Robust, applied solutions in sediment and water quality improvements

The Precision Erosion and Sediment Management Research Group (PrESM) is focused on developing cost-effective, timely, and verifiable strategies to precisely define, target, and manage erosion and sediment sources in our waterways and catchments. We use field- and data-driven approaches in geomorphology and geochemistry to understand major sediment sources within our catchments so that we can cost-effectively reduce sediment yields and improve the water quality of downstream aquatic and marine ecosystems, especially the Great Barrier Reef.

Our research has contributed important new insights into how sediment sources are identified and targeted, resulting in a significant shift in government policy and practice. If we are to reduce sediment yields from erosion sources, it is critical that we fully understand the range of drivers and controls on such erosion processes, and that we can precisely identify them.

We apply rigorous, innovative, yet pragmatic solutions to the major geomorphological issues that arise in the management of land and stream degradation. We are developing and trialling a broad suite of precision landscape analysis methods and emerging techniques that can now been combined into approaches in targeted erosion management.

PrESM is a network of scientists and researchers administered through the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management (GCCM) at the Griffith University Gold Coast Campus.

The eureka moment that could help save the Reef

Our Expertise

We provide extensive scientific knowledge, combined expertise, and problem-solving to the major erosion, sediment load, and rehabilitation issues that are a part of sustainable and wise land management.

Our core members provide expertise and experience in:

  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Gully geomorphology
  • Catchment management prioritisation
  • River rehabilitation & gully remediation
  • Soil/fluvial erosion & sediment transport dynamics
  • Soil science & soil geomorphology
  • Field research
  • Geochemistry
  • Sediment tracing
  • Optical Dating
  • Spatial analysis & remote sensing
  • Hydraulic Modelling
  • Water Quality Monitoring

Research Projects

PrESM Card 1

Optimal Approaches for Alluvial Gully Treatment

Having identified in previous research that gully erosion represents one of the primary threats to the Water Quality within the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon, this project aims to trial and evaluate the most effective methods for rehabilitating large alluvial gullies.  The aims of the project are to determine:

  • What percentage of sediment reductions can be achieved by undertaking large-scale alluvial gully rehabilitation using optimal approaches?
  • How does this vary for different gullies depending on gully and soil material type?
  • What are the associated nutrient reductions?
  • What are the most cost-effective monitoring approaches?

Funding Source: NESP Project 3.1.7

Key Partners: Greening Australia, Cape York NRM, Qld Govt. (DES), Fruition Environmental

PrESM Card 2

GBR Gully Characterisation Framework

Given the vast diversity of erosion gullies across Queensland and the urgent need to rehabilitate them to improve water quality, there is a need for a systematic gully classification framework to aid rehabilitation planning.  The aim of this project is to develop a classification approach and a database for collecting and storing gully attributes.  The gully metrics stored within the database will ultimately be used to validate and refine the preliminary classification approach developed in this project.

Funding Source: NESP Project 4.9

Key Partners: Qld Govt. (DES)


Automated Gully Mapping from LiDAR in the GBR

Accurately mapping gullies at high resolution and quantifying their key attributes is the critical first step in the process of prioritising and designing rehabilitation solutions. At least 40% of the accelerated erosion that is contributing to poor water quality in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Lagoon is sourced from gully erosion, demanding effective management and rehabilitation of these features. Current gully maps across the GBR are low resolution and overly simple, providing no differentiation between gully type. Airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) is now widely recognised as being the best way to accurately map gullies at a landscape scale at a suitable resolution for management planning. Given the large volume of LiDAR data now becoming available, tools developed in this project enable the location of gullies to be extracted from LiDAR Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), along with key attributes of the gullies enabling them to be grouped into classes of similar gully types to aid prioritisation, management and catchment modelling.

