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Australian Desert Rivers: So Cool, So Dry, So Dynamic

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Event description

Sustainable land management is best achieved by working with, not against, natural geomorphic processes.

Iconic names like Cooper Creek, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and the dusty Diamantina have a big footprint in our national narratives. Despite this, we generally only notice them when they become least like themselves: when it’s rained, the bushes are green and there’s water flowing in the channels.

Australia’s dryland rivers are qualitatively different from “normal” (temperate zone, perennial) rivers. It’s not just that they don't often flow: it’s because aridity creates special conditions for rainfall, run-off, vegetation-landform relationships, biotic life cycles, and the pace of landscape evolution. Australia's geological history has given these rivers a very specific topographic and sedimentological context.

These conditions affect the fundamental aspects through which Earth scientists typically understand rivers, such as flow regime, sediment transport, boundary roughness, catchment area, and channel-forming discharge. Even the most basic conceptual models (channel, floodplain, hillslope) sometimes need reappraisal. Researchers must use interlaced theoretical perspectives for this work, including fluvial geomorphology, tectonic and regolith geology, Quaternary climatology, geochronology, while management applications for better drylands fluvial geomorphology extend across everything from local town planning to broadscale hydrologic modelling.

Join geologist Dr Gresley Wakelin-King to challenge the misconception of this continent's "dead heart" and explore the dynamic nature of the dryland rivers that support life and land in the landscapes of the arid interior.

About the Speaker: 

Dr Gresley Wakelin-King, Consultant Geologist, Geomorphologist & Research Scientist
Gresley Wakelin-King

After attaining a BSc (Hons) in Geology from the University of Queensland, Dr Gresley Wakelin-King moved to Alice Springs to work as a regional mapper with the NT Geological Survey in 1985. Volunteer work at the local environment centre introduced her to applied rangeland science, an experience that influenced her career trajectory. As a mapping generalist, she dealt with everything from deep-crustal metamorphics to regolith, but eventually found her way to an abiding interest in desert rivers, their processes and how they support drylands ecosystems. Her research tools are geomorphology, sedimentology, and spatial science.

Dr King worked as a geological contractor and took career breaks for family during the 1990s. While continuing client and family work, she undertook doctoral research in drylands fluvial geomorphology, and was awarded a PhD from La Trobe University in 2007. Since then she has consulted to clients across the Australian arid zone, including the NSW, SA and Australian federal public sector.

Her favourite landscapes are the Lake Eyre Basin, the low-angle fluvial fans in western NSW, and the upper Darling River.

Combined Logos of Event Partners

The annual Howitt Lecture is a joint presentation by the Geological Society of Australia (Victoria Division) and the Royal Society of Victoria, supported by the Inspiring Victoria program.


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