Environmental Protection and Environmental Change Research Group

Eleanor Bruce, Jo Gillespie, Dan Penny

Members of this group are interested in environment-people dynamics in shaping place. Our activities range from using GIS and environmental proxy data to assess changing coastal, riverine and wetlands environments through to evaluating the governance dimensions of protected area management. Our research is conducted throughout Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in a wide range of biophysical settings, to explore human-environment interactions that shape the places we live. We are interesting in integrative work that looks at socio-biophysical sciences and technologies to inform social and environmental transformation.

Associated Units of Study

Code Name
GEOS1001 Earth, Environment and Society
GEOS1002 Introductory Geography


Environmental and Resource Management
GEOS2111 Natural Hazards: A GIS Approach


Environmental Law and Ethics
GEOS3014 GIS in Coastal Management
GEOS3103 Environmental and Sedimentary Geology
GEOS3333 Geographical Concepts, Skills and Methods
AFNR5801 Climate Change: Process, History, Issues
GEOG5002 Geographic Information Science B
GEOG5004 Environmental Mapping and Monitoring
GEOS5501 Human Rights and the Environment

GIS: applications in Australia, the Pacific and Southeast Asia

Environmental spatial analysis and modelling using GIS and related spatial technologies often forms the foundational base knowledge source for policy makers in environmental problem-solving. Our research in spatial technologies covers a range of issues including coastal management and marine spatial planning, marine species distribution modelling and landscape change detection. This group also investigates the dynamics of VGI (volunteered geographic information) in examining the human-environment dimensions of environmental management.

Current Research Projects

2015: The role of geospatial information in assessing environmental livelihood security within the water-energy-food nexus, Pace-Net Plus/Seed-funding

Key Publications

  • Fletcher, R., Johnson, I., Bruce, E., Khuon, K. (2007). Living with heritage: Site monitoring and heritage values in Greater Angkor and the Angkor World Heritage Site, Cambodia. World Archaeology, 39(3), 385-405
  • Haworth, B., Bruce, E. (2015). A Review of Volunteered Geographic Information for Disaster Management. Geography Compass, 9(5), 237-250
  • Haworth, B., Bruce, E., Middleton, P. (2015). Emerging technologies for risk reduction: Assessing the potential use of social media and VGI for increasing community engagement. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 30(3), 1-6.
  • Biggs, E., Boruff, B., Bruce, E., Duncan, J., Haworth, B., Duce, S., Horsley, J., Curnow, J., Neef, A., McNeill, K., Van Ogtrop, F., et al (2015). Environmental Livelihood Security in Southeast Asia and Oceania.
  • Goltsman, D., Li, Z., Bruce, E., Darton, A., Thornbury, K., Maitz, P., Kennedy, P. (2015). Too hot to handle? Hot water bottle injuries in Sydney, Australia. Burns, 41(4), 770-777.
  • Biggs, E., Boruff, B., Bruce, E., Duncan, J., Haworth, B., Duce, S., Horsley, J., Curnow, J., Neef, A., McNeill, K., Van Ogtrop, F., et al (2014). A Water-Energy-Food-Livelihoods Nexus Approach for Spatially Assessing Change.
  • Bruce, E., Albright, L., Sheehan, S., Blewitt, M. (2014). Distribution patterns of migrating humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Jervis Bay, Australia: A spatial analysis using geographical citizen science data. Applied Geography, 54, 83-95.
  • Bruce, E., Albright, L., Blewitt, M. (2013). Distribution patterns of migrating humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mother-calf groups in Jervis Bay, Australia: A geostatistical analysis. CoastGIS 2013, _University of Victoria: CoastGIS
  • Haworth, B., Bruce, E., Iveson, K. (2013). Spatio-temporal analysis of graffiti occurrence in an inner-city urban environment. Applied Geography, 38, 53-63

Recent PhD Projects

Name Title
Deanne Hickey (PhD) Examining farm consolidation and fragmentation as a driver for invasive weeds in productive agricultural lands
Billy Haworth (PhD) Volunteered Geographic Information, Community Engagement and Bushfire Preparation in Tasmania
Nathan Wales (PhD) Combining remote sensing change detection and qualitative data to examine landscape change in the context of world heritage

Recent Honours Projects


Environmental Protection: monitoring & evaluating socio-ecological governance

Environmental protection and conservation is an area of pressing policy concern and in this research area we consider environmental regulation and governance dynamics across Australian and the Asia-Pacific. Our research ranges from critiquing international environmental laws and assessing human rights based approaches to environmental protection through to documenting localized environmental problems across a range of issues. We assess the human-environment dimensions of biodiversity conservation through an examination of protected areas, wetlands and world heritage site management in our region. Our concern is to enhance our understanding of the role of law and regulation in shaping land/waterscapes using the lens of legal geography.

