Since deciding on water security as the theme for this, the March 2020 edition of Research+, the emerging Covid 19 pandemic has rapidly and urgently become a national priority, with other issues, like water security, now barely visible in the national debate. However, in late 2019 and early 2020, water security was itself a critical issue, with a prolonged period of severe drought, experienced locally and across much of Australia, biting hard as towns ran out of water and we faced an overwhelming configuration of bushfires and its devastating impact on natural reserves and wildlife.
One might have thought that this was enough for a while, with crucial recovery efforts needing thoughtful coordination and resourcing, and, importantly, time to take hold and show us the next steps for the way forward. However, it appears that urgency and confrontation are going to be defining features of the challenges we face for the foreseeable future, with drought, fire and biosecurity changing our daily life and worldview.
Water scarcity and water security will continue to be urgent issues for Australia, and this edition of Research+ highlights some of the work we are doing at UNE to address them. All of our researchers are actively participating in finding workable solutions to serious problems, and are representative of UNE’s priority to find solutions to problems for the communities we serve.
Some of the research programs have been established over a long period of time, with productive and inspiring relationships with stakeholders evident in the work that we do. For example, Dr Sarah Mika has been part of the UNE team working with local councils and water authorities identifying broadscale coastal river system ecologies and monitoring water quality. Professor Darren Ryder outlines his team’s invaluable scientific contributions to a recently established major multi-institutional project addressing water scarcity problems in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Dr Deborah Bower, recently been awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, describes the multiplicity of aquatic research teams working out of UNE’s Laboratory of Applied Zoology and Ecological Restoration (LAZER), furthering our understanding of the impacts of environmental change on our rivers and wetlands.
Associate Professor Michael Reid is undertaking inland ecosystem research using palaeoecological sediment analysis to supplement otherwise scarce historical data on river systems. One of Associate Professor Reid’s PhD Students, Marita Pearson, is undertaking an analysis of waterholes on the Barwon-Darling River, identifying substantial changes in their physical form, chemical processes and ecological health, especially concerned about the effects of changes to flow regimes.
Professor Adrian Walsh engages with ethical issues that are increasingly complex and urgent in his exploration of how water might be allocated according to distributive justice principles. Another look at the socio-cultural and political aspects of water usage comes through Dr Jennifer Hamilton’s more recent collaborations and her developing project to examine widespread domestic adaptations to climate change, employing a ‘community weathering station’ website to collect and distribute data and findings.
UNE is proud of our international research relationships and the exercise of our capacity to support emerging countries in identifying riverine ecosystem knowledge. PhD student Sagar Bajracharya applies this knowledge in his analysis of Nepal’s Koshi River Basin, “the main river system of the greater Himalayan region”.
The innovative approaches taken by our researchers are contributing to impactful solutions to the very real problems we are currently facing.
Dr. Fiona Utley
Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor