PhD Positions - Past and present climate and ecological change in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and northern Australia

Applications are invited for a series of PhD positions at the intersection of climate and ecological change in Antarctica, Southern Ocean and northern Australia. The projects are available at School of Earth, Atmosphere and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong (UOW), Australia ( and are supported by funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC). We encourage applications outstanding graduates with strong academic records to join our team to investigate:

1. Paleoclimatology of the Australian Summer Monsoon. Rainfall in northern Australia varies with the Australian Summer Monsoon and is influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole, and ocean-atmosphere dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. There is emerging evidence for a dynamic history of change in the Indo-Pacific region, yet the consequences for the long-term strength of the Australian Summer Monsoon are not yet fully understood. This project aims to investigate Australian Summer Monsoon variability using geochemical proxies in marine sediment cores, cave stalagmites and corals, and numerical analysis (statistical and/or geochemical modelling) of the data. There is the potential to reconstruct the Monsoon in unprecedented detail back several thousand years. Based at the University of Wollongong there are also opportunities to collaborate with scientists at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

2. Variability and drivers of Antarctica's climate over past millennia. The impacts of climate change on Antarctica and planning for its environmental stewardship are uncertain. Our current tools are unable to answer critical questions about the long-term nature of the variability in ocean-atmosphere mechanisms, which drive Antarctica's climate today. This project aims to synthesise new records from the Southern Hemisphere, to improve data and metadata consistency, machine-readability and expand reconstructions of hydroclimate, sea ice and winds, producing a spatially complete representation of the climate of the past several centuries. The data will be used to investigate the nature and mechanisms behind past climate variability and trends in the period immediately prior to recent anthropogenic impacts on the climate. The outcomes of the project will assist with the attribution of recent change, improve our understanding of impacts on ecosystems, and can be used in decision making tools that aim to secure the safe environmental stewardship of Antarctica.

3. 20th Century Southern Ocean circulation and winds from markers in penguin eggshells and feathers. We seek a motivated postgraduate researcher with a broad interest in climates of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The candidate will work in a dynamic research environment at University of Wollongong and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to carry out interdisciplinary research to forecast environmental change across the Antarctic region. The successful candidate will investigate spatial and temporal changes in Southern Ocean upwelling through measurements of radiocarbon content in archived known-age biological samples (penguin eggshells and feathers), and examine the inter-relationship between Southern Ocean upwelling, Southern Hemisphere westerly winds and the Southern Annual Mode to infer climate variability over the Southern Ocean during the last century.

4. Reconstructing climate and ecological change in Antarctica using novel biological proxies. Anthropogenic climate change is impacting Antarctic climate and its unique ecosystems, however our knowledge of these changes is limited. One untapped source of information on these changes are novel biological archives. This project will synthesise information from biological archives such as moss beds and peat profiles, lake and marine sediments, vertebrate animal colonies, terrestrial and benthic marine invertebrates, and genomic sources. The results from the project will help understand the drivers and rates of past ecological change and Antarctic climate variability. The project would suit a candidate interested in the interactions between ecosystems and climate or a data scientist looking to apply their skills to critical issues in environmental change.

5. Hydrological Mapping via Remote Sensing: Assessing Water Availability for Antarctic Vegetation. This project will comprehensively map the hydrology and water availability patterns crucial for Antarctic vegetation. Using advanced remote sensing techniques, imagery from drones and satellites and ground-based observations, the research will generate detailed hydrological maps, identifying water reservoirs and flow patterns across varied terrains. The project aims to provide critical insights into the delicate balance between water resources and vegetation dynamics in the Antarctic providing invaluable insights for future ecological research and conservation strategies in the region.

6. Mapping Antarctic Lichens from Orbit to Ground: Integrating Satellite and Drone Imagery with AI/ML Technique. This project aims to integrate satellite and drone imagery using AI/ML techniques to accurately identify and map Antarctic lichens. Addressing the challenges of Antarctic soils and signal-to-noise ratios in the imagery, the project will fine-tune detection methods to enhance accuracy in lichen distribution. Antarctic lichens are pivotal as sentinel species, offering critical insights into the region's environmental changes and ecosystem health. Understanding their spatial distribution and health directly informs broader ecological and climate impact studies in this sensitive polar environment.

About You

We invite applicants with a background in one or more of the following areas (project dependent): Earth & environmental sciences, paleoclimatology, ecology, climate science, geochemistry, data sciences, statistics, GIS, remote sensing, hydrology, hydrological mapping by drone, lichen ecology, plant ecology, spectral sensing. Furthermore, we are excited to work with PhD candidates who have a passion for science and human knowledge and are seeking to make a difference in their field of endeavour and to society more broadly.

The Team

We are a large team of scientists working across disciplines to address pressing problems in climate and ecological change in some the world's most fragile environments. You will join a supportive team, keen to ensure your research success, with exciting opportunities for mentoring, leadership and travel.


International and Australian applicants with a first-class Honours degree, Masters by research and/or publications or equivalent are encouraged to apply. Applicants must meet UOW's PhD entry requirements and scholarships are available. Interested applicants should send:

  • 1-2 page cover letter stating the project of interest, outlining your academic background and skillset, the reasons you are interest in the project, and other points of relevance
  • CV and academic transcript
  • Contact details for two suggested referees

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

Interviews will begin from the 20 September 2023 until positions are filled. Please send applications and inquiries to Prof. Helen McGregor (

posted: 05 September 2023     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.