Scott Smithers is a geomorphologist within the College of Science and Engineering.

Scott completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science at the University of Wollongong before beginning his research on coral reefs in his Honours year under the supervision of Professor Colin Woodroffe.  Honours research focused on the surficial sediments and lagoonal sedimentation rates at Australia's only true coral atoll - the Cocos Keeling Islands.  A PhD followed which examined the records of sea level preserved in the skeletons of corals known as 'microatolls'.  Carbonate production, reef growth and sea level remain key research interests.  Scott moved to James Cook University in 1994 to take advantage of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the community of world class coral reef scientists located in Townsville.

Scott is currently the co-vice chair of the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG) Working Group on ‘Reef and reef landform geomorphology: responses to climatic and environmental change’, and a member of ReefBudget - a Leverhulme Trust International Research Network ‘Developing rapid carbonate budget assessment protocols for coral reefs’.

  • EV1005: Environmental Processes and Global Change (Level 1; TSV)
  • EV2401: Australian Landscape Processes and Evolution (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • EV3406: Coral Reef Geomorphology (Level 3; TSV)
  • EV5406: Coral Reef Geomorphology (Level 5; TSV)
  • A key personal goal is to undertake research that can be applied to support environmental management in both developed and developing nations, and I find working with communities to better understand coastal problems particularly rewarding.
  • Since locating to Townsville I have continued my research on the Holocene development of coral reefs, including investigations of the impacts of environmental change on modern coral reef systems, and the recovery and interpretation of records of environmental change preserved within coral skeletons and reef deposits. Key areas of research include: 1) understanding spatial and temporal patterns and controls of reef growth and carbonate production; 2) the reconstruction of records of environmental change from coral skeletons, reef framework and sedimentary deposits as a context for understanding contemporary changes; and 3) understanding the geomorphological development and morphodynamics of coral reef islands. Unsurprisingly a large proportion of my research is focused on the Great Barrier Reef, but my research includes reefs in the Pacific (e.g. Torres Strait, Kiribati, PNG) and Indian Oceans (Maldives, Chagos, Singapore), as well as in the Caribbean Sea (Bahamas, Bonaire, Belize).
  • In addition to reef research I am also actively involved in projects examining tropical coasts more generally, fluvial and catchment studies, and geochemical and sedimentological reconstructions of paleoenvironmental conditions.
  • 2016 to present - Associate Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering (James Cook University)
  • 2008 to present - Associate Professor, James Cook University (James Cook University)
  • 2013 to 2016 - Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Science and Engineering (James Cook University)
  • 2004 to 2007 - Senior Lecturer, James Cook University (James Cook University)
  • 1998 to 2003 - Lecturer, Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 1995 to 1997 - Acting Lecturer (contract), Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 1994 to 1995 - Associate Lecturer (contract), Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • Australian Coral Reef Society
  • International Society for Reef Studies
  • Australian-New Zealand Geomorphology Research Group
  • REEForm - International Association of Geomorphologists working group on coral reefs
  • Australian Quaternary Association

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 108+ research outputs authored by Prof Scott Smithers from 1998 onwards.

Current Funding

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

QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries - Contract Research

Alluvial Gully Remediation in the Upper Burdekin Catchment

Indicative Funding
$702,175 over 4 years (administered by QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)
In catchments draining to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, northeast Queensland, Australia, excess sediment derived from gully erosion is contributing to poor coastal water quality. Remediating and preventing further degradation of these landscapes is a major focus of investment toward improving coastal water quality. This project will monitor and evaluate the effect of several alluvial gully remediation measures on improving water quality in the Upper Burdekin catchment. The project will provide valuable new data, knowledge and understanding of the effectiveness of these remediation approaches for landholders interested in protecting and enhancing forage productivity, and for the organisations investing in activities to reduce sediment and nutrient loads delivered to the Great Barrier Reef.
Jack Koci, Scott Smithers, Zoe Bainbridge, Stephen Lewis and Luke Buono (College of Science & Engineering and TropWater)
Soil erosion; Environmental management; Water quality; Great Barrier Reef; Savanna; Runoff

Qld Dept of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning - Contract Research

Expert technical advice regarding project water quality and catchment modelling

Indicative Funding
$186,000 over 1 year
The project is to provide expert technical advice regarding the water quality and catchment modelling components of the Environmental Impact Statements for the proposed Big Rocks Weir, the raising of the Burdekin Falls Dam and the methodology behind the cumulative impact assessment.
Stephen Lewis, Damien Burrows and Scott Smithers in collaboration with Barry Butler, Adam Canning and Jordan Iles (TropWater and College of Science & Engineering)
Sediment Transport; Reservoir trapping; Geomorphic assessment; Coastal processes; Environmental Impact Statement; Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Foundation - Reef Trust Partnership

GBRF EOI Island Monitoring

Indicative Funding
$397,435 over 2 years (administered by QLD Department of Environment and Science)
The more than 1000 islands and cays in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) World Heritage Area (GBRMPA spatial data, 2019) support a diverse range of ecological, cultural and economic values. Many are threatened by climate change, but monitoring and management is difficult as many cays are remote and difficult to access. This project will develop and implement an efficient drone-based hierarchical monitoring protocol based on the recognition and use of `natural ground control points? that will enable more rapid and resource efficient capture of reef island status to inform management decisions.
Scott Smithers, Stephanie Duce, Karen Joyce, Nicholas Murray and Jack Koci (College of Science & Engineering)
Drone; Great Barrier Reef; Remote Sensing; Geomorphology; Island Habitat

