Palaeohydrology, climatic variability and water-use strategies in Australia from the late Pleistocene to the present

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Nick Drake

Department of Geography, KCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Paul Breeze

Department of Geography, KCL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Prof. Nicole Boivin (Max Planck institute for Geoanthropology)

Project Description:

As the driest inhabited continent, Australia has always been a challenging home for humans, with lifeways heavily shaped by the availability of water. This has affected the dispersal of Homo sapiens into the continent, as well as subsequent patterns of human movement and settlement, and will factor strongly in Australia’s future under climate warming.

Drawing on expertise developed by the project’s KCL supervisors in the deserts of Africa, Arabia, and Iran, the project will explore how past climate fluctuations in the Australian desert influenced the our species arrival in Australia and its occupations throughout the late Pleistocene and Holocene. The student will couple remote sensing and GIS techniques to map paleohydrology with analyses of climate proxy and model data to produce new frameworks for the changing distribution of water across the continent over time. The student will contextualise these findings with archaeological data from the literature and information from partnerships with archaeologists and Indigenous communities to assess human occupations, subsistence strategies and ‘water-tethering’ over time, as well as to explore the implications of the findings for future water scenarios in Australia.

An important aspect of the project will be archaeological survey of key sites identified by the study, and community engagement and discussions with Indigenous Elders concerning past water sourcing and management strategies, as well as the effects of colonial water management. This project forms part of a wider cross-disciplinary Australian Anthropocene initiative together with the Universities of Griffith, Queensland, and Sydney, and the Max Planck institute for Geoanthropology.

Policy Impact of Research:

The predicted climate change scenarios for Australia point to increased water scarcity, particularly in Desert regions, with implications for human health, fire regimes, etc. This project will provide data critical for addressing future environmental challenges by evaluating historical and deep past water scarcity/fluctuations and subsistence in Australia.

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