Funding Source: NESP Project 5.10

Key Partners: Qld Govt. (DES)


Landholders Driving Change – Gully Prioritisation

The Bowen, Broken and Bogie (BBB) major integrated project (MIP) is a major initiative of the Qld Office for GBR emanating from the Qld Govt. Reef Task Force in 2016, which is intended to focus considerable resources in the most significant erosion hotspot within the GBR catchments – the BBB catchments.  The aim of this project is to map and classify gullies throughout the BBB catchment at high resolution from LiDAR data.  To do this we have had to develop semi-automated processes for extracting gullies from LiDAR data.  A broad array of metrics are derived and the gullies classified. A selection of each gully type is analysed to determine their relative sediment yields.  These data then form the basis for an economic analysis to determine which gullies are the most cost-effective to rehabilitate, such that they will achieve the maximum sediment reduction to the GBR in the shortest time.

Funding Source: NQ Dry Tropics/Qld Govt. Landholders Driving Change Project

Key Partners: Verterra, Alluvium, JCU Trop.Water

PrESM Card 4

Development of Reef Credits Assessment Method

An innovative new market-based approach to dealing with water quality improvement has just been initiated with the launch this month of the Reef Credit scheme.  Modelled on Carbon Credits, Reef Credits will enable investors (i.e. government, philanthropists, individuals) to purchase a measurable water quality improvement. This is a major shift from the current process where Government (primarily) funds the inputs to water quality projects with the hope that they will eventually deliver a water quality improvement.  Under the Reef Credits approach the water quality improvement must be delivered and verified before a credit is paid, significantly improving the confidence that the investor will achieve the outcome they seek. Given that we know at least 40% of sediment pollution to the GBR is sourced from gully erosion, we have been given the task of writing the methods that will underpin the application of Reef Credits to gully erosion rehabilitation and the monitoring of the water quality projects.

Funding Source: Greencollar

PrESM Card 5

Building Capacity of Traditional Owner Groups

In 2016 the Qld government, based on the evidence from our previous research regarding the water quality risk from this property, purchased Springvale Station in Cape York to enable, based on evidence suggesting the property was the source of approximately 40% of the sediment load derived from gully erosion in the entire 24,500 km2 Normanby Catchment.  In 2017 our group was involved in the development of an erosion management plan for the property, and this project will now begin the process of implementing gully rehabilitation, at the site, in conjunction with the local traditional owners of the property.  The project initial primarily focus is a training and capacity building exercise, which will take the traditional owners through the process of designing and implementing a gully rehabilitation project. Whilst the broader aim is to then implement a major gully rehabilitation strategy across the whole property, the intention is also to develop a trained workforce that can implement similar projects across Cape York and beyond.

Funding Source: Cape York NRM, Qld Govt.

Key Partners:  Yalanji Joint Venture

PrESM Card 6

Riparian Vegetation Assessment and Prioritisation

This project is developing a refined approach to delineating riparian areas and quantifying the extent of riparian vegetation as the basis for a catchment wide riparian management strategy.  With LiDAR data now being available across the whole of NSW, this offers a major new opportunity to develop tools that will significantly improve our ability to manage river catchments.  In this project we are refining methods developed in the Hunter catchment to quantify and prioritise those areas of the stream network that are in need of management intervention to improve riparian vegetation structure and composition.  We have developed procedures for automating the delineation of the riparian zone and the characterisation of the vegetation from catchment-wide LiDAR data sets.

Funding Source: NSW Government: Local Land Services Hunter Region

PrESM Card Technical

Technical Advice to Reef Trust IV Programme

The Australian Government’s Reef Trust investment programme is a major vehicle for investment in Reef Water Quality Programmes in the Great Barrier Catchments.  In this project we provide technical advice to the partners delivering projects on the ground and help to administer the programme with the Australian Government.

Funding Source: Aust. Govt. Dept of Environment/CSIRO


Our group has extensive partnerships with the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science, through the Office for Great Barrier Reef and the Landscape Sciences, Science and Technology Division.  In addition to active collaborations in five of the featured projects, Assoc. Prof Brooks sits on the GBR Sediment Working Group which is a joint Australian and Queensland Government initiative, facilitated through the Office for Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government’s Reef Trust investment programme is a major vehicle for investment in Reef Water Quality Programmes in the Great Barrier Catchments.  We provide technical advice to the partners delivering projects on the ground and help to administer the programme with the Australian Government.

