Honours Projects: Biogeography, Geography & Spatial Analysis

Academics in Biogeography, Geography & Spatial Analysis

Professor Robert Brander

Dr Malte Ebach

Associate Professor Shawn Laffan

Professor Graciela Metternicht 

Associate Professor Scott Mooney 

Associate Professor Wendy Shaw 

Dr Mirela Tulbure

Below are the current projects on offer in Biogeography, Geography & Spatial Analysis. Supervisors don't always advertise specific projects, but will happily discuss options with prospective students. If there is a research area or supervisor you might like to pursue, email the relevant academics and ask! They love to talk science.

Honours Projects


 Project Title: How is Big Data affecting scientists?

Supervisors: Dr. Malte Ebach & A/Prof. Wendy Shaw

Synopsis: Big Data is coming and many people are not prepared for the changes that come with it. Already in non-scientific fields such as IT, advertising and in the finance sector, Big Data has changed the way people and institutions deal with information. For example, in 2011 Google Flu Trends was supposed to be the first time Big Data could be used to predict the next flu epidemic. The experiment was a failure and created considerable distrust of Big Data within epidemiology. In other areas Artificial Intelligence is predicted to replace many jobs, such as, journalism, leading many to feel wary of Big Data and its applications. As many journalists report on the rising tide of Big Data in the media and medicine and advertising/marketing, little is known of what scientists feel. Are biologists and geographers as embracing of Big Data and does it threaten their jobs? There is only one way to find: ask them in a series of interviews.

Aims: The project aims to:

  • Build an understanding of people's opinions and reactions to Big Data in their respective field/s
  • See whether current attitudes to Big Data in other non-scientific fields are manifesting themselves in science
  • Understand how non-science fields have worked to educate people about Big Data and its effects

Benefits to student: A chance to interview scientists from around the world face-to-face and online as well as learning interviewing technique


Project Title: Any human geography project, broadly defined

Supervisors: A/Prof. Wendy Shaw

Synopsis: I have supervised a range of honours projects that have come from topics in GEOS3611, Geographies of the Asia Pacific, and GEOS2641 Urban Environments.

Aims: TBA with student

Benefits to student: You choose your project!


Project Title: Data analysis from completed project: Coffee Green Scales in PNG: Highland Arabica Coffee and Yield Loss, (UNSW, CABI International & Coffee Industry Corporation PNG) Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Supervisors: A/Prof. Wendy Shaw

Synopsis: This project generated survey data that can be further analysed

Aims: TBA with student and supervisor

Benefits to student:  Existing data set ready for analysis using social science methods.


Project Title: Separating the effects of drought and grazing on arid zone vegetation

Supervisors: Dr Adrian Fisher and Prof. Graciela Metternicht

Synopsis: Shrublands and grasslands in western NSW show dramatic growth after rainfall events, and experience severe reductions in vegetation cover during droughts. Cover is also reduced by grazing from stock (e.g. sheep), feral animals (e.g. goats) and native animals (e.g. kangaroos). Using fenced animal exclosures previously established at the Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station, it will be possible to examine the effects of drought and grazing on the vegetation dynamics separately. The project will require analysing 30 years of Landsat satellite data, processed using an established algorithm that derives vegetation cover at 30 m resolution for both the green and dead vegetation fractions. The research will use data produced by the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program, made available through TERN AusCover. For examples of the satellite imagery time series see https://vegmachine.net/

Aims: To compare the time-series of satellite measured vegetation cover between grazed and non-grazed areas, in shrublands and grasslands at Fowlers Gap, and separate the effects of drought and grazing on the vegetation cover dynamics. It may also be possible to conduct some field measurements to validate the satellite products.


