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SCU receives $1.21 million in research funding


Brigid Veale
14 November 2013
Developing new techniques for dating modern human fossils and improving our understanding of the coastal carbon cycle are among new Southern Cross University research projects which have received $1.21 million through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Southern Cross University has received the funding through the Discovery Projects, the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme, and the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme, announced by the Minister for Education Christopher Pyne.

Associate Professor Isaac Santos, from the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, has been awarded $395,220 over three years for a project investigating carbon pathways in mangroves, using a combination of new experimental approaches.

Professor Santos said mangroves forests were highly productive coastal ecosystems, which played a key role in the marine carbon cycle.

“Currently we know how much carbon is being absorbed by the mangrove trees, but we don’t know how much is subsequently lost to the ocean and how it may occur,” Professor Santos said.

“We are testing a hypothesis that the carbon is going to the soil of mangroves, into the groundwater via crab burrows and then seeps into the ocean. We suspect that the magnitude of this process is comparable to carbon uptake by mangrove trees.”

Professor Santos is also leading a project to develop a new gamma spectrometry facility, which can perform high precision radionuclide measurements to resolve complex environmental processes such as sediment accumulation, soil erosion and marine carbon scavenging. This project has received $155,000.

Associate Professor Ed Burton, from Southern Cross GeoScience, is leading a project which aims to provide new perspectives on arsenic geochemistry in anoxic soils, sediments and groundwater systems. He has received $210,000 over three years.

Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Southern Cross GeoScience, is the lead investigator on a project which will enable the reliable direct dating of key modern human fossils. This project is aimed at helping to understand modern human expansion, critical for developing and testing evolutionary hypothesis. The project has received funding of $121,059.

“The newly developed direct dating technique applied to human fossil is virtually non-destructive, and allows for the first time to establish a reliable and consistent chronology of modern human occurrences throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia,” Dr Joannes-Boyau said.

Associate Professor Andrew Rose, also from Southern Cross GeoScience, is leading a team of researchers which has received $330,000 to develop a state-of-the-art facility for determining particle size, concentration and surface properties for a wide range of environmentally occurring particles, in rapid succession.

Researchers from Southern Cross GeoScience, Southern Cross Plant Science, the School of Environment, Science and Engineering, the School of Education and the Division of Research are also involved in a range of other ARC projects which are being coordinated by other universities.

Photo: Associate Professor Isaac Santos.