We also undertake numerous projects that are funded through NESP (and its predecessors) which are focused on high priority research needs of the Government, and the outcomes of which feed directly into government policy. Assoc. Prof Brooks also sits on the GBR Sediment Working Group which is a joint Australian and Queensland Government initiative.

Natural Resources Management Agencies represent the front line for the implementation of projects funded by government to achieve on-ground environmental outcomes.  Applied research in catchment and water quality management can only work in a collaborative environment where there is a two-way flow of information and ideas between scientists and land managers.

Often the end-users are land holders themselves, and it is these groups that provide the interface and point of first contact with landholders.  For this reason, we work closely with a range of these groups, including;

  • Cape York NRM
  • NQ DryTropics
  • Reef Catchments
  • Terrain

The gully rehabilitation research projects that we are undertaking on Strathalbyn Station in the Burdekin is a continued partnership with Greening Australia and Fruition Environmental (along with the Queensland Government), and this work has recently been extended via a new Reef Credits based project with Greencollar and the landowner, Mr Bristow Hughes.  To date this is the largest gully rehabilitation project undertaken in the GBR.

In addition to developing the Reef Credits gully methods with Greencollar, we are embarking on the first project implementing the Reef Credit gully methods on Strathalbyn Station along with Greening Australia.

Much of the land management research we have undertaken in Cape York is undertaken on Aboriginal owned Land, so working with Traditional owners is fundamental to achieving land management outcomes in this landscape.  We are currently working with Jabalbinna Aboriginal Corp and Western Yalangi Aboriginal Corporation – who together have formed the Yalanji Joint Venture Partnership to undertake work on Springvale Station, in the Normanby Catchment (the property purchased by the Qld Government for its landscape restoration potential and its biodiversity values).  Through this project we aim to train the next generation of gully rehabilitation practitioners, so they can form the backbone of an ongoing industry implementing water quality improvements throughout Cape York and beyond. We also work closely with the Laura Rangers on the Crocodile Station gully rehabilitation projects and the Balnggarrawarra Rangers on Normanby Station.


Ms Kate Schurmann, Executive Support Officer

Recent publications

Fryirs, K.A., Brierley, G.J., Hancock, F., Cohen, T.J., Brooks, A.P., Reinfelds, I., Cook, N. and Raine, A., (2018).Tracking geomorphic recovery in process‐based river management. Land Degradation & Development DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2984

Doriean, N. J., Teasdale, P. R., Welsh, D. T., Brooks, A. P., & Bennett, W. W. (2019). Evaluation of a simple, inexpensive, in situ sampler for measuring time‐weighted average concentrations of suspended sediment in rivers and streams. Hydrological Processes

Rose, C. W., J. M. Olley, A. Haddadchi, A. P. Brooks and J. McMahon (2017) "An alternative method for interpreting jet erosion test (JET) data: part 1. Theory." Earth Surface Processes and Landforms: DOI: 10.1002/esp.4270

Haddadchi, A; Rose, C, Olley, J., Brooks., A.P., McMahon., J., Pietsch., T.. (2017). An alternative method for interpreting jet erosion test (JET) data: Part 2, Application. Earth Surfaces Processes and Landforms. DOI: 10.1002/esp.4269

McMahon, J. M., Olley, J. M., Brooks, A. P., Smart, J. C., Rose, C. W., Curwen, G.,  & Stewart-Koster, B. (2017). An investigation of controlling variables of riverbank erosion in sub-tropical Australia. Environmental Modelling & Software97, 1-15. IF 4.4

Shellberg, J.G., Spencer, J., Brooks, A.P. and Pietsch, T., (2016) Alluvial gully erosion rates across the Mitchell River fluvial megafan, northern Australia. Geomorphology 266(1):105–120

Rose, C.W., Shellberg, J.G., and Brooks, A.P., (2015) Modelling Suspended Sediment Transport in a Sand-bed Alluvial Gully in northern Queensland, Australia. : Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. IF 2.5

