Paul Nelson is an agricultural/environmental scientist with research, education and leadership experience in industry, government and university sectors. His current research focusses on how human management and natural processes influence the sustainability and environmental impact of agriculture, including productivity, soil condition, water quality, carbon and nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, and other biogeochemical processes.

His recently published synthesis 'Sustainable management of soil in tropical agriculture'  (2023, in Jayaraman, Dalal & Lal (Eds.) Sustainable Soil Management – Beyond Food Production. Cambridge Scholars Publishing) is available on request.

Prior to joining James Cook University, Paul led the Agronomy program of the Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association. He has also worked with CSIRO, the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, the Australian Centre for Water Treatment and Water Quality Research, the French National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

  • EA2007: Soil Properties and Processes for Management (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • EA3007: Field Studies in Tropical Land and Water Science (Level 3; CNS)
  • EA3207: Soil Properties and Processes (Level 3; CNS & TSV)
  • EA5017: Soil Properties and Processes (Level 5; CNS)
  • EA5018: Field Studies in Tropical Land and Water Science (Level 5; CNS)
  • EA5026: Special Studies (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • EV1005: Environmental Processes and Global Change (Level 1; CNS)
  • EV2401: Australian Landscape Processes and Evolution (Level 2; CNS)
  • SC5900: Special Topic (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5901: Special Topic 1 (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5902: Special Topic 2 (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5903: Literature Review (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5909: Minor Project and Seminar (Level 5; CNS)
  • Carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, particularly through enhanced mineral weathering
  • Reducing nutrient and contaminant export from agriculture and aquaculture using novel techniques such as denitrifying bioreactors
  • Understanding and managing effects of soil physicochemical conditions on soil biological health
  • Modelling and managing water and nutrient cycling in tropical agriculture and aquaculture
  • Soil matters: it is the most biologically diverse and active part of the earth, where minerals, water, air and living things interact in complex and fascinating ways that are critical for human well-being and ecosystem functioning. Having a good grasp of soil properties and processes is invaluable for graduates in environmental science and management.
  • 2015 to present - Associate Professor, James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2010 to 2014 - Senior Lecturer, James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2004 to 2009 - Lecturer/Senior Lecturer (50%), James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2004 to 2009 - Senior Scientist (50%), Department of Natural Resources and Mines (Mareeba, Australia)
  • 2001 to 2003 - Senior Agronomist, PNG Oil Palm Research Association (Papua New Guinea)
  • 1999 to 2001 - Research Scientist, CSIRO (Townsville, Australia)
  • 1997 to 1999 - Research Officer, BSES/CRC Sugar (Ayr, Australia)
  • 1993 to 1996 - PhD candidate, University of Adelaide (Adelaide, Australia)
  • 1991 to 1992 - Research Officer, INRA (Dijon, France)
  • 1991 - Technical Officer, Swedish Uni of Agricultural Sciences (Uppsala, Sweden)
  • 1987 to 1990 - Research Officer, Australian Centre for Water Treatment and Water Quality Research (Adelaide, Australia)
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2012 - Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (Australian Office for Learning & Teaching and JCU)
  • 2015 - Fellow, The Cairns Institute

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 156+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Paul Nelson from 1990 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Leverhulme Trust - Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation

Sequestering carbon and improving sugarcane productivity by enhanced weathering of basalt

Indicative Funding
$479,169 over 9 years (administered by University of Sheffield)
Arresting the build-up of atmospheric CO2 is one of humanity's biggest challenges. In geological time, the weathering of rocks consumes CO2, which is then sequestered as limestone in the ocean, but the natural rate of this process is very slow. In this project we will determine the feasibility of accelerating weathering by introducing crushed basalt (a common and easily weathered rock) into the place on earth with highest CO2 production and potential weathering rates - topsoil in the humid tropics. We will also examine the effects on soil condition and crop growth, which are likely to be beneficial.
Paul Nelson, Michael Bird and David J Beerling (College of Science & Engineering and University of Sheffield)
Carbon sequestration; Soil Fertility; Sugarcane; Water Quality; Great Barrier Reef; Agricultural Sustainability

Sugar Research Australia - Contract Research

Optimising mill mud and ash applications for soil improvement and carbon sequestration

Indicative Funding
$94,920 over 3 years
Negative carbon dioxide emission technologies are urgently required to offset emissions from fossil fuel burning. Weathering of alkaline metal oxides such as those in ash is a promising technology as it consumes carbon dioxide. This project aims to determine carbon sequestration when sugar mill ash, either alone or mixed with mill mud, is applied to soil in sugarcane fields. The project expects to generate knowledge about the rates of carbon sequestration and the factors controlling it, employing field experiments and geochemical modelling. The main outcome expected is a carbon sequestration methodology that is permanent and unlimited (given continued application mill by-products), unlike soil organic carbon sequestration. Adoption will facilitate trade in carbon credits through the Emissions Reduction Fund and facilitate market access through increased ability of the sugar industry to meet consumer expectations regarding environmental responsibility.
Hannah Green, Paul Nelson and Peter Larsen (College of Science & Engineering and Wilmar Sugar Australia)
carbon dioxide; climate change; soil management; sugar mill by-products; sugarcane; weathering

Queensland Department of Environment and Science - Tender

Modelling unseen flow pathways of water and contaminants in the Wet Tropics: the role of alluvial palaeochannels

