Tech Dir), MRA Consulting Group

Title: Current waste issues: prospects and opportunities

Seminar 7 - 2 July

When: Tuesday, 2 July 2019 - 11:00am

Venue:  Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker:  Dr Swapan Paul, Manager Wetlands, Sydney Olympic Park

Title: Issues facing the wetlands of Homebush Bay

Seminar 6 - 4 June

When: Tuesday, 4 June 2019 - 12:00pmProfessor Dennis Fox

Venue:  Room 324, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker:  Dennis Fox, University of Nice Sophia Antipolis

Title: The Impacts of Land Cover Change on Forest Fire Risk


Forest fire risk in the Euro-Mediterranean zone is closely related to housing density and vegetation characteristics in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Of the 15 administrative departments affected by forest fires, the five with the greatest burned area are all located in south-east France. Most forest fires are caused by arson or accidents and occur in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Climate, WUI characteristics, and fire-fighting strategies have all been changing over the past decades, and I’ll present a summary of the changes in the WUI and burned area characteristics since about 1960/1973.

Before presenting the research topic, I’ll give a brief presentation of the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis context and the current transformation of the university. The university has been selected as one of 12 Universities in France to receive extra funding to improve its ranking and foster greater international cooperation.


I’m originally Canadian (Ph.D. U. of Toronto) and have been a physical geography professor at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis for the past 20 years. My research topics focus on how changes in land cover and climate affect natural hazards and risks: vineyard soil erosion, runoff and forest fires. More recently, I’ve started working on real-time multi-risk modelling and will be developing strategies with colleagues to improve flooding and forest fire risk forecasts.

Seminar 5 - 7 May

When: Tuesday, 7 May 2019 - 11:00am

Venue:  Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker: Marjorie Aelion, University of Massachusetts

Title: Are low concentrations of heavy metals in the environment a health concern for children?


Heavy metals are known to cause neurological impacts, and children are particularly susceptible during critical developmental periods. Soil and dust are possible environmental exposure routes for heavy metals and integrate several environmental sources including metals emitted to air through industrial processing and mining, and legacy lead from historical use of leaded gasoline and paint. This seminar will describe two studies, both carried out in South Carolina (SC), a relatively unindustrialized, ethnically diverse state on the southeast coast of the United States.

The first study identified clusters of intellectual disability (ID) in a cohort of 100,000 mother-baby pairs throughout the state, with no consideration of environmental contamination. Soil was sampled in these areas for nine heavy metals (As, Ba, Be, Cr, Cu, Pb, Mn, Ni, and Hg) to identify whether the clusters of ID were associated with concentrations of soil metals. No biological samples were collected from the study population due to confidentiality considerations.

The second study analyzed data of blood lead levels (BLL) from 140,000 children ages <1 year to 5 years throughout SC. Associations were examined between BLL and demographics of the individual children (age, gender and race) and census data from the block groups in which the children resided (income level, ethnic composition, percent road coverage, age of homes and urban/rural classification). The first study indicated that soil metals, even at low residential concentrations were associated with ID, in particular As and Pb combined. The second study identified that there were differences in BLL by the race of the child which varied by urban and rural classifications, but no associations by the ethnicity of the population within the blocks groups where the children resided. Percentage of roads and, to a lesser extent, age of homes, were associated with increased BLL in urban areas in mixed models, but neither was significant in rural areas. Results of the study suggest that even low concentrations of metals in residential soils may be of concern for children, and that developing effective interventions should consider differences in potential exposures in urban versus rural areas.

Seminar 4 - 2 April

When: Tuesday, 2 April 2019 - 11:00am

Venue: Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker: Neil Saintilan and Jeff Kelleway

Title: Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level rise


Coastal wetlands (mangrove, tidal marsh and seagrass) sustain the highest rates of carbon sequestration per unit area of all natural systems, primarily because of their comparatively high productivity and preservation of organic carbon within sedimentary substrates. Our global assessment of soil carbon in tidal marshes shows that on coastlines that experienced rapid RSLR over the past few millennia marshes have on average 1.7 to 3.7 times higher soil carbon concentrations within 20 centimetres of the surface than those subject to a long period of sea-level stability. This disparity increases with depth, with soil carbon concentrations reduced by a factor of 4.9 to 9.1 at depths of 50 to 100 centimetres. We analysed the response of a wetland exposed to recent rapid RSLR following subsidence associated with pillar collapse in an underlying mine and demonstrate that the gain in carbon accumulation and elevation is proportional to the accommodation space (that is, the space available for mineral and organic material accumulation) created by RSLR. Our results suggest that coastal wetlands characteristic of tectonically stable coastlines have lower carbon storage owing to a lack of accommodation space and that carbon sequestration increases according to the vertical and lateral accommodation space created by RSLR. Such wetlands will provide long-term mitigating feedback effects that are relevant to global climate-carbon modelling.

