Environmental research making an impact

Bushfire and Coastal management and response, the Grains Industry and Greenhouse Gases

As a university with a focus on research quality and impact, UOW academics are driving projects of excellence that are making a difference. The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) framework identifies research excellence at Australian universities compared to national and international institutions.

The results which have been recently released by the Australian Research Council show an exciting trend for UOW as it continues to excel in a number of different areas including the Chemical, Biological and Environmental Sciences, so we’d like to share relevant impact stories that we believe have offered real outcomes.

Bushfire Research

Apart from the Antarctica, Australia is the driest country in the world. Our climate is generally hot, dry and prone to drought, and bushfires can occur at any time of the year. Our research in this area responds to the need for a more precise prediction of and management of fires, which complements and strengthens the research involving the social response of a community when a bushfire disaster hits.  

Professor Ross Bradstock leads the team at the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires (CERMB). Their research investigates land management strategies on bushfire spread and severity which has directly influenced prescribed burning as a key risk mitigation activity. Along with their prediction mapping of fuel moisture patterns in the landscape to determine the risk of fire, their research has been incorporated in fire management policies and strategies in NSW and Victoria to provide better protection for property and ecosystems.
Additionally they have developed a bushfire household assessment tool which enables residents to personally assess how well prepared they are for bushfire, and make an evaluation of the potential risk to life and property. 


Human geographer Associate Professor Christine Eriksen’s has investigated more holistic ways to understand bushfire vulnerability and resilience by highlighting gender. Her research in the differences between men and women’s attitudes and responses to bushfires has informed organisational approaches to community engagement, workplace culture, and bushfire management policy and practice. As a result there have been changed attitudes and organisational approaches of fire services such as the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, who have generated a campaign to recruit more female firefighters, adapted community engagement programs to benefit rural women and developed emergency preparedness kits for women.  You can also read more about how Dr Eriksen's research has shaped a new subject: Disaster Geographies.

Our Coast

Australian coasts are threatened by erosion, and risks to ecosystems and infrastructure are exacerbated by sea-level rise. Understanding the natural behaviour of coastal landforms is critical for managing their vulnerability and avoiding future risks. A research team led by Professor Colin Woodroffe is providing ways to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise along our coasts by enabling better forecasts. The ‘sediment compartment’ approach has been adopted nationally by stakeholders using the CoastAdapt tool, incorporated in state legislation (NSW Coastal Management Act, 2016), and used to undertake probabilistic shoreline risk assessments at local government level. The sediment approach provides a framework on which to base state-wide mapping, monitoring and modelling programs along the New South Wales coast. 

Grains Industry

In order for Australian grain producers to remain internationally competitive, they need to deliver maximal grain yield and specific grain quality in a variable and unpredictable, water-limited environment. Due to increasing economic and environmental impacts associated with this, effective evaluation of trials of new varieties is critical. Professor Brian Cullis from the the National Institute for Applied Statistics Research Australia (NIASRA), in partnership with the Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC), conducted key research to address this growing need. The UOW team have been instrumental in developing novel research methods and computer software (ASReml), which has proved a game-changer for many plant-breeding programs. By identifying genetic advantages in crops, this research has led to more productive and sustainable farming, and increased profits for grain growers with flow-on social, economic and environmental impacts. 

Greenhouse Gas detection

Researchers at the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC) developed a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy instrumentation and methodology for the sensitive detection and quantification of greenhouse and other important gases in field environments. This led to the commercialisation and world-wide distribution of the technology, known as the Spectronus.

The research led by Professor David Griffith and applied in the field by Dr Frances Phillips, has enabled Australian meat and livestock industries to determine valid methods to benchmark gas emissions for abatement and emissions trading, allowing these industries to explore innovative new strategies in line with the Australian government’s Emission Reductions Fund initiative.

The Spectronus GHG analyser built by industry partner Ecotech offered something quite unique on the international market at the time. It has been sold to research institutions worldwide and has generated more than $2.5M in revenue. Royalties from sales flowed back to UOW and reinvested into CAC research for instrumental improvements ensuring the strategic R&D partnership with Ecotech continues to improve the accuracy and precision of the instrument.  

Further information on these and other research impact case studies are available at our website.