Indicative Funding
$44,982 over 1 year
Approximately 50% of nitrogen loss from agricultural landscapes in the Wet Tropics occurs via subsurface flow pathways. We know little about the partitioning of subsurface flows, especially through palaeochannels where field evidence shows them to be zones of preferential pathways of water movement and likely nutrients. This project, led by JCU, seeks to develop an adequate understanding of the role palaeochannels play in subsurface flow movement. We then make recommendations to the modelling community on how to model these landscapes better in order to guide intervention measures (e.g. bioreactors, constructed wetlands) to reduce nutrient release into environmentally sensitive coastal areas (GBR).
HanShe Lim, Paul Nelson, Alex Cheesman, Tony Weber, Liz Owen, Dennis Ah-Kee, Marcus Bulstrode and David Morrison (College of Science & Engineering, Alluvium Consulting, Jaragun Pty Ltd, DAF and Department of Natural Resources and Mines)
Palaeochannels; Contaminant transport; Subsurface flow; Wet Tropics

Department of Industry - Innovations Connections

Improving performance of bioreactors for treating effluent from land- based aquaculture.

Indicative Funding
$50,000 over 1 year, in partnership with Mainstream Aquaculture ($50,685)
Effluent from land-based aquaculture is problematic because of its nutrient content. This project aims to enhance the performance of `denitrification bioreactors? designed to remove nitrogen from effluent. It will be carried out on a barramundi farm near Innisfail. Availability of carbon appears to limit bioreactor performance, so the effect of adding molasses will be tested, under different conditions of salinity and retention time. The ability of the bioreactors to eliminate algae and parasites will also be tested. The results will be applicable to aquaculture farms throughout the tropics, facilitating more effective treatment of water leaving farms or being recirculated.
Alex Cheesman, Paul Nelson and Kelly Condon in collaboration with Marty Phillips (College of Science & Engineering and Mainstream Aquaculture Pty Ltd)
carbon; Barramundi (Lates calcarifer); water quality; Denitrification; Nitrate; pathogens

Department of Industry - Innovations Connections

Improving the quality of water for release from land-based aquaculture in northern Australia

Indicative Funding
$50,000 over 1 year, in partnership with Mainstream Aquaculture ($52,594)
Effluent from land-based aquaculture farms is problematic because of its nutrient content. This project will be the first in Australia and the tropics to assess the ability of 'denitrification bioreactors' (woodchip-filled trenches) to remove suspended solids and nitrogen from effluent leaving an aquaculture farm. It will be carried out on a barramundi farm the Great Barrier Reef catchment in North Queensland. Changes in quality of water flowing through bioreactors will be measured under a range of likely operating conditions, including differences in salinity and effluent retention rate. The results will be applicable to aquaculture farms throughout the tropics, enabling a reduction in negative environmental impacts, and facilitating intensification and expansion of fish production without increasing nutrient export.
Paul Nelson and Alex Cheesman in collaboration with Shannon Todd (College of Science & Engineering)
fish farming; Barramundi (Lates calcarifer); Water Quality; Wet Tropics; Nitrate; Great Barrier Reef

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - Tender

Denitrification bioreactor trial in the Russell catchment of the Wet Tropics

Indicative Funding
$235,087 over 3 years (administered by Jaragun Pty Ltd)
This project will establish the effectiveness of denitrification bioreactors as an on-farm technology for removing dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in waters draining the Babinda Swamp Drainage Area. The region has been identified as a hotspot for DIN in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. This will be the first trial of denitrification bioreactors in the Wet Tropics. Denitrifying bioreactors route water through a high-carbon substrate under anaerobic conditions to encourage denitrification (the conversion of DIN to atmospheric N2). Two bioreactor configurations will be tested at two sites, and the potential for broader adoption will be assessed.
Paul Nelson, Alex Cheesman, Liz Owen, HanShe Lim, Bithin Datta, Colin MacGregor and Ian Layden in collaboration with Nathan Waltham, Bart Dryden and Mark Bayley (College of Science & Engineering, Jaragun Pty Ltd, DAF, TropWater, Terrain Natural Resource Management and Australian Wetlands Consulting)
sugarcane; Water quality; nitrate; runoff; Wet Tropics; Great Barrier Reef

Horticulture Innovation Australia - Research Grant

Activity 2.6 (Banana soil physico-chemical properties) of 'Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 Research program (BA14014)'

Indicative Funding
$350,000 over 4 years (administered by DAF)
The project will determine the influence of soil physiocochemical conditions on growth and infectivity of the banana disease-causing fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense (Foc. Foc is one of the world's most destructive banana diseases and Tropical Race 4, which attacks the Cavendish variety, was recently detected in the Tully valley in the heart of the North Queensland banana production region. This project is part of a larger program aimed at providing new information and practices to address key areas of need with a medium to long-term view of developing management practices for banana growers affected by Tropical Race 4.
Paul Nelson and Rosalie Hocking in collaboration with Tony Pattison and Anna McBean (College of Science & Engineering and DAF)
Soil Chemistry; banana disease; sil physics; Fusarium oxysporum (Netriaceae); soil biology; agricultural soil management

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • The Effects of Tropospheric Ozone on Tropical Plant Growth and Functioning (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Application of modelling tools to study the role of water-sensitive urban design (wsud) technology to mitigate flooding problems in tropical cities (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Evaluating the impact of proposed development on ecosystem services in the Gilbert River catchment, North-east Queensland, Australia (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Effects of sugarcane mill mud and ash on soil properties and processes including inorganic and organic carbon sequestration (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Carbon dioxide removal through the enhanced weathering of basalt in acidic soils (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit Research Data Australia.


The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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