Seminar 3 - 5 March

When: Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - 11:00am

Venue:  Room 802-803, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker: Nanthini Elamgovan

Title: Bringing People to Nature: Examples from Singapore


Topping the list of the greenest cities in the world, Singapore boasts over 350 parks, gardens, and nature reserves. The country is dedicated to transforming into a biophilic City in a Garden and to create the best living environment through greenery and recreation. Great planning has been put into establishing a pervasive green infrastructure, including nature ways and park connectors throughout the country. Over the years, there have been increased efforts in activating green spaces with educational and outreach programmes, to promote community involvement and environmental stewardship. This presentation will share about the various initiatives implemented in Singapore to attract people from all walks of life to take a step into nature.

Nanthini Elamgovan is a Deputy Director in the Parks Division of the National Parks Board in Singapore. She has been creating and managing vibrant green spaces that allow people to enjoy and experience nature and the outdoors amidst the bustling city-state. Apart from the management and conservation of flora and fauna, she also implements initiatives such as Therapeutic Horticulture, Community Gardening, Inclusive Playspaces, and Citizen Science. After a stint in the Volunteer Department of Prospect Park in New York City, Nanthini facilitated the implementation of volunteer and stakeholder programmes in the parks in Singapore. Her current interests are biophilia, park prescriptions, and the social value of green spaces.

Seminar 2 - 12 February

When: Tuesday, 12 February 2019 - 11:00am

Venue:  Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker: Tom Veldkamp, University of Twente

Title: ITC’s role in GeoScience for sustainable development


ITC has acted as a knowledge hub since its inception in 1950. ITC has developed a broad global network of +25 000 alumni and strategic partnerships, and it wants to continue to actively pursue and elaborate international partnerships within our geospatial knowledge domains. In general, many partnerships have already been established in the fields of education, research and other capacity development activities – in fact, ITC is an established brand name when it comes to its mandate for organizational capacity development.  For ITC, capacity development implies building capacity in domain-specific knowledge, skills and attitude at the individual and institutional/societal levels. ITC, therefore, aims to achieve both individual and collaborative capacity building. This development reflects what happens in modern societies with a strong private sector.  The ambition of ITC is to expand its reputation as a center of excellence and knowledge exchange hub in its thematic domain. This requires ITC to play an internationally recognized leading and coordinating role both globally and regionally. Our intention is to organize this together with other supra-national regional partners. Our focus will be on achieving impact. In addition, ITC will support networks of multiple universities and institutes, and foster South-South collaboration.

When it comes to more specific local capacity development and research, (public-private partnership) projects are developed, preferably within the ministerial priority countries. ITC’s aim is to contribute to context-specific spatial solutions to the wicked problems emerging in the global South. To develop our entrepreneurial core value, we intend to actively engage with the private sector and take on the role of gateway (broker) organization, matching the interests of the private sector and societal demands − “from aid to trade”. We consider public-private partnerships as the key to a fruitful cooperation between government, knowledge institutes, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Together with national agencies, we will actively explore the possibility of contributing to local and regional (small and medium) business development. The ultimate goal for earth observation the coming years should be to focus on the ‘last mile’; bringing earth observation products to the end user and foster the development of local earth observation markets and business cases.