Project Title: Mapping tree cover using multi-temporal Sentinel-2 satellite imagery

Supervisors: Dr Adrian Fisher and Prof. Graciela Metternicht

Synopsis: While trees are clearly visible in satellite and aerial imagery, developing accurate classification algorithms that separate them from other vegetation is difficult due to spectral similarities. One approach to improve classification accuracy is to use satellite images captured over a range of dates, exploiting the seasonal differences between trees and other vegetation. Since July 2017 data from the Sentinel-2A and 2B satellites has been captured every 5 days, providing dense multi-temporal multi-spectral imagery at 10 m resolution. The project will require analysing this data, pre-processed by the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program using established methods that derive surface reflectance and vegetation fractional. A suitable area of NSW containing woodland and forest, previously mapped using high resolution airborne lidar, will be used as a case study to train and validate single date and multi-temporal tree classification models. Further work to model foliage projective cover within tree crowns may also be possible. The research will use data produced by the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program. The results will be of great interest to the NSW and QLD governments who map and monitor tree cover using satellite imagery.

Aims: To compare models of tree cover using single date and multi-temporal Sentinel-2 satellite data for an area of NSW. This requires learning many procedures common to remote sensing research: exploration of the data to look at the separability of classes; development of statistical models; and the assessment of the resulting maps with validation data.


Project Title: Remote sensing of spatial configuration of resources used by lizard species following cultural burning in semi-arid woodlands

Supervisors: Prof. Graciela Metternicht

Synopsis: Australia’s semiarid Eucalyptus-Spinifex (Mallee) woodlands are fire-prone. For many millennia Aboriginal people have managed these landscapes using a variety of methods. One of these is patch-mosaic burning which is embedded in culture and thus termed ‘cultural burning’.  Mallee ecosystems support a very rich lizard fauna. The resources required for lizard species in these landscapes include bare ground, spinifex hummocks (Triodia sp.), leaf litter, and logs. Fires dramatically alter the availability of these resources. Hence changes in lizard species composition following fires has been explained by changes in the availability of these resources. However, previous studies have not distinguished cultural burning from wildfires or fires that were deliberately lit for other purposes. This NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage is a partner organisation for this project.

Aims: This project aims to use high-resolution aerial photography and ground measurements to characterise these resources in Mallee country, within the boundaries of the Rick Farley Reserve (Western NSW), where cultural burning took place in July 2018 following Aboriginal cultural practices. The project will involve 2 weeks for field work in late January aimed at ground measurements and observations of lizard activity.


Project Title: Tracking the condition Rufous Scrub-bird habitat in the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area through remote sensing

Supervisors: Prof. Graciela Metternicht

Synopsis: Outstanding Universal Values (OUV) of the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Areas include a suit of species of Gondwana origin.  One of these species is the Rufous Scrub Bird, Atrichornis rufescens which is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Under NSW legislation, it is a vulnerable species and is placed in the “landscape managed species” category. This is because the species is distributed across relatively large areas and is subject to threatening processes that generally act at the landscape scale (e.g. habitat loss or degradation) rather than at distinct, definable locations. This NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage is a partner organisation for this project.

Aims: Current remote sensing technologies make it possible to develop tools for rapid, landscape-scale detection of habitat loss across the distribution range of the species and, thus may help to prevent or reduce degradation. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of different remote sensing tools (e.g. Sentinel imagery, aerial photographs, Landsat images) to detect significant changes in the condition of Rufous Scrub-bird habitats in the cool temperate forests of the New England National Park.


Project Title: Palaeontological discovery from space: remote sensing to discover fossil treasure under desert sands

Supervisors: Mike Archer, Sue Hand, Shawn Laffan, Prof. Graciela Metternicht

Synopsis:

The primary goal is to identify the position, and ideally depth, of the next subsurface inside bend of the Wipajiri Formation channel deposit to the east of the eastern edge of Lake Ngapakaldi, using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery, so that the palaeontological team can continue to make fascinating new discoveries about other creatures that once lived in central Australia. 

This is an exploratory study in that we are trying to establish to what extent it may be possible to use satellite imagery to determine the probable location of more of the deposit.  To this end, we would use a combination of local knowledge, prior evidence and advanced image processing of remotely sensed data with the objective of identifying landscape clues (e.g. paleochannels, change in vegetation, dune heights, geoforms, etcetera). 