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - Contract Research

Low Isles Erosion Control

Indicative Funding
An historic gravesite at Low Isles is presently threatened by significant erosion. Some sandbagging was undertaken in Jan/Feb 2022 to protect the gravesite but additional protection may be required before a proposed larger erosion control project can be initiated. A temporary solution to protect the site until then is required. I have been approached to give advice on possible options based on my expertise.
Scott Smithers (College of Science & Engineering)
Reef Island; Coastal Erosion; Great Barrier Reef; Climate Change

Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - The Assessment of Marine Turtle Stocks at Great Risk from Climate Change

Marine turtles and climate change

Indicative Funding
Climate change is a recognised threat impacting Australian marine turtle populations. It is most evident on nesting beaches through the influence of rising temperatures and sea levels. The Australian Government recognises the threat and lists it as one of the highest-level risks in the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia. In response the Australian Government?s Department Agriculture Water and Environment developed an Approach to Market for provision of a synthesis and review of all information necessary to enable understanding of the risk and vulnerability of nesting turtles from each stock to climate change and to support adaptation planning. In response we propose the delivery of a systematic review of biophysical information and climate model outputs for all stocks of marine turtles in Australia. We are confident of successful delivery of the project based on our collective globally recognised reputation as experts in marine turtle biology and conservation and employment of a research assistant for the duration of the project. Our response details how we will deliver the project, potential risks and suggestions for the workshop, and the experience of our team.
Mark Hamann, Scott Smithers, Nicola Mitchell, Richard Reina, Graeme Hays and Colin Limpus (College of Science & Engineering, University of Western Australia, Monash University, Deakin University and QLD Department of Environment and Heritage Protection)
Marine Turtle; Climate Change; Synthesis; Australia; Coastal; Marine

Department of the Environment and Energy - National Environmental Science Program (NESP) - Tropical Water Quality Hub (TWQ Hub)

What's really damaging the Reef? Tracing the origin and fate of the environmentally detrimental sediment and associated bioavailable nutrients

Indicative Funding
$598,596 over 2 years, in partnership with Queensland Department of Environment and Science ($155,870)
Recent research has shown that only a portion of the fine sediment fraction delivered from rivers draining into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon (GBRL) reaches coral reefs and seagrass meadows. The specific sources of this sediment, which affects the health of corals and seagrasses, are as yet unresolved. This project will, for the first time characterise and trace the origin(s), fate and nutrient bioavailability of this environmentally detrimental sediment using samples collected in flood plumes and during resuspension events. This will enable direct spatial targeting of the sources of this material to achieve maximum benefits to GBR health from catchment management actions.
Stephen Lewis, Zoe Bainbridge, Thomas Stevens and Scott Smithers in collaboration with Joanne Burton, Alexandra Garzon-Garcia, Phil Moody, Chengrong Chen, Jon Olley and Mehran Rezaei Rashti (TropWater, College of Science & Engineering, QLD Department of Environment and Science and Griffith University)
sediment flocs; sediment resuspension; Sediment Tracing; sediment transport and fate; Turbidity; Great Barrier Reef

BHP Billiton Group Operation Pty Ltd - Research Grant

Predictive Modelling of Reef-Island Geomorphology using High-Resolution Mapping and Environmental Datasets for Improved Conservation and Management

Indicative Funding
$69,750 over 3 years (administered by Queensland Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing)
Reduced turtle nesting and hatching success at Raine Island - priority management concerns - have been strongly linked to geomorphological changes. The proposed research will make use of a suite of quality geomorphological and environmental data collected at Raine (and rarely available for remote undeveloped cays) to develop a robust data-supported predictive morphodynamic model that will: a) significantly improve understandings of the future geomorphology Raine Island: and b) underpin decisions and evaluations of management actions undertake to conserv both the island and the animals that depend upon it - including adaptive management options such as sand redistribution and beach re-profiling.
Scott Smithers, Robin Beaman and Jeff Pickford (College of Science & Engineering)
Great Barrier Reef; Reef Island; Geomorphology; Terrain Modelling; GIS; Protected Area 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.

  • Evolution, impacts and management of Alluvial Gully Erosion in Savanna Rangelands draining to the Great barrier Reef: A case study from the Upper Burdekin Catchment, North-East Queensland, Australia (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Holocene Fluvial Archives of Wet Tropical Rivers: Implications for sediment delivery to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Developmental diversity of proximal reefs on the Great Barrier Reef during the Holocene: Causes and implications for conservation (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Cay geomorphology, dynamics and future prospects within the Great Barrier Reef (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • From Coral Communities to Fringing Reefs: Developing a Novel Predictive Model for Fringing Reef Growth, Conservation and Restoration (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Disturbance Histories and Reef growth on the inshore central GBR (Masters , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

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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  • 34.235, Earth & Environmental Sciences (Townsville campus)
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