Seminar 1 - 01 February

When: Friday, 01 February 2019 - 11:00am

Venue:  Room 801, 12 Wally's Walk (E7A)

Speaker 1: Lynette H. L. Loke, National University of Singapore

Title: Ecologically engineering Singapore’s seawalls to enhance biodiversity


The combination of coastal urban development and climate change associated threats has resulted in a rapid and worldwide increase in the construction of hard defences such as seawalls. These are generally designed with civil engineering goals and do not function as surrogates for the natural habitats they replace. In highly urbanised Singapore, where seawalls constitute approximately 63% of the coastline, ‘hard’ engineering mitigation options such as increasing structural complexity remain the most practical approach to enhancing seawall biodiversity. Complexity, however, comprises multiple parameters and it is critical to disentangle their relative effects. Towards this end, I developed the software “CASU” and used it to design concrete tiles of different complexities which were deployed to test the effects of complexity and structural component type on intertidal diversity and community composition. Subsequently, I also conducted several field and flume experiments to investigate the effects of scale, density and spatial configuration on biodiversity. I will discuss how these findings provide important practical insights for successful ecological engineering and why there is an urgent need for a thorough understanding of the underpinning mechanisms through which ecological enhancements operate.

Speaker 2: Eliza Heery, University of Washington and National University of Singapore

Title: Toward an Urban Marine Ecology


Urban ecology is a discipline that has developed from ecological research primarily in terrestrial and riparian environments. Substantial developments in this realm highlight the importance of long-term spatial patterns, landscape-level datasets, and time series on urban impacts that are rarely available for urban marine environments. In comparison, urban marine ecology is a nascent field. How can we learn from urban terrestrial and freshwater ecology to catalyze our understanding of urban marine ecosystems? In this talk, I will focus on three marine patterns/processes that occur in urban settings, including heterogeneous habitat mosaics, synanthropic species, and changes in habitat complexity. By sharing research findings from Singapore, Seattle, and Sydney, I aim to highlight the state of our knowledge relating to urban marine environments, as well as the limitations and many future opportunities for innovation in this field.

Past Seminars

2018 Seminars

Date / TimeLocationSpeakerSeminar TitleAbstract
12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801

Dr Scott Markich

Aquatic Solution International

Is the mytilid mussel, Xenostrobus securis, a useful indicator of metal concentrations in surface water and sediment in the Sydney Estuary?This study investigates whether metals levels in mussels are a useful indicator of metal concentrations in their aquatic environment, with the aim of being able to use them in biomonitoring programs throughout the length of the estuary (and more broadly in other estuaries and coastal lagoons). Mussels, and many other organisms, are typically hampered by high inherent variability in their metal tissue concentrations between individuals & sites. This study looks at minimising this variability by using size as a co-predictor (via ANCOVA) with the aim of being able to demonstrate statistically significant changes in metal tissue levels of mussels among sites in the estuary.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 4, Room 4.24

Dr Alexander Morgan

Center For Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, USA

Alluvial fans on MarsThe effects of water on a paleo-landscape are the most unambiguous markers of past climatic environment. Alluvial fans are one such marker, and on Earth have long been recognized as records of past hydrologic, climatic, and geologic conditions. Alluvial fans have also been identified on Mars, but remain enigmatic after over a decade of study. Their large size necessitates significant volumes of surficial water but they appear to have been active during an era generally thought to have been dominated by a cold and dry climate. The fans may thus be representative of the last episodes of widespread fluvial modification to the martian surface, and identifying the conditions present during their formation may provide insights into Mars’ geologic and climatic history. Here, we use a global survey for martian alluvial fans, detailed analyses of several well-exposed examples, fieldwork at an analogue site, and numerical modeling to decipher the environment present during the era of fan deposition. We find that the martian alluvial fans were constructed by at least many hundreds of separate flow events resulting from snowmelt over many millions of years. Accumulation of the necessary snow and release of meltwater would have required favorable orbital configurations or transient global warming that occurred episodically throughout Mars’ relatively recent history.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801
Professor Yingqi Zhang

Chinese Academy of Sciences Beijing
Reconnaissance for the largest ever ape, Gigantopithecus, to be continued…
Gigantopithecus blacki, the largest hominoid that ever lived, was first described just over eighty years ago based on an isolated lower molar purchased from a traditional Chinese drugstore in Hong Kong. Since that time, almost two thousand isolated teeth and four partial mandibles of G. blacki have been recovered from Early and Middle Pleistocene cave sites in southern China. This entire region is dominated by karst topography with steep-sided limestone peaks penetrated by solution caves and sinkholes.
Professor Zhang will discuss this infamous and relatively unknown species and outline the ongoing hunt for Giganto remains in southern China funded by a joint MQ and CAS ARC Discovery grant.
There will be an opportunity to stand in the caves Professor Zhang discusses using our VR rig at the end of the talk - so stick around and come for an adventure in China!


