Past climate and environmental impacts on Great Barrier Reef paleoecology over the past 9,000 years.


This project will investigate the links between environmental stress/disturbance, climate, and coral reef composition, diversity and structure by investigating episodes of reef growth and demise over the past 9,000 years. To do this we will use fossil reef cores from across the GBR and log: changes in the down-core genera, and species where possible, of coral and algae assemblages; note their growth position context, the percent volume of coral and algae components, algal crust thickness, and log the presence or absence of other important reef biota (e.g. vermetid gastropods, benthic foraminifera). Hiatuses in reef growth will be identified down core, and between adjacent cores, as major time gaps and changes in the reef communities. High-precision U-Th dates will pin down the precise timing of hiatuses and will be used to accurately calculate accumulation rates for the reef successions. In a novel addition to our study, we will use 3D CT scanning, X-ray and SEM imaging, to quantify long-term bioerosion rates as a measure of reef stress during the early Holocene when the most recent phase of reef growth ‘turned-on’, and for periods leading up to and after major Holocene reef growth hiatuses. We will ensure reproducibility and spatio-temporal extent of our down-core results by investigating cores from multiple regions, multiple reefs within each region, and multiple zones within a given reef will investigate the biological and geological processes that control the evolution of coral reef systems (e.g. reef communities, stratigraphic ages and growth rates, reef geometries (‘architecture’).

A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more contact Associate Professor Jody Webster directly.


Professor Jody Webster

Research Location

School of Geosciences

Program Type



The future of the iconic Great Barrier Reef (GBR) under threat. The mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have raised alarm at the prospect of more mass bleachings in the future due to more frequent extreme sea surface temperatures (SST) under global warming scenarios. Further, sharp declines in coral cover across the GBR between 1985-2002 highlight concerns for the reef’s ability to withstand the cumulative impacts of ocean warming, acidification and regional threats, including tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish predation, and water quality. Recent paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental studies show that the GBR experienced several cycles of reef growth and death over the past 20,000 years. These past reef death and recovery cycles offer the tantalising prospect of understanding the causes of reef death events and crucially the nature and rate of reef recovery after these events. Therefore, our goal is to study how the GBR changed in the past to determine distinct ecological thresholds and causal climate and environmental factors for reef death and recovery. 

Additional Information

This project is part of a newly funded ($418,000) ARC Discovery project that will involve an extensive network of Australian and International collaborators as well as other related research students. Based at USYD, you will join the Geocoastal Research Group (GRG) – an active and dynamic research cluster in the School of Geosciences.

A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more contact Associate Professor Jody Webster directly.

HDR Inherent Requirements
In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Examples of inherent requirements may include:

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision; ,
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)
You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

Want to find out more?

Contact us to find out what’s involved in applying for a PhD. Domestic students and International students

Contact Research Expert to find out more about participating in this opportunity.

Browse for other opportunities within the School of Geosciences .


Great Barrier Reef, reef geology, paleoecology, sealevel, Climate Change, scholarship, International, coral reef

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2762

Other opportunities with Professor Jody Webster