Among ESSRC's key aims are to retain, attract and develop leading, internationally recognised research staff and distinguished visitors, and to achieve a critical mass of research activity in major areas of the palaeosciences and related Earth and environmental sciences.

Critically, centre members use the insights available at interdisciplinary junctures between the geochemical, geophysical, biological and social sciences to integrate disciplines, bringing together otherwise disparate fields under a single structure, and with a common set of goals and interests.

ESSRC's research emphasises the process of discovery and integration of ideas over the maintenance of disciplinary knowledge and its boundaries. A common focus across all research programs in the centre is emerging questions, techniques and observations that have the capacity to transform in a broadway understanding of the evolutionary history and processes of the Earth, its systems and biota including humans.


  • The centre’s research is based on a number of themes including:

    Antarctic science

    Where, when, and how much of the Antarctic ice sheets will melt in a warmer world is a major focus of research. Offshore, the surrounding Southern Ocean supports hugely productive ecosystems, many of them economically important, including the krill and Patagonian toothfish fisheries. These ecosystems also play a crucial role in soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and regulating climate. Just how the ocean, atmosphere, and ice interact to influence the world’s climate is hugely uncertain. 

    Earth structures and systems

    Examining the physical structure and chemical composition of the Earth, processes underpinning their formation and spatial distribution and use by humans as natural resources, the ancient atmosphere and palaeoclimate systems, and using various geochronological methods to determine the age of Earth materials including fossils.

    Evolution of life

    Focusing on the beginnings of life on Earth through to the evolution and diversification of mammals, especially in Australia, early conditions of the planet, coevolution of Earth, life and the planet's systems, major events in the history of life, and reconstructing ancient landscapes, ecosystems and communities and how the past can help inform present day conservation and environmental management approaches.

    Human origins, environments and impacts

    Examining the evolutionary and cultural origins of humankind over the last few million years, human interactions with and impacts on the natural environment, especially within the context of disruptions to the Earth's processes and systems, geohazards, long term human legacies such as shifts in the planet's history marked by the Anthropocene, and geological heritage, and cultural heritage especially as revealed by Earth's archives including sedimentary, palaeoecological and archaeological records.

    Landscape evolution

    Studying changes in the landscape mostly over long timescales, including geomorphological features and landscape transformations, sedimentation, soil and regolith formation and development, groundwater and karst systems, and interactions between landscape change and biota through the twin lenses of biogeography and palaeobiogeography.

In this section

Australasian Biogeography and Natural Classification

Australasian Biogeography and Natural Classification (The Ebach Lab) is a biogeography and systematics research group headed by Dr Malte C. Ebach.

Geological Evolution, Ore Deposits, Exploration and Energy (GEODEE)

The GEODEE group has been informally running for a number of years and encompasses geological research undertaken at UNSW by current academics, visiting fellows and their students.

Human geography

Human geography is the human oriented arm of geography, the study of the Earth. In BEES, our research includes the study of the Earth, particularly during the Anthropocene, communities and cultures.

Palaeoanthropology Research Laboratory (PEARL)

Palaeoanthropology is the scientific investigation of human evolution focusing on evidence provided by the human fossil, archaeological and palaeoecological records.

Palaeoecology Lab

The ESSRC Palaeoecology Lab uses of a variety of palaeoenvironmental techniques to examine climate change/variability, human impacts and ecosystem response to such perturbations.

Prehistory and palaeoenvironment of Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific

Our research group is currently engaged in a field and lab-based program investigating the peopling of Sahul, settlement history, palaeoenvironment and resource use.

Rip current and surf hazard research

Since 2011, Professor Robert Brander, along with research colleagues and students within the School of BEES, have been working on both physical and social aspects of the beach rip current hazard.

Soil science

The soil science group at UNSW is involved with and interested in the use of ancillary data from remote and proximal soil sensors and their application to digital soil mapping.

The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre

The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre (MWAC) is a network of centralised cutting-edge facilities and expert staff that are open to the entire UNSW research community and beyond.

The PRECISE Network

The potential of regional extreme sea-level rise remains a key socioeconomic uncertainty for millions across the Asia-Pacific region due to the likely impacts on coastal erosion, inundation and for water resource management.


UNSW IceLab provides high-precision water chemistry analysis and fluorescence spectrometry capability to analyse dissolved organic matter (DOM).