12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801,

Dr Kevin Cheung

Department of Environmental Sciences, Macquarie   University

Complex network analysis of extreme rainfall events

Tools from network theory are employed to compare the spatial features of extreme rainfall over East Asia caused by two atmospheric processes: the Meiyu front in June and July, and tropical cyclones mostly from August to November. Networks are inferred from satellite-estimated rainfall data based on a nonlinear correlation measure. We identify the different regions that receive rainfall due to the large spatial-scale activities associated with the Meiyu front and tropical cyclones. It is found that the spatial scales involved in the Meiyu-driven rainfall extremes, including the synoptic processes of frontal development, are longer than those for tropical cyclones although the latter have long storm tracks during northward migration. We further delineate regions of coherent rainfall during the two periods based on network communities.

12 Wally's Walk, Level 4, Room 4.24

Dr Noam Levin

Department of Geography, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Queensland

Remote sensing of night lights: the factors shaping light pollution, and applications for conservation planningIn the past century a new type of anthropogenic threat has developed, which has only been recognized in the 1970s: light pollution. Artificial lights represent a unique footprint of human activity which can be directly observed from space. In recent years, new spaceborne sensors have become available, enabling to better understand the factors explaining spatial patterns and temporal changes in light pollution, and the effects of light pollution on biodiversity and on human health. In this talk, I will provide an overview on remote sensing of night lights, and give examples from some of my studies, on the human and physical factors shaping light pollution, and how mapping of artificial lights can assist in conservation planning.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801
Dr Krista Verlis
Freelance researcher
Trashed: tackling the growing litter issue

Marine debris and litter are significant issues across the globe. Abatement measures, waste management strategies and the circular economy are concepts that are interrelated and need to be considered when determining a litter management response. The critical first step in this process is to gather relevant baseline information. This talk will present examples of different strategies for addressing the litter problem. Case studies from Australia and French Polynesia that discuss the efficacy of existing abatement programs and ways forward will be presented.

12.06.18 11am12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801
Dr Peter Scanes
Senior Team Leader – Estuaries and Catchments Science
Office of Environment and Heritage

Dr Maina Mbui Senior Lecturer Department of Environmental Sciences Macquarie University

Managing the interaction between catchment landuse and condition of estuarine and coastal ecosystems

This talk will present two different but complementary approaches to assessing and managing impacts of catchment landuse on estuarine ecosystems.

Peter will present the results of the work his team has done to monitor and model the interactions between inputs of pollutants from catchments and the estuarine ecosystems in Lake Macquarie. This work emphasises the combination of monitoring and modelling to produce outputs that local government can use to guide investment in catchment management. This work will then be put in the context of the government’s recent Threat and Risk Assessment and new approaches for managing catchment landuse through the Risk Based Framework for Considering waterway Health Outcomes in Strategic land-use Planning Decisions ( ).

Maina will present his work on catchment modelling in Africa and Pacific Islands in the context of providing decision support on one of the key strategies for coral reef conservation in a high CO2 world: reducing sediment and nutrient pollution emanating from the adjacent land.

