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)
  • EV5401: Coastal and Catchment Geomorphology (Level 5; CNS & 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)
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 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 97+ research outputs authored by A/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 Environment and Science - Advance Queensland Research Fellowship

Identifying sources of fine sediments to protect the Great Barrier Reef

Indicative Funding
$180,000 over 5 years
This fellowship builds on Bainbridge's PhD thesis which identified the sediment fractions preferentially transported from rivers via flood flumes to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, and which have the greatest influence on photic depth/water clarity. The research will identify both the key properties and the primary sources of this material, enabling more effective prioritisation and direct targeting of control works to improve the quality of water discharged to the Great Barrier Reef. This research is cutting edge in the field of sediment tracing and will contribute locally by identifying specific catchment sources of ecologically-damaging fine sediment, and to the broader international field of sediment tracing.
Zoe Bainbridge, Stephen Lewis, Scott Smithers, Jon Olley, Joanne Burton, Scott Wilkinson and Stephen Hillier (TropWATER, College of Science & Engineering, Australian Rivers Institute, QLD Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation and James Hutton Institute)
Fine Sediment; Great Barrier Reef; Clay minineralogy; Sediment Tracing; Geochemistry; Catchment Management

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

BHP Billiton Group Operation Pty Ltd - Research Grant

Geomorphological Understanding for Improved Island Management at Raine Island: Cay Evolution, Morphodynamics and Sediment Budget

Indicative Funding
$240,412 over 2 years (administered by Qld Dept National Parks, Sport & Racing)
Raine Island is a cay composed of sediments produced on the surrounding reef. Its geomorphology is highly sensitive to changes in reef community composition and productivity that affect sediment production and delivery to the day, and depositional and post-depositional processes that affect net cay volume. A complete and accurate sediment budget is fundamental to understanding cay morphodynamics, for modelling geomorphic trajectories, and to address key management issues associated with such changes. This research will significantly improve the existing sediment budget for Raine (constructed using data from other reefs) by using productivity, transport, deposition and sediment attrition data collected on site.
Scott Smithers and Joy Dawson (College of Science & Engineering)
Great Barrier Reef; Geomorphology; Coral Reef; Reef Island; Climate Change; 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.

  • Biogeochemical modelling of tropical marine ecosystemns in the context of climate change (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Turtles and tourists without borders: assessing tourism management options for Australian sea turtles both sides of the border (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Holocene Fluvial Archives of Wet Tropical Rivers: Implications for sediment delivery to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • From Coral Communities to Fringing Reefs: Developing a Novel Predictive Model for Fringing Reef Growth, Conservation and Restoration (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Sediment Dynamics of a Large Tropical River System (PhD , Primary Advisor)

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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