Investigating the biggest issues facing our planet

Human actions and human-driven climate change are fundamentally altering the Earth’s surface. As global warming continues and as the world becomes progressively more populated, industrialised and urbanised, the environmental impacts of human activity only increase. 

Environmental Geography examines both the physical processes on Earth as well as human-environment interactions. Drawing from the natural and social sciences, Physical and Environmental Geographers seek to understand the applied and conceptual challenges facing our planet.

Associated schools, institutes & centres


We investigate natural and anthropogenic processes and responses. From ecological degradation to low-lying coastal transformation, urban green infrastructure and sustainable agricultural practices, we seek to understand the human impact on our natural environment. We use long-term records, participatory perspectives to urban and rural development, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing to assess human interactions with the natural world.  

Our research is showcased in high impact, peer-reviewed journals that influence policy—from local to global scales in rural sector economic development, smart urban food systems, environmental protection, conservation of biodiversity and coastal planning.

Competitive advantage

  • We have a global impact, evidenced by UNSW’s favourable 2020 global ranking – #13 in Remote Sensing. Our engagement with the Institute for Global Development at UNSW Sydney and the Australia Africa Universities Network to build research and teaching capacity in African institutions further demonstrates our role in UNSW’s Global 2025 Strategy. 
  • Our many collaborations extend to countries including China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, and South Africa.

Successful applications

  • With funding from the University of Western Australia, we held experimental workshops at Gulu University (Uganda) with the Mayor of Gulu, the Vice-Chancellor of Gulu University, town planners, and other stakeholders to conduct mapping experiments to explore smart city urban design possibilities. We have been invited to continue this work in other Ugandan cities.  
  • Recent research funded by the Australian Alps Liaison Committee investigated the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to measure and monitor the streambank impacts of feral horses. This work has made an important contribution to the body of science seeking to protect the unique natural environment of the Australian High Country and its vulnerable natural resources. 
  • Other recent research has contributed to the management and conservation of biological diversity on Australia’s extensive Defence estate. DAMASCAS (Defence Automated Monitoring and Survey using Cameras and Sound) funded by the Defence Support Group, has developed protocols for cost-effective and humane monitoring of multiple faunal groups at landscape scales.


We collaborate with partners across the globe including:  

Study with us

Physical and Environmental Geography teaches undergraduate and postgraduate coursework in a broad range of topics dealing with real-life environmental change issues and the great global challenges of our time.


Our researchers

 Brian Lees
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