About

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’.

Teaching
  • 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)
Interests
Professional
  • 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.
Research
  • 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.
Experience
  • 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
Honours
Memberships
  • 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
Publications

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
More

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 100+ 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.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation - Reef Trust Partnership

GBRF EOI Island Monitoring

Indicative Funding
$397,435 over 2 years (administered by Department of Environment and Science)
Summary
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.
Investigators
Scott Smithers, Stephanie Duce, Karen Joyce, Nicholas Murray and Jack Koci (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
Drone; Great Barrier Reef; Remote Sensing; Geomorphology; Island Habitat

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - Contract Research

Low Isles Erosion Control

Indicative Funding
$8,656
Summary
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.
Investigators
Scott Smithers (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
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
$51,818
Summary
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.
Investigators
Mark Hamann, Scott Smithers, Nicola Mitchell, Richard Reina, Graeme Hays and Colin Limpus (College of Science & Engineering, The University of Western Australia, Monash University, Deakin University and QLD Department of Environment and Heritage Protection)
Keywords
Marine Turtle; Climate Change; Synthesis; Australia; Coastal; Marine

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
Summary
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.
Investigators
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)
Keywords
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)
Summary
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.
Investigators
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)
Keywords
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)
Summary
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.
Investigators
Scott Smithers, Robin Beaman and Jeff Pickford (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
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)
Summary
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.
Investigators
Scott Smithers and Joy Dawson (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
Great Barrier Reef; Geomorphology; Coral Reef; Reef Island; Climate Change; Protected Area Management
Supervision

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.

Current
  • 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)
  • High Island Lifeboats - future ecosystem and cultural services provision by high island beaches on the GBR. (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)
  • SEDIMENT DYNAMICS OF A LARGE TROPICAL RIVER SYSTEM (PhD , Primary Advisor)
Completed
Collaboration

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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Location
  • 34.235, Earth & Environmental Sciences (Townsville campus)
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