Pietsch, T.J., Brooks, A.P., Spencer, J., Olley, J.M., Borombovits, D. (2015)  Age, distribution and significance within a sediment budget of in-channel benches in the Normanby River, Queensland, Australia. Geomorphology Vol239,15 June 2015, 17-40

Brooks, A. Borombovits, D., Spencer, J., Pietsch, T., Olley, J., (2014a).  Measured hillslope erosion rates in the wet-dry tropics of Cape York, northern Australia Part 1: A low cost sediment trap for measuring hillslope erosion in remote areas - trap design and evaluation Catena, v122:1–17

Brooks, A. Spencer, J., Borombovits, D., Pietsch, T., Olley, J., (2014b).  Measured hillslope erosion rates in the wet-dry tropics of Cape York, northern Australia:  Part 2, RUSLE-based modeling significantly over-predicts hillslope sediment production Catena, v122:42–53

Shellberg, J.G., Brooks, A.P. and Rose, C.W. (2013). Sediment production and (suspended) sediment yield from an alluvial gully: empirical approaches: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. DOI: 10.1002/esp.3414

Olley, J. Brooks, A. Spencer, J. Pietsch, T. Borombovits, D. (2013) Subsoil erosion dominates the supply of fine sediment to rivers draining into Princess Charlotte Bay, Australia. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity v 124 pp 121-129

Shellberg, J.G., Brooks, A.P., Spencer, J. and Ward, D., (2013). The hydrogeomorphic influences on alluvial gully erosion along the Mitchell River fluvial megafan, northern Australia. Hydrological Processes. DOI: 10.1002/hyp.9240

Brooks, A.P., Shellberg, J.G., Knight, J., Spencer, J.  (2009) Alluvial gully erosion across the Mitchell fluvial megafan, Queensland Australia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 34, pp. 1951 – 1969

Brooks, A. P., Spencer, J. Shellberg, J.G., Knight, J. & Lymburner, L. (2008) Using remote sensing to quantify sediment budget components in a large tropical river - Mitchell River, Gulf of Carpentaria Sediment Dynamics in Changing Environments: Proceedings of a symposium held in Christchurch, New Zealand, December 2008. IAHS Publ. 325, pp. 225 - 237.

Recent reports

Brooks, A. P., Thwaites, R.N., Spencer, J., Pietsch, T. and J. Daley (2018). A Gully Classification Scheme to Underpin GBR Catchment Water Quality Management. Report to the National Environmental Science Program. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (133 pp.).

Brooks, A.P., Curwen, G.C., Spencer J, Stout, J., Thwaites, R. (2018) LDC Landscape Remediation Characterisation and Prioritisation Project, Stage 2 Prioritisation Report,  Automated Gully Mapping and Gully Erosion Rate Analyses. Griffith University 53 pp.

Brooks, A.P. and Spencer J. (2018). LDC Landscape Remediation   Characterisation and Prioritisation Project, Stage 1 Prioritisation Report. Griffith University 50 pp.

Brooks, A.P. (2018). Supplementary Report to Dungog Shire Council – re Development Application No. 24/2017 – Poultry Operation at 1524 Gresford Road, Torryburn, NSW. Griffith University, 9 pp.

Brooks, A.P. (2018) Report to Sparke-Helmore Lawyers re Dungog Shire Council – Development Application No. 24/2017 – Poultry Operation at 1524 Gresford Road, Torryburn, NSW, Griffith University, 22 pp.

McPhail, L.R., Cheetham, M.D, Markham, A.J., Martin, J.C, Brooks, A.P, Vietz, G, Pearson, B.,Tait, J., Pietsch, T.J. (2018). Development of the stream rehabilitation guidelines for Queensland, Report to the Qld Dept Natural Resources and Mines.

Kemp, J., Brooks, A.P., Yu, B., Pietsch., T., Reinfelds, I., Hancock., F., Raine., A., Mitrovic., S., Fryirs., K., Cohen., T.J., Marshall., F., Thompson., J., (2017). Investigation of Links between in-stream vegetation, channel condition, flood flows and river recovery. Scoping Report to NSW DPI Water. Griffith University., pp., 60.