A number of sub-group research projects include:

World Heritage Protection in the Asia-Pacific Region

World Heritage properties are scattered across the globe and represent places of outstanding universal value. Our research into these protected areas considers natural and cultural values attached to places, considers environmental changes for these sites and contributes to policy outcomes for protection and management purposes.

Human Rights Based Approaches to Environmental Protection: Wetland’s Protection

How do you translate human rights norms and standards to localized conditions? One answer lies in using human geography to inform a situated analysis to support a human-rights-based-approach to environmental decision-making and policy. This approach is particularly salient for bridging the environmental protection and human rights discourses. In this research we explore the complexities of the human rights/environmental nexus in the context of wetlands across the region.

Legal Geography: connecting regulations, people and landscapes

Legal Geography research is all about investigating the relationship between law, space & society. This work links ideas from legal scholarship (particularly notions from comparative scholarship and environmental law) to the place-based work of (human and physical) geographers.

For further information on any of these projects, please contact

Current Research Projects

Year Project
Ongoing World Heritage and Wetlands environmental protection and people in the Asia-Pacific region
2015 – 2017 SSEAC (University of Sydney Southeast Asian Centre) funded project “Bridging social and natural sciences to enable community adaptation in protected areas, Cambodia”
2013 – 2014 Australian National Commission for UNESCO/DFAT Project, ‘Promoting a Human Rights Based Approach to Sustainable Conservation and Natural Resource Management in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, Cambodia’

Key Publications

  • Fletcher, R., Johnson, I., Bruce, E., Khuon, K. (2007). Living with heritage: Site monitoring and heritage values in Greater Angkor and the Angkor World Heritage Site, Cambodia. World Archaeology, 39(3), 385-405
  • Gillespie, J., (2016), “Natural and Cultural Heritage Protection in Cambodia”. In Brickell, K. and Springer, S., (eds), Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia, Routledge.
  • Davey, M and Gillespie, J., (2014), “The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Marine Protected Area: valuing local perspectives in environmental protection”, Australian Geographer, 45(2), 131 – 145.
  • Gillespie, J., (2013), “World Heritage Site Management: boundary-making at Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia”, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 56(2), pp.286 – 304.
  • Gillespie, J., (2015), “Catch 22: Wetlands Protection and Fishing for Survival”, Geographical Research, doi: 10.1111/1745-5871.12160
  • Gillespie, J., (2013), “Heritage Protection and the Human Right to Development: reconciling competing or complimentary narratives?, Sustainability, Special Issue: Constructing Heritage in the Light of Sustainable Development, 5, pp. 3159 – 3171.
  • Gillespie, J., (2016), “Heritage and Human Rights: Reframing the Conservation Ethic”. In Durbach, A. and Lixinski, L., (eds), Human Rights and Heritage, UNSW Press, Sydney.
  • Gillespie, J., (2014), “A legal geography of property, tenure, exclusion and rights in Cambodia: exposing an incongruous property narrative for non-Western settings”, Geographical Research, doi: 10.1111/1745-5871.12094.
  • Gillespie, J., (2011),“Legal Pluralism and World Heritage Management at Angkor, Cambodia”, Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law, 14(1&2), pp.1 – 20.

Recent PhD Projects

Name Title
Sopheak Chann (PhD)    Land and Natural Resource Territorial Demarcation – a case study in Cambodia Protected Areas
Jessie Connell (PhD) Community relocations in Cambodia: The role of accountability mechanisms and civil society in resettlement negotiations
Ming Li Yong (PhD) Producing scales of resistance: Transboundary community-based responses and resistance to mainstream Lower Mekong Basin hydropower dams

Recent Honours Projects

Name Title
Madeline Davey (2012) Harbouring Discontent: World Heritage, the Great Barrier Reef and the Gladstone Port Development
Matthew Salgo (2015) Cracking the Code: A legal geography of New South Wales’ 10/50 code for vegetation removal
Natasha Livingstone
Improving the Soil Conservation Regulatory Framework in NSW: An Investigation of Soil Conservation Attitudes and Practices in Guyra, NSW
Elizabeth Robertson
Opening the farm gate: Exploring barriers to farm tourism in two NSW regions

Environmental and Socio-Ecological Change in Southeast Asia

The Asian region is a critical component in the Earth System, regulating atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and driving global climatic change. It is also extraordinarily diverse in its environments and cultures both over space and through time. The history and dynamics of this region, and particularly the environment and culture in the Asian region, is a fascinating area of research and one with enormous currency as Asia – populous, rapidly developing and disproportionally threatened by climatic change - moves into an uncertain environmental future.

Current Research Projects

Cambodian Crater Lakes Project (CCLP) 2010-ongoing.

