PhD Positions - Past climate and environmental impacts on Great Barrier Reef paleoecology

Applications are invited for two fully funded PhD positions. One position is available at School of Earth, Atmosphere and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, Australia and a second position is available at the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Australia.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef and reefs globally are under threat. The Australian Research Council (ARC) is funding research into the climatic and environmental causes of past reef growth and demise. We are seeking two outstanding graduates with strong academic records to join our team to investigate:

PhD project 1, University of Wollongong: Determine the multi-century context, physical processes and large-scale forcing mechanisms driving the high SSTs that lead to coral bleaching. The project will reconstruct in detail the temperature and rainfall history of the Great Barrier Reef at least as far back as 1650 CE. The focus will be on cores from the central GBR and northern GBR, regions that experienced some of the most extensive bleaching in the past few years. The new information on rainfall variability extending from the present day back several centuries will better constrain long-term drought risks, and understand connections between Australian rainfall, ENSO and decadal climate variability. The project also aims to understand the climate processes that lead to the high SSTs conducive to coral bleaching, using state-of-the-art climate model simulations. The results will be informative for improving simulations for the GBR region under future greenhouse warming.

PhD project 2, University of Sydney: Investigate the links between environmental stress/disturbance, climate, and coral reef composition, diversity and structure by investigating episodes of reef growth and demise over the past 9,000 years. The project will use fossil reef cores from across the GBR. Major changes and/or hiatuses in reef growth will be identified down core, and between adjacent cores, as major time gaps and changes in the reef communities. High-precision U-Th dates will pin down their precise timing and will be used to accurately calculate accumulation rates for the reef successions. The project will measure reef stress during the Holocene during the periods leading up to and after major changes in reef growth and relate this to other geochemical proxy data reconstructing paleoenvironmental changes. The outcomes will better constrain long term coral reef dynamics and provide significant benefits to those who manage reefs globally, since the Great Barrier Reef covers the full range of reef environments.

You will work as part of a team with paleoclimatologists, geochemists, climatologists and reef ecologists. Participation in exchange visits with project partners in Japan and Germany will be encouraged and the successful applicant will be eligible for professional training and support for conference travel.


International and Australian applicants with a first-class Honours degree, Masters by research and/or publications or equivalent are encouraged to apply. A strong background in paleoclimatology, climatology and modelling, reef sciences, geochemistry or marine sciences is essential. Interested applicants should send

  • 1-2 page cover letter as an expression of interest, outlining their academic background, their skillset and their interest in either or both projects, along with an attached
  • CV
  • Contact details for two suggested referees

Once shortlisted we will arrange for a phone or teleconference interview.

Applications are due by the 20 February 2021. Please send applications to Helen McGregor ( or Jody Webster (


Significant project funding has been committed to this project and scholarship funding is in the form of a 3-year scholarship with a minimum stipend of $27,082 AUD (tax-free) per year and includes student tuition fees, research-related expenses and research equipment.

Supervision Team

  • University of Wollongong supervisors: A/Prof Helen McGregor and Dr Tara Clark
  • University of Sydney supervisor: Dr Jody Webster

For more information, please contact Helen McGregor ( or Jody Webster (

posted: 19 January 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.