2021 PhD Recruitment Projects


South Australia

Impact of faults on groundwater flow
Primary Supervisor Professor Peter Cook, Flinders University

This project will examine the potential for faults to provide barriers to horizontal groundwater flow and conduits for vertical flow between aquifers. Field sites are located in Western Australia and South Australia, and will involve analysis of hydraulic head and permeability data, as well as environmental tracer sampling and artificial tracer tests. Applicants with an interest in either field approaches or numerical modelling techniques are required. A non-taxable stipend of $40,000/ year is available, together with relocation costs.

Groundwater management in mine closure: Issues for open pit mines
Primary Supervisor Professor Peter Cook, Flinders University

Open pit mines often need to be dewatered to permit dry mining operations. This can create a cone of depression extending many kilometres from the mine site, and groundwater recovery after mine closure can take many decades. If pits are not back-filled, evaporation from pit lakes can mean that the groundwater never fully recovers, and this may have consequences for ecosystems dependent on shallow groundwater. Evaporation from pit lakes can also have implications for water quality. This project will examine the potential role of MAR during mine operations to speed up groundwater recovery after mine closure. Applicants with an interest in groundwater modelling or geochemistry and encouraged to apply. A non-taxable stipend of $40,000/ year is available, together with relocation costs.

New South Wales

Impacts of groundwater over-exploitation on groundwater quality and ecology (commencement        Term 3 of 2021 or Term 1 of 2022)
Primary Supervisor Associate Professor Martin Andersen, University of New South Wales

Overuse of groundwater is a global problem which has led to aquifer depletion and lowering of groundwater tables worldwide, yet the effects of groundwater extraction on the ecosystems that exist within aquifers are poorly known. This project will investigate how lowering water tables affects the water quality, microbes, invertebrates (stygofauna) and ecological processes in groundwater ecosystems and demonstrate the consequences of losing microbes and stygofauna to the delivery of good quality, usable groundwater. This project will provide the evidence-base to improve the sustainable management of groundwater.

The successful PhD student will be responsible for conducting and analysing field scale groundwater pumping-drawdown experiments with a particular focus on the hydrological and geochemical implications, but will work in close collaboration with groundwater ecologists at Macquarie University and staff at NSW DPIE to link the hydrological and geochemical changes to ecological impacts. The ideal candidate will have a degree in Environmental engineering, Ecology or a comparable Science degree and have strong skills in one or more of the following areas: Groundwater hydrology; biogeochemistry; aquatic ecology; modelling and/or statistical analysis of large datasets and a willingness to undertake detailed field work.

This is a fully funded scholarship. Additional scholarship top-ups of up to $10,000 tax-free per year may be provided based on merit and experience. Due to the current covid19 situation only Australian citizens and residents can apply. For more information please contact A/Prof Martin Andersen (m.andersen@unsw.edu.au).

Western Australia

Securing the future of our groundwater resources in the face of uncertainty - Link to advert
Primary Supervisor Dr Adam Siade
, University of Western Australia

This project will focus on addressing the trade-off often observed between the demand for drinking water and the need to maintain groundwater-dependent ecosystems, a delicate balance plagued by uncertainty and jeopardized by climate change.

Our success with managing complex hydrogeological systems is predicated on our ability to make reliable predictions about future system behaviour. A well-accepted method for making such predictions is through integrated hydrogeological modelling.

Various entities, including the water utility and the state government of Western Australia, rely on model predictions to support important groundwater management decisions, such as allocation planning. However, to date, decisions are too often made with a single deterministic model simulation, ignoring the impacts of uncertainty associated with hydrologic properties and fluxes. This approach runs the risk of making poor decisions with adverse impacts on both our water supply and the environment.

This project will focus on new technologies for hydrogeologic modelling and uncertainty quantification in an effort to improve water security in Western Australia and beyond. Successful applicants will not only have the opportunity to work closely with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and the Water Corporation of Western Australia, but also the opportunity to work with scientists abroad.

As part of this project the successful PhD applicant will:

Use state-of-art software (e.g., PEST++, FloPy, etc.) and high-performance supercomputers to address both conceptual and predictive uncertainty in hydrogeological systems
Develop new technologies and workflows for model development using GIS platforms
Address the representation of complex structures in hydrogeologic models including, pinched-out aquifers, groundwater recharge mechanisms, etc.

The position is available until filled. The scholarship is $45k per annum.

Monitoring and modelling recharge across the heterogeneous environments of the Perth Groundwater Basin - Link to advert
Primary Supervisor Dr Sally Thompson
University of Western Australia

Sustainably using groundwater from the aquifers around Perth requires balancing the needs of groundwater dependent ecosystems and society for access to this water: a difficult challenge that is likely to worsen under a drier future climate.  Government Agencies rely on conceptual and numerical models to help support water resource management decisions.  Recharge is a key flux in these models, but often remains uncertain. This PhD position is a component of a larger project including UWA, CSIRO and Western Australian State Government Agencies that aims to improve our understanding of recharge processes, and how to best include these in conceptual and numerical models.    

Your role in this project is to also assist in the field deployment of a suite of established and novel recharge monitoring methods at a select number of sites to elucidate local-scale recharge processes. You will also use existing data to characterize regional-scale recharge rates and trends in response to climate and land use change. Your responsibilities will include maintenance of equipment as well as data acquisition, processing and use.  You would work closely with experts in groundwater and ecohydrology (Dr. Sarah Bourke, Jim McCallum and Sally Thompson) and with a postdoctoral scholar working on the project. 

