PhD opportunities: Understanding and forecasting the impacts of weather variables on coastal incidents

Credit: Shane DawCoastal environments are dynamic with many associated risks and hazards, and sadly are also common locations of Australian drowning deaths. Understanding risk and how it changes in response to various factors is crucial for accurate risk assessment and proactive coastal management. As our climate changes and weather systems become more unpredictable, so too does the challenge of managing associated risks along our coast. Surf Life Saving exists to save lives, create great Australians and build better communities. As Australia’s peak authority on coastal safety, Surf Life Saving Australia has partnered with UNSW’s Water Research Laboratory, the UNSW Beach Safety Research Group, and the Bureau of Meteorology to investigate this knowledge gap and to integrate in to current coastal warning systems. 

We are seeking a highly motivated domestic student to undertake an exciting three-year PhD project through UNSW’s Water Research Laboratory within the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (Sydney, Australia) to explore the relationships between multiple weather and wave variables on coastal drowning deaths and other incidents.

Using applied environmental modelling, this project will determine potential thresholds of oceanic conditions that have resulted in drowning deaths associated with particular activities, e.g. rock fishing. These results will guide the development of public education messages and hazard warning systems (i.e. those delivered by Bureau of Meteorology) around the country to highlight the risks of certain coastal activities, e.g. rock fishing, under certain weather and wave conditions.

This project will be the first comprehensive nation-wide study to better understand the linkages between weather conditions and coastal incidents, with real-world implications for staying safe along the coast.

The successful candidate will work closely with researchers from the UNSW Water Research Laboratory, Surf Life Saving Australia, and other agencies. This novel research has a team of coastal scientists, drowning prevention practitioners, and engineers providing the transdisciplinary skills and understanding of oceanography, climate modelling and forecasting in the context of coastal safety and risk management.

How to apply:

Applicants should have a strong quantitative background in climate or environmental sciences, be confident with statistics, R and managing spreadsheets. They will be interested in working with and matching large datasets, have enthusiasm for working with researchers across multiple disciplines, and strong written and oral English skills. 

Peer-reviewed publications and previous knowledge of climate modelling and forecasting, drowning prevention, and a capacity to develop and implement innovative modelling and statistical approaches will be viewed favourably.

Please note that this opportunity is only available to domestic students (citizens or permanent residents of Australia and New Zealand).

The successful candidate with First Class honours in the past 5 years (or good 2A honours with publication) or a research Master’s degree are encouraged to apply for an RTP at UNSW (2022 rate: AUD$28,854/year, tax free, for 3 years). Starting in 2022, top-up scholarships are available for domestic students who qualify for an RTP for a combined tax-free scholarship of up to AUD$40K per year. (The amount of top-up depends on the applicants experience and skills).

Interested applicants should send a brief CV and statement of interest to:

Dr Mitchell Harley: and Dr Jaz Lawes:

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