Prior research in desertic and semi-desertic areas has resulted in successful detection of buried fossil deposits. However, success in detection is dependent on landscape factors (soil type, soil moisture, vegetation cover), depth of the buried deposit and type of image used (e.g. wavelength, optical or microwave, etcetera).

Aims: The primary goal is to identify the position, and ideally depth, of the next subsurface inside bend of the Wipajiri Formation channel deposit to the east of the eastern edge of Lake Ngapakaldi, using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery.


Project Title: Beach Safety Awareness of CALD Communities

Supervisors: Prof Rob Brander

Synopsis:

Every year over 100 people drown on Australian beaches. While it is often assumed that many of these people are international tourists, this is not the case. Most are Australians and some are Australians who may not necessarily have been brought up in a beachgoing culture. This includes new migrants and members of CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities.

Stanwell Park Beach, just south of Sydney, experienced a tragic drowning on Oct 1, 2018 of an Indian National. The beach is backed by a park that is extremely popular with CALD communities who often venture onto the beach. Unfortunately, the beach is highly hazardous. What do these beach users know about beach safety, the presence of flags, and common beach hazards? What is their swimming ability like?

The answers to these questions are largely unknown and the results of this study will help inform water safety organisations. like Surf Life Saving Australia and Royal Life Saving about how they might educate CALD communities about beach safety in future. .

This project will involve designing and implementing a survey of beachgoers at Stanwell Park Beach. Data obtained will be analysed  using Excel, SPSS. Or R. Interviews may also be involved.

Aims: The primary aim of this project is to establish an evidence based profile and understanding of beach safety knowledge of CALD communities in Australia that will assist in the development of future beach safety education material.

Benefits to Student:

You get to tackle a problem of growing importance that will be of interest to water safety organisations throughout Australia and the world. The experience of working with a real world problem is extremely valuable when it comes to getting future jobs in the coastal sector. So are the skills you will gain in data analysis, writing, science communication and presenting. You will also get to work within a team of post-graduate students who are studying similar topics that you can bounce ideas off of. I also strongly encourage my students to publish their honours work in an international journal, which will help enormously if you choose to apply for a scholarship to undertake post-graduate studies. I work closely with my honours students because I am always interested in their projects, so you will get plenty of guidance although I won’t spoon feed you! I have a very good track record of supervising students to first-class honours results.


Project Title: Community Understanding of Coastal Storms and Sea Level Rise

Supervisors: Prof Rob Brander

Synopsis:

Media footage from the dramatic East Coast Low storm in June 2016 showed many distraught homeowners blaming Councils for the storm wave damage to their houses. But who is to blame? Is it the Council or those who choose to live near the coast? While significant scientific efforts are being made to measure and understand the physical response of coastlines to coastal storms and potential inundation from sea level rise, much less scientific attention has addressed the understanding and perceptions of the general public towards these hazards and the various approaches available to mitigate them. Understanding what homeowners, businesses or organisations under threat or at risk know about these problems is crucial for future planning and for sustaining community resiliency.

This project will involve designing and implementing a survey questionnaire that will target populations at risk of coastal erosion and inundation. The survey will be disseminated both online and in hardcopy form. Interviews may also be conducted. Several sites along the NSW coast, including some in Sydney, will be the target of the study.

Aims: You will gather and/or analyse novel data to establish an evidence-based understanding of the perception of coastal communities to coastal erosion and inundation that can communicated to local government councils. This information just does not exist at present and will help identify critical knowledge gaps. Your findings also have the potential to be used in the development of future educational material for the general public.

Benefits to Student:

You get to tackle a problem of growing importance that will be of interest to local coastal governments and coastal professionals throughout Australia. The experience of working with a real world problem is extremely valuable when it comes to getting future jobs in the coastal sector. So are the skills you will gain in data analysis, writing, science communication and presenting. You will also get to work within a team of post-graduate students who are studying similar topics that you can bounce ideas off of. I also strongly encourage my students to publish their honours work in an international journal, which will help enormously if you choose to apply for a scholarship to undertake post-graduate studies. I work closely with my honours students because I am always interested in their projects, so you will get plenty of guidance although I won’t spoon feed you! I have a very good track record of supervising students to first-class honours results.


