Three projects gain $1.16 million in Australian Research Council funding

Published 1 November 2016

Dirk Erler
A project to develop a floating, mobile fisheries and oceanographic observation system is just one of three Southern Cross University projects which has received funding from the Australian Research Council, announced today (November 1).

Southern Cross University has received a total of $1.16 million through the Discovery Projects and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) schemes.

The two projects which have received funding through the Discovery scheme are: ‘Unravelling the history of nitrogen cycling within the central Great Barrier Reef’, led by Dr Dirk Erler, $332,110; and ‘Resolving unexplored interactions between antimony and the sulfur cycle’, led by Professor Ed Burton, $276,000.

Professor Isaac Santos is the lead investigator for the project ‘A fisheries and oceanographic observing system for the continental shelf’, which has received $552,000 through the LIEF scheme, plus an additional $505,000 from industry partners, bringing the total funding to $1,057,000 for the project.

Professor Santos, who is based at Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, said Australian oceanographic and fisheries research had been hampered by the lack of appropriately sized and equipped research vessels required to investigate continental shelf waters and beyond.

“We will develop an automated floating facility that can provide data to support ongoing research programs in oceanography, marine chemistry, climate change, ocean acidification, coastal hydrology, and fisheries in the continental shelf and beyond,” Professor Santos said.

“This will bridge a major gap in fisheries and oceanographic research capacity to make observations in a critical region of the Australian marine environment, and further develop the University’s close ties with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) fisheries colleagues and universities performing oceanographic research.”

The project is being done in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Curtin University of Technology, Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales. Southern Cross University researchers involved in the project are Associate Professor Brendan Kelaher; Dr Douglas Tait, Associate Professor Symon Dworjanyn and Associate Professor Kai Schulz.

Dr Erler, from the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, aims to test the commonly held view that nutrients have had a major negative impact on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) since human settlement of the Queensland coast in the 1800s.

“The government is planning to spend billions on nutrient prevention programs, but the long-term effect of nutrients on coral reefs may not be as acute as the impacts associated with climate change,” said Dr Erler.

The project aims to clarify how nutrient discharge over the past 200 years compares to other impacts such as temperature increases that have only recently caused major bleaching events on the northern GBR. The project is in collaboration with Princeton University in the US and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The third project to receive funding (in collaboration with the University of Bayreuth in Germany) aims to unravel unexplored interactions between the sulphur cycle and fundamentally important aspects of antimony geochemistry in the Earth’s critical zone.

“The outcomes are expected to provide crucially important perspectives on antimony geochemistry in anoxic soils, sediments and groundwater systems,” lead investigator Professor Burton said.

“This understanding should lead to more accurate geochemical risk assessments and better site treatment strategies for environmental antimony contamination.”

Professor Geraldine Mackenzie, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), congratulated all the successful researchers.

“This is a great result for our researchers and further evidence of our outstanding research expertise in oceanography, fisheries and geochemistry. I also congratulate our researchers who have been successful in funding bids, led through collaborating institutions,” Professor Mackenzie said.
Photo: Dr Dirk Erler drilling for a coral core (Photo: Sander Scheffers).

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.