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Drainage landscapes of the Australian Continental Shelf

Exploration datasets reveal rivers on the continental shelf from the last glacial maximum; vital to First Nation peoples.

Terrestrial Drainage Network

A terrestrial drainage network on the Australian continental shelf.

There are a number of oral stories passed down generations of First Nation peoples from coastal areas around Australia that relate the meaning and function of former landscapes and river systems to their ancestors. These stories are rich in imagery that can be interpreted in terms of physiography.

Physiographic details or inferences may provide a set of evidence by which to hunt for and verify former landscape features and complete the picture painted by these ancient stories of their former world.

Various remote exploration survey datasets reveal surface drainage systems that scarred the Australian continental shelf when exposed during the latest glacial maximum. Many of these systems can be linked to fluvial drainage networks that discharge at the coastline today. 

The dimensions and geometry of these drainage systems indicate characteristics of discharge, for example, discharge rates, the balance between water and sediment influx and discharge, discharge slope gradient, nature of the sediment supply and drainage bed.

These characteristics are controlled by seasonal and climatic fluctuations, tectonic events, geology of the catchment regolith and geology of the drainage substrate.  This project proposes to interpret former terrestrial drainage systems of the Australian Continental Shelf using exploration seismic reflection survey datasets.

From these interpretations, characteristics of discharge may be inferred and related to climatic, tectonic and geological conditions or events. This work will thereby provide a window into the past and a link to the world of coastal First Nation ancestors.

Ros King


Associate Professor Ros King, and Dr Mark Bunch

Research area: Mineral and energy systems

Recommended honours enrolment: Honours in Geology

Tagged in Honours projects - Geology, Honours Projects - Rosalind King, Honours Projects - Mark Bunch

Competition: Young Scientist of the Year

How do we feed the world’s growing population? How do we save our wildlife from extinction? Got an idea that will build a brighter, greener world?

Australian high school students are invited to submit a short video about one of Australia’s big science challenges.

Video competition