This position would suit a candidate who has achieved or will achieve First Class Honours or a high achieving Masters Student in Science/Engineering.  Candidates experienced in groundwater hydrology, modeling and environmental field measurements will be highly regarded.

The position will aim to start early 2021, based in Perth, WA.
The scholarship is $30,000.00 per annum.

To be successful in the role, you will have:

Bachelor Honours (First Class) or Master’s degree in Science or Engineering
Experience in modelling, preferably hydrological or hydrogeological modelling
Experience in field research
Excellent written and communication skills in English

How to apply and further information
Applicants should email Dr Sally Thompson directly at sally.thompson@uwa.edu.au expressing your interest. Please include a cover letter of no more than 1 page, your CV and a copy of your academic transcripts showing all subjects studied and grades achieved.


PhD Top-up scholarship: Integration of Indigenous knowledge into post-mine land use planning -Link to advert

Supervisor – Dr Carlos Miraldo Ordens, The University of Queensland

Indigenous interests and knowledge have historically been, and continue to be, marginalised in the consideration of post-mining land uses. Post-mining land use decisions have been restricted to a very narrow framework, i.e. re-establish a land use that can generate an economic return (e.g. grazing). Not only do we need to think more broadly about what can be achieved (e.g. regenerative agriculture, carbon mitigation) but, the interests and perspectives of customary land owners must be engaged and included in these considerations.

Indigenous interests and knowledge are not sufficiently incorporated into environmental assessments and management plans. More specifically, mined land rehabilitation assessments and activities typically lack integration of Indigenous knowledge, culture and needs. As such, these management strategies cannot effectively prevent environmental degradation impacting cultural values and the needs of Indigenous customary land owners. Furthermore, this valuable knowledge system is not being used to inform the science of rehabilitation analyses and models, which restricts their effectiveness.

This project recognises that Indigenous knowledge is local knowledge and, as such, knowledge sharing will respect local protocols. The project will ensure that it is not contributing to ‘mining’ traditional knowledge.

The Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander PhD student will work with a team in relation to pre- and post-mine land and water use. The team will comprise university academics, and Indigenous knowledge holders and will explore cultural interests, such as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) on the workings of the natural systems (e.g. springs and associated ecosystems), and potential for Indigenous job creation. A potential case study is Queensland’s Bowen Basin, although other options and scales (i.e. from the mine to the basin scale) will be considered at the beginning of the project. The project will investigate effective ways for knowledge sharing between customary land owners and SMI social and environmental researchers. This will potentially lead to the co-creation of a methodology that can be used across Australia to better combine traditional knowledge and socio-environmental science, ultimately providing better cultural, environmental and social outcomes for customary land owners. On a long-term systemic level, this will lead to socio-environmental investigations and management plans integrating TEK as the standard approach in Australia, and will set an example internationally.

The detailed project scope will be defined between the successful candidate and the supervision team to ensure the student’s background, research interests and skills are appropriately engaged.

A working knowledge of Anthropology; Environmental Science or Engineering; Earth Sciences; Hydrology; Civil Engineering; or, Agricultural Science would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

PhD Top-up scholarship: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and hydrogeologists collaborating to better understand and manage groundwater resources - Link to advert

Supervisor – Dr Carlos Miraldo Ordens, The University of Queensland

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s (Indigenous) knowledge holistically describes the significance, flow sources, connectivity, pathways and lags of water moving through and under the earth. To date, there has been limited research led by Indigenous interests into how Indigenous knowledge of water can be incorporated into hydrogeological investigations and groundwater management in Australia. As such, standard water management strategies cannot effectively prevent surface and groundwater degradation impacting cultural values, rights and access and the needs of traditional owners. This is notably the case under a changing climate and in regions impacted by heavy water users, such as mines and the extractives sector generally. Furthermore, this valuable knowledge is not being sufficiently used to inform groundwater planning, sharing, analyses and models, which restricts the potential of this knowledge to better inform sustainable water resource use. This is especially important as mining landscapes transition to post-mining scenarios.

The Indigenous student will collaborate with members of a team and traditional-knowledge holders in relation to groundwater in one or more study areas in Queensland. The case study sites will be decided during the early stages of the project. Currently, potential candidate case study sites are mining-affected areas of Queensland’s Bowen Basin, Surat Basin and Stradbroke Islands. In a collaborative approach, Indigenous local knowledge at any/all of these sites will be combined with hydrogeological data (e.g. hydrochemistry, isotopes, pressure) to understand origin of recharge and flow pathways, effects of geology and climate variability, etc. New modelling approaches will integrate all data to better predict hydrogeological processes.

Additionally, the project will seek to investigate effective ways for knowledge sharing between customary landowners and hydrogeologists. It is critical that knowledge sharing recognises the locally based form of Indigenous knowledge and respects protocols in relation to who has the right to share cultural knowledge. The approach taken will create a methodology that can be used across Australia to better combine traditional and hydrogeological knowledge, aiming at providing better groundwater outcomes for traditional owners and country. Ultimately, this will lead to groundwater investigations and management plans integrating traditional knowledge as the standard approach in Australia.

The detailed project scope will be defined between the successful candidate and the supervision team to ensure the student’s background, research interests and skills are appropriately engaged.

A working knowledge of Anthropology; Environmental Science or Engineering; Earth Sciences; Hydrology; or, Civil Engineering would be of benefit to someone working on this project.