Environmental Water Science Research Group
The Environmental Water Science Group comprises a number of research-active academics primarily within the School of Environmental and Life Sciences who have an underlying interest in all aspects of water science and who undertake collaborative research. Water is a basic component of human existence and the support system on which people and ecosystems depend. It is one of the most fundamental requirements for the survival of all living things. The academics in this research group study its importance to ecosystems and humans, its use and management as a resource, and its modification through contamination and pollution. The impacts of pollutants on organisms in the environment (ecotoxicology) is a key aspect of the research undertaken by members of the group.
The objectives of the group are twofold:
- To undertake research on the quantity and quality aspects of water and wastewater systems with specific focus on specifically the environmental impacts of decentralized infrastructure planning such as rainwater tank systems, on-site waste treatment systems such as constructed wetlands, health of natural wetland habitats, catchment runoff and urban water quality, transport of contaminants through soil and the unsaturated zone, and monitoring strategies to further evaluate the impact of contaminants in rivers, estuaries and lake systems.
- To examine the effects of pollutants on estuarine and marine biota, and their biological response to pollutant stressors. Biological responses in organisms may be employed as surrogates and more informative tools for pollution effects than chemical measures of contaminant levels alone. As well as ecotoxicology and approaches to remediating aquatic contamination, the group is also interested in the physiology of aquatic organisms and the ecology of estuarine and marine environments.
To meet these objectives the group uses a variety of field monitoring instruments and has access to chemical and biological instrumentation in modern laboratories for water and specimen assays. Techniques used include chromatography & spectrometry including PCR analysis, metal assay and faecal sterol analysis and faunal identification and enumeration. Instrumentation includes GC-MS, ICP-MS, ESI-MS, X-ray diffraction, electron diffraction, NMR, real-time PCR system, and flow-through respirometry. Natural synergies exist within the members of the group and there have been substantial benefits from the sharing of infrastructure.
EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS AND RESEARCH SUPPORT
There are a number of external funding partners involved in the Group's research projects. These include the Australian Research Council (Linkage and Discovery), Hunter Water Corporation, NSW Government Departments (Primary Industries, Environment, Climate Change and Water), Port Stephens Council, Lake Macquarie Council, Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, Bluescope Steel, Newcastle Innovation and others.
EXAMPLES OF CURRENT PROJECTS
- The use of Fluorescent Whitening Compounds as Indicators of Human Faecal Contamination in Environmental Waters
- Molluscan Fish Biomonitors for Quantification and Impact Assessment of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
- Enhancing the Bioremediation of Hydrocarbon Contaminants in Soil
- Source Tracking using Alternative Faecal Indicators in Water
- Evaluation of Nutrient/Microbial Exports from an Unsewered Area to Tilligerry Creek Estuary
- The Metabolic Response of Staphylococci to Environmental Stressors
- Characterisation of Microbial and Chemical Contaminants, Bioreaction and Water Quantity Dynamics in Rainwater Harvesting Systems to Optimise Design
Members of the group have been very successful in gaining nationally competitive research grants and industry funding. The research has resulted in numerous publications in high impact journals ranging in specialisation from chemistry and biochemistry to applied environmental science and toxicology. There are also a number of Research Higher Degree students undertaking research projects under the supervision of group members listed below.
Professor Joseph Bidwell
A/Prof Hugh Dunstan
Dr Geoff MacFarlane
Dr Richard Yu
Professor Tim Roberts
Dr Craig Evans
Dr Anita Chalmers
Dr Charles Lee