The CCLP is a collaborative research partnership between the University of Sydney and the Cambodian Government Ministry for Environment (MoE), and within it, General Department for the Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection (GDANCP). Partner Institutions are the Earth Institute of Columbia University, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

The response of tropical ecosystems to systemic global change is poorly understood. This project was established to develop a detailed and long-term record of ecosystem response to changing climate in continental Southeast Asia, focusing particularly on the severely understudied yet globally significant seasonal dry forests. We are developing a Holocene record of monsoon precipitation and forest response by interrogating environmentally sensitive proxies preserved in sediment cores taken from deep volcanic crater lakes. Our data will provide a mechanistic understanding of the ways in which the biosphere and atmosphere interact over long periods of time, and particularly during periods of rapid change, which may be infrequent but of high amplitude. In doing so, we will contribute to the growing recognition of Asia as a key component of the Earth System.

This research is funded by the Australian Research Council DP1094367.
More information? Contact

Greater Angkor Project (GAP) 2002-ongoing

The GAP is a multinational collaborative research program coordinated by the Department of Archaeology and the School of Geosciences, with partner institutions including the École Française d'Extrême Orient (France), University of Hawai’i-Manoa (USA), National University of Singapore, Royal University of Fine Arts (Cambodia), and the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (Cambodia). The GAP has been generously funded by the Australian Research Council since 2002.

The GAP is concerned with the rise and fall of the great Cambodian city of Angkor (9th-15th centuries C.E.) – once capitol to a vast kingdom that, at its peak, incorporated most of mainland Southeast Asia. Angkor itself grew to become the world’s largest pre-industrial city, but was largely abandoned some time in the 15th century. The GAP was established to document the size and arrangement of the city’s urban fabric, and to reveal the processes – both internal and external – that led to its demise as a viable city. The project is diverse, incorporating archaeology, art history, remote sensing, palaeo-ecology, sedimentology, geomorphology and more.

For more information consult the University of Sydney’s Angkor Research Program website, or contact

Global Soil and Sediment Transfers in the Anthropocene (GLOSS) 2014 ongoing

GLOSS is a Working Group of Past Global Changes, the core science project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and, since 2015, Future Earth. GLOSS was established to create a global database that will quantify soil and sediment movement associated with human land use over thousands of years. The project assess the degree to which the soil resource has been impacted by human land use during the Holocene epoch, and seeks to document the sensitivity of soil resources to varying land use types and climatic conditions.

Subscribe to the GLOSS mailing list here, or contact for further information.

Key Publications

  • Hamilton, R., Penny, D., (2014) Ecological history of Lachlan Nature Reserve, Centennial Park, Sydney, Australia. Environmental Conservation 10.1017/S0376892914000083
  • Penny, D., Chervance, J.B., Tang, D., De Greef, S. (2014) The environmental impact of Cambodia’s ancient city of Mahendraparvata (Phnom Kulen). PLoS ONE e84252. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084252
  • Penny, D. (2014) Water Management at Angkor. Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Reference. DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-3934-10144-2
  • Buckley, B.M., Anchukaitis, K.J., Penny, D., Fletcher, R., Cook, E.R., Sano, M., Nam, L.C., Wichienkeeo, A, Minh, T.T., Hong, T.M. (2010).Medieval climate extremes and the demise of Angkor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107(15): 6748-6752.
  • White, J.C., Penny, D., Maloney, B. & Kealhofer, L. (2004). Vegetation changes from the Terminal Pleistocene through the Holocene from three areas of archaeological significance in Thailand. Quaternary International 113: 111-132
  • Penny, D., Pottier, C., Kummu, M., Fletcher, R., Zoppi, U., Barbetti, M., Tous. S. (2007) Hydrological history of the West Baray, Angkor, revealed through palynological analysis of sediments from the West Mebon. Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient 92: 497-521.
  • Penny, D. (2001) A 40,000 year palynological record from north-east Thailand; implications for biogeography and palaeo-environmental reconstruction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 171: 97-128

Recent PhD Projects

Name Title
Kellie Adlam (PhD) 2015 The value of the geological record in determining rates and drivers of coastal lagoon shoreline change. PhD Thesis, The University of Sydney, Sydney.
Roshni Sharma (MSc) 2014 Precipitating change: Holocene climate change in the Asian monsoon based on sediment archives from tropical lakes
Tegan Hall (PhD) The architecture of collapse: using network theory to understand the decline of complex civilizations
Rebecca Hamilton (PhD) Ecosystem resilience and climate surprises: Examining the response of tropical dry forests to past extremes in the Asian Monsoon

Recent Honours Projects

Name Title
Thomas Job (2015) A geochemical history of climate-activated acid release from acid sulfate soils in the lower Murray-Darling basin
Georgia Williams (2013) Here be dragons: integrating scientific and traditional ecological knowledge for environmental management
Ed Moss (2013) A dust record from lacustrine sediment on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland: evidence for climate variabilirty in central and southeastern Australia during the late Quaternary