12 Wally's Walk
Level 4 Conference Room
Dr. Natasa Markovska,
Skopje, Macedonia
Green Energy in Light of Sustainable Development Goals and Global Climate Deal
The year 2015 was a significant turning point for both the sustainable development and climate agendas. Two major international processes were concluded: the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations General Assembly as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the adoption of a new global climate agreement, the Paris Agreement, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This lecture will present the role of green energy in fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals and achieving a transformation toward sustainable future for all. Furthermore, it will depict the green energy contribution in the long-term mitigation scenarios which are consistent with the goal of limiting global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.
The case of solar energy in Macedonian conditions will be particularly elaborated in light of the deliberations at international level.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 4 Conference Room
Neven Duić, University of ZagrebSustainable energy systems – future stepsTransition to decarbonised energy systems is becoming more attractive with fall of investment costs of renewables and volatile prices and political insecurity of fossil fuels. The renewable energy resources are bountiful, especially wind and solar, while integrating them into current energy systems is proving to be a challenge. The limit of cheap and easy integration for wind is 20% of yearly electricity generation, while a combined wind and solar may reach 30%, while still pending on improving transmission capacities and flexibilization of conventional power plants. Going any further asks for implementation of really free energy markets (involving day ahead, intraday and various reserve and ancillary services markets, as well as coupling with neighbouring markets through PCR mechanism), demand response, coupling of wholesale and retail energy prices, and it involves integration between electricity, heat, water and transport systems. The cheapest and simplest way of increasing further the penetration of renewables is integrating power and heating/cooling systems through the use of district heating and cooling (which may be centrally controlled and may have significant heat storage capacity), since power to heat technologies are excellent for demand response. Electrification of personal car transport allows not only for huge increase of energy efficiency, but also, electric cars due to low daily use may be excellent for demand response and even for storage potential, through vehicle to grid technology. That will allow reaching renewable share of 80% in energy system, but the remaining 20%, part of transport and industrial processes that cannot be electrified, and backup of power system in times when neither wind nor solar are available, may be more an uphill battle without technology breakthrough. Biomass can probably cover half of that demand, and carbon dioxide from biomass combustion may be hydrogenised using hydrogen produced from excess renewables, resulting in electric fuels, like e-methane, e-methanol and e-DME.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801
Dr Stephanie D'agata

Department of Environmental Sciences
Vulnerability of Coral reef communities to human activities, and importance of biodiversity baselines to assess conservation toolsBeyond species loss, human activity may cause the decrease of phylogenetic and functional diversity carried by species. One of the major issue, particularly in marine ecology, is to understand the effects of human activities on all aspects biodiversity related to ecosystem functioning and assess conservation tools.  This seminar will focus on the latest findings concerning the impacts of human activities on coral reef fish biodiversity, i.e. taxonomic and functional diversity. Also, the effectiveness of marine protected areas at protecting coral reef fish biodiversity will be reviewed.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 4 Conference Room

Dr Ken Krauss

Wetland and Aquatic Research Center 

Environmental Change and Carbon Dynamics in Sentinel Tidal Wetlands of the Southeastern United StatesTidal wetlands in the southeastern United States comprise vast areas and include saltmarshes, mangroves, and upper estuarine forests mixed with lower salinity marshes. In recent years, these ecosystems have been touted globally for their potential to store and convey carbon (C), and thus have considerable potential for atmospheric CO2 mitigation is left intact or managed appropriately. Here, I will describe C studies that were conducted in two sentinel wetland types. Tidal freshwater forested wetland and oligohaline marshes are rarely considered “blue carbon” ecosystems, but have all the hydrologic characteristics. I will describe a surprising potential for this ecosystem type to store C as well as any blue carbon system, and I will estimate the role that this ecosystem plays in lateral C exchange. Key to this function is tidal exchange. The second ecosystem I will describe is a classically defined blue carbon ecosystem; a mangrove forest. I will show how disconnecting mangrove forests from tides and slowing landward transgression simultaneously affects the ecosystem through peat collapse and mortality. Such actions have an enormous influence on the above ground C resource, but the demise of the belowground C resource is more nuanced. Tidal wetlands of the southeastern United States are incredibly valuable from a C perspective, but are also sensitive to changes underway directly and far afield. Maintaining tidal connections are key to preserving the C resource of tidal wetlands into the future.
12 Wally's Walk
Level 8, Room 801
Dr Marc Humphries

School of Chemistry
University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, South Africa
Wetlands in southern Africa: insights into geomorphic evolution, climate variability and contaminationClimatic conditions in southern Africa generally preclude the development of major wetlands, yet the region is host to several important wetland systems that are characterised by exceptional biodiversity. Many of these systems remain largely unexplored and poorly understood features in the landscape. This seminar will focus on research currently being conducted within iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the east coast of South Africa. Shaped by sea-level changes that have occurred since the last interglacial, today this region encompasses a range of pristine landforms, including coral reefs, coastal dunes, lakes, swamp forests, and extensive wetlands. In addition to fulfilling several important ecological and social functions, these systems hold great potential for palaeo-environmental studies. We will examine how isotopic and geochemical markers preserved within sedimentary sequences can be used to study regional environmental change and its links with larger-scale climatic variability in the Southern Hemisphere. We will also discuss how increasing human pressures on wetland ecosystems are exposing important management issues.
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