Our research

Our research

Researchers in the Department of Environmental Sciences are actively engaged in applied environmental research through partnerships with government and non-government organisations. Our researchers also serve on high-profile national and international bodies such as: 

  • the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 
  • UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and 
  • UN Convention on Biological Diversity. 

In the 2015 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluation, our research was rated 5 out of 5 – performance well above world standard.

Areas of research

Environmental earth science

The Department of Environmental Sciences is a leading centre for the study of earth surface processes and geomorphology in river, wetland, coast, desert and polar environments. Our academic and postgraduate student research (MRes and PhD) is concentrated in four main, interrelated areas;

  • Geomorphology and landscape evolution,
  • Quaternary environmental change,
  • Human impacts on the environment,
  • Environmental Management.

We place a strong emphasis on fieldwork and laboratory work and have cross-departmental and cross-institutional research collaborations with colleagues in the fields of biology, climate science, geochronology and earth system science.

Our research also relates to key aspects of environmental management, and collaborative research and student supervision is carried out with industry in addition to domestic and international scientists.

Staff members active in this field of research include:

Environmental Earth Science research is supported by an extensive array of field and analytical facilities including:

  • state-of-the-art drill rigs, surveying gear (structure from motion and terrestrial laser scanning),
  • sediment analysis including grain sizing (Laser, X-ray, settling tube),
  • physical, chemical (particularly surface and down-borehole water quality), mineral magnetic, instruments and dating facilities (Optically Stimulated Luminescence).

Environmental quality and contaminants

The Department of Environmental Sciences is a leading centre for the study of environmental quality and contaminants resulting from mining, industrial and agricultural activity. This research includes:

Increasingly, this research is leading to new technologies including:

  • carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) - toxic emissions from post-combustion capture (Professor Peter Nelson),
  • gas quality and gas cleaning in oxy-combustion of fuels (Professor Peter Nelson),
  • fugitive emissions of methane (Professor Damian Gore, Dr Grant Edwards), in collaboration with the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences), and
  • produced water quality and treatment (Professor Damian Gore, Dr Peter Davies, Dr Shuaifei Zhao).

Research in mature and developing technologies underpins decision making and risk assessments, but also the promotion of innovative and sustainable solutions. This includes: 

The contaminants research theme is supported by a range of facilities and equipment including:

  • X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Total Reflection XRF (TXRF) spectrometer, X-Ray Diffractometry,
  • mercury analysis,
  • a mobile laboratory as part of the Environmental Quality laboratory.

Coastal and marine

The Department of Environmental Sciences conducts research in marine, coastal and estuarine science, including:

The department is heavily engaged with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) in the SIMS/NSW OEH Coastal Processes Research Node. The Department is an active member of the Macquarie Marine Research Centre.

The Department’s coastal and marine science expertise is integrated into parts of its undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programs, including the Bachelor of Marine Science. Specific research foci include:

  • Inner Continental Shelf-Shoreface sediment exchanges
  • East Australian Current shelf upwelling and sand transport
  • East Australian longshore sand transport system
  • Headland sand bypassing processes
  • Large-scale coastal response to wave climate change and sea-level change
  • Coastal wetland responses to sea-level rise
  • Tidal inlet dynamics – forced vs unforced behaviour
  • Ocean wave measurement arrays and nearshore coastal modelling
  • Coastal engineering impacts on sand transport and estuarine inlets
  • Evolution of the eastern Australian coast over the past 2000 years
  • Fusion of geohistorical and instrumental coastal data for coastal hazard risk assessment
  • Role of extreme storms in multi-decadal coastal behaviour
  • Tasman Sea Extreme Storm Climatology over the past 1000 years
  • Subtropical Ridge and Latitudinal Climate Variability, impacts on coasts

Coastal and marine research is supported by equipment which includes boats, a jet ski, ground penetrating radar and a range of current monitoring equipment.

