Physical & Cultural Environments

Led by Professor Patrick Hesp and Dr Jonathan Benjamin the Physical & Cultural Environments research team investigate physical processes shaping marine and coastal environments and their ecosystems.

Our researchers are experts in the physical oceanography, coastal geomorphology and marine archaeology of the Australian region. The widespread expertise of this research group underpins the applied research that is needed to understand past and future impacts of climate changes in the Australian context.

Coastal Geomorphology

The coastal geomorphology and marine geology group are experts in fields ranging from coastal dune evolution and dynamics to coastal-nearshore sediment transport and dynamics. Past research projects range from studies on the relationships between surfzone fauna and surfzone dynamics, the Holocene (past 10,000 years) evolution of coastal barriers, E.I.A. of coastal developments, the interrelationships between surfzone processes, regional winds and dunefield evolution, the evolution and aerodynamics of Earth and planetary dune systems, coastal dune initiation, and aerodynamics and ecology of coastal dunes.

Recent research focuses on the impacts of climate and future climate change on dunefields, computational fluid dynamics modelling on dunes, sediment transport processes in Gulf St. Vincent and arid coastal dune dynamics. While, research highlights include the development of surfzone-beach-dune interaction models, the discovery of new dune types, the dynamics of mega-blowout dunes in Tibet and ‘sticky’ dunes on Titan, and the role of introduced fauna on coastal dune vegetation dynamics in southern Australia.

Physical Oceanography

Our oceanographers are world-renowned experts in their field with skills ranging from high-resolution hydrodynamic modelling to the design of complex observational field programs. Their wealth of intrinsic knowledge of physical processes (e.g. currents, tides, upwelling mechanisms) around Australia are key to a professional management of Australia’s valuable marine resources.

Past research projects ranged from flushing studies of water masses in small and large inverse estuaries (e.g. Coffin Bay, South Australian gulfs, Persian Gulf), upwelling studies on the continental shelves of the Great Australian Bight and the Arafura Sea, to large-scale studies of climate-relevant phenomena in the intertropical Indian Ocean. Research highlights include the discovery of important nutrient upwelling regions on Australia’s southern shelves.

Marine Archaeology

Maritime archaeological research at Flinders has been the most successful program of its kind in Australia since 2002 and is recognised for the global leadership in its field. Flinders is one of the founding members of the UNESCO UNITWIN Network for Maritime Archaeology and chaired the Network from 2015–2018.

Maritime archaeological research at Flinders focuses on human-environment interactions with special reference to shorelines and aquatic bodies as well as adaptations to life on the coast, maritime trade, seafaring, naval construction, shipboard life and vernacular vessels. Also in focus are the various aspects of past coastal life including marine resource exploitation, shoreline harvesting and cultivation, fishing and shell fishing, and other practices that support coastal and maritime economies. Central to coastal and underwater archaeology, this theme includes sites that were submerged due to past climate change and the sea-level changes which inundated past migration routes, coastal occupations and activity centres worldwide; these submerged landscapes provide evidence of human responses to rising seas, displacement strategies and resilience by past societies.