Pietsch, T,  Brooks, A.P., Spencer, J., Daley, J. (2017).  Hunter River Management Prioritisation: A first order Prioritisation based on Riparian Vegetation.  Report to Hunter Local land Services.  Griffith University, 86 pp.

Brooks, A.P., Spencer, J., Daley, J., Thwaites, R., Pietsch, T., (2017) Preliminary Assessment of Alluvial Gully Systems on Strathalbyn Station; Report to Greening Australia for the Queensland Government Task Force Innovative Gully Remediation Project.  Griffith University 85 pp.

Wilkinson S, Brooks A., Hairsine P, Crawford D, Bartley R, Pietsch T. (2016) Gully and Stream Bank Toolbox – A technical guide for the Reef Trust Phase IV Gully and Stream Bank Erosion Control Program, Commonwealth of Australia 2016’.

Brooks, A.P, Spencer, J., Curwen, G, Shellberg, J., Garzon-Garcia, A, Burton, J. & Iwashita, F. (2016) Reducing sediment sources to the Reef: Managing alluvial gully erosion. Report to the National Environmental Science Programme. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (377 pp.).

Spencer, J., Brooks., A.P., Curwen, G.,& Tews, K. (2016).  A disturbance index approach for assessing water quality threats in Eastern Cape York. A report to South Cape York Catchments for the Cape York Water Quality Improvement Plan by the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, 42 pp.

Brooks, A.P., Curwen, G., Spencer, J., (2015). A Framework for Prioritising Gully Management in the Normanby Basin Cape York. A report to South Cape York Catchments for the Cape York Water Quality Improvement Plan by the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, 28 pp.

Brooks, A.P., and Spencer, J. (2015).  “Developing Guidelines for Agriculture Development in Northern Australia to avoid and reduce accelerated erosion: the case of the Gilbert/Etheridge River Integrated Agriculture Project”,  Final report for National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) Emerging Priorities Theme, Griffith University, pp. 58.

Brooks, A.P., Olley, J., Iwashita, F., Spencer, J., McMahon, J., Curwen, G., Saxton., N. and S. Gibson.  (2014a)  Reducing Sediment Pollution in Queensland Rivers:  Towards the Development of a method to Quantify and Prioritise Bank Erosion in Queensland Rivers based on field evidence from the Upper Brisbane, O’Connell and Normanby Rivers. Final Summary Report to Qld State Government, Department of Science Information Technology Innovation and the Arts, Griffith University, pp 76.

Brooks, A.P., Olley, J., Spencer, Iwashita, F., J., McMahon, J., Curwen, G., Saxton., N. and S. Gibson.  (2014b)  Reducing Sediment Pollution in Queensland Rivers:  Towards the Development of a method to Quantify and Prioritise Bank Erosion in Queensland Rivers based on field evidence from the Upper Brisbane, O’Connell and Normanby Rivers. Appendices to Final Report to Qld State Government, Department of Science Information Technology Innovation and the Arts, Griffith University, pp 332.

Shellberg, J.G., Brooks, A.P. (2013) Alluvial Gully Prevention and Rehabilitation Options for Reducing Sediment Loads in the Normanby Catchment and Northern Australia. Prepared by Griffith University, Australian Rivers Institute for the Australian Government Caring for Our Country Reef Rescue Program, Cooktown, Qld.

Brooks, A.P., Spencer, J.,  Olley, J., Pietsch, T.,  Borombovits, D., Curwen, G., Shellberg, J., Howley, C., Gleeson, A., Simon, A.,  Bankhead, N., Klimetz, D.,  Eslami-Endargoli, L., Bourgeault, A.,  (2013) An Empirically-based Sediment Budget for the Normanby Basin: Sediment Sources, Sinks, and Drivers on the Cape York Savannah. Griffith University, 506pp.

8th International Symposium on Gully Erosion

Click here for more information

Connect and collaborate

If you would like to work, study or collaborate with us, get in touch