Assoc. Prof. Dirk Erler

Associate Professor Dirk Erler in the field with sampling equipment

Research interests

Dirk Erler’s research is broadly divided along two lines: understanding aquatic nutrient cycling in natural systems, and developing strategies to improve nutrient recovery in engineered systems.

Aquatic nutrient cycling in natural systems

Dirk (1)

1) Palaeobiogeochemistry - Unlocking the history of Nitrogen cycling in coral reef systems
This research is based on the recent development of techniques to measure the bulk N isotope content of organic material trapped in coral skeletons and other calcareous invertebrates. This archive can provide detailed information on the way in which N was processed in the past and how these processes are being influenced by climate change and other human activities. Combined with other archives trapped in coral skeletons (e.g. temperature and salinity proxies), we now have the capacity to reconstruct and better understand N dynamics in past coral reef systems.

Dirk (4)2) Quantifying the pathways of nitrogen cycling in the environment
Nitrogen (N) is a key driver of biological productivity and as such plays a critical role in regulating the health of aquatic and terrestrial environments. Within this research theme Dirk Erler is attempting to understand the specific pathways of N cycling, for instance the contribution of dissimilatory and assimilatory processes in nitrate reduction. This work relies on developing new techniques and protocols for teasing apart individual processes in a complex biogeochemical environment.


Engineered systems

Dirk (3)1) Understanding the pathways and fluxes of greenhouse gases in engineered environments
Nitrous oxide and methane are powerful greenhouse gases, yet their production in engineered systems are poorly constrained. This research employs cutting edge methods to isolate the pathways in which nitrous oxide and methane are produced in wastewater treatment plants, and other industrial treatment systems. These high resolution techniques are providing new insights into greenhouse gas dynamics.


Image of waste in a wastewater treatment plant

2) Waste to energy and nutrient recovery
Wastes are generated in many industries and often incur a significant disposal cost. In this research theme I aim to develop techniques for extracting both energy and nutrients from these wastes. The work is focussed on improving the extraction of energy during anaerobic digestion, applying thermal decomposition processes to solid wastes, and using constructed wetlands to trap waste nutrients.


Major Research Grants

ARC Linkage

- $607,000 (LP100200732) "Resolving nitrogen and phosphorus transformations along subterranean estuary-sediment/water interface continuums in carbonate sands" 2010 to 2013. CI 3 of 3.


- $250,000 (LIEF LE120100156) A high precision, automated system for studying greenhouse gas cycling in coastal environments. 2012. CI 1 of 5.

- $240,000 (LE130100153) "A liquid chromatography/ gas bench: isotope ratio mass spectrometer for new and novel carbon and nitrogen research in coastal systems" 2013. CI 4 of 5

- $170,000 (LE100100013) "Eddy Correlation Lander Array" 2010. CI 6 of 12.

Other Category 1 Grants

- $332,000 ARC Discovery (DP170100734) Unravelling the history of nitrogen cycling within the central Great Barrier Reef

- $680,000 Advance QLD Innovation Program: Zero energy sewage treatment

- $225,000 Improving environmental and human health in the Pacific Islands through better onsite wastewater management. Australian Research Development Award (AUSAID). 2008. CI 2 of 3.

- $84,410 "Are groundwater inputs driving de-oxygenation, acidification and eutrophication." Herman Slade Foundation. 2009 to 2012. CI 3 of 3.

Non Category 1 Grants

- $96,000 "Monitoring and evaluation of onsite wastewater treatment systems in Cook Islands" (IWRM) 2011 CI 1 of 3

- $39,000 "Monitoring and evaluation of onsite wastewater treatment systems in Tonga" (IWRM) 2011 CI 1 of 3

- $39,000 "Monitoring and evaluation of onsite wastewater treatment systems in Nauru" (IWRM) 2011 CI 1 of 3

- $35,000 "Evaluating the efficiency of the "eco-trench" onsite wastewater treatment systems " NZAid 2010 CI 1 of 2