Project Title: Beach Safety Awareness of International Students to Australia

Supervisors: Prof Rob Brander

Synopsis:

Every year thousands of international students come to Australian universities (including UNSW) to study for their degree. Most of these students will visit our beaches at some point. Tragically, it is not uncommon for international students to drown on beaches.

How much do internationals students coming to Australia understand about our beaches and beach safety? This project involves developing an online survey to target incoming international students both before they arrive in Australia and shortly thereafter. Information obtained will include demographics, beach visitation, swimming ability, beach behaviour and knowledge of beach safety and hazards. The results of the study will help inform universities about the type of educational material that should be developed to educate incoming international students about beach hazards.

This project will involve obtaining survey data and then doing data analysis using Excel,  SPSS, or R. Interviews of students may also be involved.

Aims: The primary aim of this project is to establish an evidence based profile of beach safety knowledge of international students to Australia that will assist in the development of future safety education material targeting this group.

Benefits to Student:

You get to tackle a problem of growing importance that will be of interest to universities throughout Australia and overseas. The experience of working with a real world problem is extremely valuable when it comes to getting future jobs in the coastal sector. So are the skills you will gain in data analysis, writing, science communication and presenting. You will also get to work within a team of post-graduate students who are studying similar topics that you can bounce ideas off of. I also strongly encourage my students to publish their honours work in an international journal, which will help enormously if you choose to apply for a scholarship to undertake post-graduate studies. I work closely with my honours students because I am always interested in their projects, so you will get plenty of guidance although I won’t spoon feed you! I have a very good track record of supervising students to first-class honours results.


Project Title: Lessons from Rip Current Survivors

Supervisors: Prof Rob Brander, A/Prof Wendy Shaw

Synopsis:

Rip currents are the major hazard facing recreational beachgoers accounting for hundreds of drowning fatalities globally each year. In Australia, an average of 21 people drown in rip currents each year and over ten thousand are rescued. Recently there has been an interest in examining the social science aspect of rip current rescues, specifically who is getting rescued, why, and how?

A recently completed Australian Research Council Linkage Project between UNSW BEES and Surf Life Saving Australia published several papers examining the experiences of rip current survivors based on the results of online and hardcopy surveys. The study also conducted 75 in-depth interviews with rip current survivors that have yet to be fully analysed.

Interviews provide a fascinating and powerful research tool for examining scientific problems, in this case the risk of drowning by rip currents. There are numerous themes that can come out of analysis the rip current interviews, but perhaps the most important one is panic. The panic response tends to dominate when someone gets caught in rip currents and trying to manage and negate this response is now a major goal of Surf Life Saving Australia and beach safety organisations around the world.

This project aims to provide a better understanding of the panic response of people caught in rip currents in order to assist the development of improved rip current safety education material in the future. Students will gain experience using statistical software in relation to analyzing and coding interview transcripts.

Aims: The primary aim of this project is to examine the variety of factors, based on real and actual experience, that contribute to people getting caught in rip currents and how their reaction once caught in a rip current influences how they get out of the rip current. This information will be used to help future educational efforts related to the rip current hazard.

Benefits to Student:

You get to tackle a problem of growing importance (beach safety and rip current drownings) that will be of both national and global interest. The experience of working with a real world problem is extremely valuable when it comes to getting future jobs in the coastal sector. So are the skills you will gain in data analysis, writing, science communication and presenting. You will also get to work within a team of post-graduate students who are studying similar topics that you can bounce ideas off of. I also strongly encourage my students to publish their honours work in an international journal, which will help enormously if you choose to apply for a scholarship to undertake post-graduate studies. I work closely with my honours students because I am always interested in their projects, so you will get plenty of guidance although I won’t spoon feed you! I have a very good track record of supervising students to first-class honours results.