“Australia’s big challenges – on the role of Geosciences”


Australia is a large and sparsely populated country shaped by its geology and geography. Ensuring the future prosperity and security of Australia relies on having cutting edge knowledge and capability in the Geosciences. Geosciences can and does contribute to six major challenges and priorities identified by the Australian government. These are: building Australia’s resource wealth, securing Australia’s water resources, providing fundamental geographic information, maintaining Australia’s geoscience knowledge and capability, managing Australia’s marine jurisdiction and ensuring Australia’s community safety to natural hazards. These priorities were outlined by Geoscience Australia in 2014 and are available here: http://www.ga.gov.au/news-events/news/latest-news/australias-big-challenges-the-role-of-geoscience

In this Special Lecture Series, a range of experts from within the School of Geosciences explore and unpack these Geoscience priorities.


A Landsat dataset showing movement of surface water in this area over a 7 year period from 2003-10 in the Menindee Lakes of the Broken Hill region. Source: Geoscience Australia

Lecture Series

All lectures will occur between 2 – 3pm on Tuesdays. Venue: Madsen Room 331, Madsen Building, The University of Sydney.

Date Title Presenter Bio Venue Time
March 14 2017

Maintaining Australia's geoscience knowledge and capacity


Many areas of our lives are intertwined with geoscience – this includes the energy used to fuel our vehicles and homes, the natural disasters that dominate the evening news, as well as the dependence of our daily lives on weather forecasting or the precious metals used in electronic devices. The importance of geological and climatological phenomena for life on Earth means that geoscience can contribute significantly to our nation’s security and prosperity, as well as that of the rest of the world. The changing face of Earth science, driven by the advent of completely new ways of collecting and analysing large and complex, multi-disciplinary data, opens enormous opportunities not only to maintain Australia’s geoscience knowledge and capability, but to expand it significantly.

Professor Dietmar Muller

Dietmar Müller leads the EarthByte eResearch group, pursuing open innovation via collaborative software development, high performance computing and "big data" analysis. His group, funded by a "Big Data Knowledge Discovery" and other grants, is developing a prototype for a Virtual Geological Observatory built around the GPlates software, assimilating the wealth of disparate geological and geophysical data into a 4D Earth model.

Madsen Room 331 2-3PM
March 28 2017

Providing fundamental geographic information: the role of geoscience to address challenges identified in the Australia 2016 State of Environment Report

The Australian government and the private sector concur on the significant role of fundamental geographic information in building more resilient communities, better responding to natural hazards, improving decisions on natural resource management, and sustainable land use planning that support a more sustainable pathway of development.

More to the point, the recently released “State of the Environment 2016 (SoE 2016)” report argues that Australia’s environmental outlook depends on our ability to effectively address the complex mix of socio-economic and environmental drivers and pressures on the environment. Continued improvement in data and understanding is identified as one of the several ‘options for action’ to address that mix.  In this presentation I will discuss:

•    why geographic information continues to be essential for addressing ongoing challenges identified in the SoE report;

•    a variety of policies, tools and approaches relying on geographic information that are being developed and are starting to be used in Australia to support a more sustainable path of development

•    the role geoscience can play in provisioning data and information for monitoring, and  for advancing Australia’s international agreements (Sustainable Development Goals)

In concluding I will reflect on the role of geoscience in relation to the SoE 2016 mention “Providing access to data that are comparable, comprehensive, reliable, re-usable, aggregated and timely has the potential to lead to better decisions, more cost-effective management, and better implementation and integration of policies”.


Professor Graciela Metternicht

Graciela Metternicht is a Professor of Environmental Geography in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales Australia.  She is a member of the Science Policy Interface of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the College of Experts of the Australian Research Council, and the Assessment Methodology Group of the 6th Global Environment Outlook.

Her research interest is primarily in the fields of environmental geography, with a focus on geospatial technologies and their application in environmental management (mapping and monitoring, sustainable land management, land degradation, indicators, ecosystem services) and sustainability.
Prior to joining UNSW, Professor Metternicht was Regional Coordinator of Early Warning and Assessment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for Latin America and the Caribbean. Previous academic appointments include Head of Discipline and Professor of Geospatial Systems and Environmental Management at the School of Natural and Built Environments of the University of South Australia and Professor of Spatial Sciences at the Western Australian School of Mines, Curtin University of Technology.

Madsen Room 331 2-3PM
April 11 2017

The times they are a-changin': geoscientists’ roles and responsibilities for community safety

Geoscientists play an instrumental role in ensuring Australia’s community safety to natural hazards through real-time monitoring and assessments. While this information is critical for the dissemination of accurate and timely early warnings, geoscientists’ responsibilities increasingly extend beyond the provision of high-quality datasets and value-added products. More and more, geoscientists are called upon as trusted experts in the communication of risk and crisis information. Drawing from Australian and international case studies, this presentation will explore geoscientists’ roles and responsibilities with respect to communicating information regarding natural hazard risks.


Deanne Bird

Deanne Bird is a geographer, with a focus on community engagement and risk communication. She holds a PhD in Environmental Science awarded by Macquarie University and the University of Iceland for her thesis entitled ‘Social dimensions of volcanic hazards, risk and emergency response procedures in southern Iceland’. After 6 years with Risk Frontiers as a Research Fellow, Deanne has returned to the University of Iceland as a Research Analyst where she is exploring human behaviour before, during and after disaster with a focus on remote communities and the tourism sector.

Additionally, Deanne is a Senior Advisor – Community Engagement for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services within the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone team. As a Senior Advisor, Deanne is responsible for local project leadership, coordination, monitoring and reporting relating to health specific actions arising from the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry 2016. Deanne also enjoys adjunct positions with Macquarie University, Sydney and Monash University, Melbourne.

Madsen Room 331 2-3PM
May 2 2017 Building Australia's resource wealth Associate Professor Patrice Rey Madsen Room 331 2-3PM
May 30 2017 Securing Australia's water resources: myths and opportunities in the post-dam era Associate Professor Ian Rutherfurd

Ian Rutherfurd is an Associate Professor in the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne.  His research interest is fluvial geomorphology, and water and river management.  He has published over 80 journal articles and book chapters, over 50 consulting reports, and supervised more than 30 PhD and Masters projects to completion.  He has acted as advisor to numerous state and federal government expert panels and committees related to river and catchment management.  Between 2009 and 2013 Ian was a senior water manager in the Victorian government.  At present he is a Chief Investigator in four Australian Research Council grants, president of the Institute of Australian Geographers, and of the Australia New Zealand Geomorphology Group.


Australia's water security has often been more about profligacy than shortage.  The focus has been on volume of supply, when equally important are security of access, water quality, and demand.  In this talk I will explore the big opportunities for future supply for urban and irrigation users (the least interesting sources are the traditional centralized big dams and inter-basin transfers; and most interesting are new distributed systems such as pumped groundwater, stormwater, and micro-desalination).  The last 20 years (including the drought) has demonstrated that demand management is more important than water supply.  Progress has been made (at least in the Murray Darling) by a weird mix of secure entitlements, a water market, coupled with a fundamental change in attitudes to water.  Leaving aside the fantasies of the northern Australian food-bowl, the Millenium drought has succeeded in almost preparing us for the insecurity of water supply (i.e. runoff) under climate change.

Madsen Room 331 2-3PM