The Department’s areas of research are supported by specialist expertise in the cross-cutting themes of:

Spatial information science

Spatial information science is the science of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote-sensing for data storage, visualisation (mapping), and the provision of information to support decision making. It is concerned with the interpretation and analysis of geographical information from a variety of sources and in a range of application fields.

The Spatial Information Science team at Macquarie University are led by Dr Michael Chang and Dr Maina Mbui.

Research in spatial information science

The Department of Environmental Sciences undertakes research using geospatial technologies, including remote sensing (both passive and active sensors) and geographic information systems, spatial modelling and multi-objective (conservation planning) decision support systems. Our goal is to inform the management of Australia’s environment through innovative and interdisciplinary research. Major themes of Michael and Maina’s research are:

  • Multispectral and hyperspectral remote sensing for vegetation mapping
  • Radar remote sensing for land surface monitoring and terrain modelling
  • Spatial predictions of coastal and marine features
  • Cumulative impact and risk assessments in geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Cross-cultural participatory mapping
  • Conservation planning

Teaching and Learning in Spatial Information Science

Spatial information science is a major growth industry. Macquarie University graduates with expertise in spatial information science contribute to diverse workplaces and research fields, including natural resource management, local government, emergency management, land administration, forestry, agriculture, marine environments, health, defence, education, infrastructure management, transport and more. Our undergraduate and postgraduate units focus on practical work to enhance the development of technical skills and problem solving abilities. We provide training with the latest geospatial software, including ArcGIS and ENVI.


Our undergraduate units provide students with a comprehensive understanding of geospatial technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. Students learn core concepts and develop technical skills in data acquisition and management, mapping and spatial sampling and analysis. The undergraduate units include:

Major in Spatial Information Science

Spatial information science is a Qualifying Major in the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Environment. The aim of the major is to provide students with expertise in the development, management, application and display of spatial information through core studies in: 

  • geographic information systems (GIS), 
  • cartography, 
  • global positioning systems, 
  • geospatial analysis and modelling, and 
  • remote sensing. 

The major includes core units that engender a depth of knowledge in spatial information science that is immediately transferable to the workplace. In addition, students are given the opportunity to select optional units to extend this knowledge in specific application fields.


Our postgraduate units provide students with an advanced understanding of geospatial technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. The postgraduate units include:

For more information on Spatial Information Science at Macquarie University, contact Dr Michael Chang or Dr Maina Mbui.

Research Students

Please feel free to contact Michael and Maina to discuss potential Masters of Research (MRes) and PhD projects. 

You can also follow the teaching and learning team on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!


The department’s research has assisted in the reconstruction of environments in: 

  • Southeast Asia (Dr Kira Westaway), 
  • arid and semi-arid Australia (Dr Paul Hesse and Dr Tim Ralph), 
  • tropical Australia (Associate Professor Trish Fanning), 
  • large-scale coastal morphology (Associate Professor Ian Goodwin), and 
  • estuarine infill (Professor Neil Saintilan). 

Dr Westaway’s research has established the timing of Homo floriensis occupation in Indonesia and modern human arrival in Southeast Asia.

The department’s work in Geochronology is supported by the only luminescence dating facility in Sydney servicing institutions in the wider metropolitan region including UTS, UNSW and UNE. The facility, run by Dr Kira Westaway, contains a fully equipped wet room preparation area and dry instrument room containing two ‘Riso’ automated luminescence readers (one with single-grain capabilities and the other with a red TL setup), a low-level beta GM multicounter and two Daybreak thick-source alpha counters all within subdued red light conditions.

Higher Degree Research

Research students in the Department of Environmental Sciences have the opportunity to work with academics at the forefront of their fields. Generous scholarship schemes are available for applicants with proven research experience and excellent potential. The department conducts and promotes interdisciplinary research in a wide variety of environmental sciences covering: 

  • environmental management, 
  • physical geography, 
  • environmental geoscience, 
  • environmental quality, 
  • climate science, 
  • spatial information science, and 
  • other related natural and physical sciences. 

For information about Higher Degree Research and enrolment, please visit the HDR website.

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