Dr. Adam Kessler Honours Projects

A danger unto themselves: How much nitrous oxide comes from Victoria's Estuaries?

Supervisor: Adam Kessler
Field of Study: Biogeochemistry (field and/or lab and/or modelling)
Support Offered: Lab, field & technical costs
Collaborating Organisation: potential collaboration with Schools of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, EPA, Melbourne Water, DELWP

Aside from the plethora of human sources, many environmental systems release the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide to the environment. One such environment is estuaries - the active and dynamic zones where rivers meet the sea. But because estuaries are so complex, we don't fully understand under what conditions estuaries might be nitrous oxide sources.
You will use field, laboratory and/or numerical modelling techniques to measure how much nitrous oxide our estuaries produce and under what circumstances. This will be both an important contribution to the field, and also a practical resource that would be of great interest to agencies.

For more information – contact Adam Kessler

Is the beach dissolving?

Supervisor: Adam Kessler
Field of Study: Biogeochemistry (modelling/lab)
Support Offered: Lab, field & technical costs
Collaborating Organisation: Deakin Uni; potential for international collaboration

Recently, we have shown that due to ocean acidification, the bright white tropical sands that form (e.g.) the Great Barrier Reef are beginning to dissolve. That's right, it's not just the coral or the crustaceans at risk from OA, but the islands themselves! The worse news is, we suspect that this might also apply to the sandy beaches that form our coasts, even right here in Victoria! This project aims to estimate the current and future contribution of dissolution to coastal erosion.

At the moment I conceive of this as a modelling study, but there is scope for lab and field experiments, too if you prefer.

Prior modelling experience is handy, but absolutely not required. I can teach you. Promise!

For more information – contact Adam Kessler

What do sands eat?

Supervisor: Adam Kessler
Field of Study: Biogeochemistry (lab)
Support Offered: Lab, field & technical costs
Collaborating Organisation: School of Chemistry; potential other universities

Just like soils, muds and doorknobs, sandy sediments (think: the beach) are full of microbes. But unlike those environments, we still don't know exactly what biogeochemical reactions these microbes do. Why does this matter? Well quite a lot of the Earth is covered with sand, and so this is likely a significant part of key global cycles (e.g. carbon, sulfur, hydrogen, ???) that our global models simply ignore.

In this project, you will measure the uptake of organic carbon by microbes in sands under a variety of conditions. Your goal will be to determine what biogeochemical reactions are important in these environments. There is scope for you to tailor this project to your interests, and you may use stable- and radio- isotope tracing techniques, gas chromatography, spectrophotometry and/or microsensors to measure the sediment metabolism. You may also choose to do some numerical modelling.

Depending on the direction you take, this may involve field trips to local beaches, and lab work in collaboration with the Schools of Chemistry and Biological Sciences. This project is part of a wider collaboration with researchers from Deakin University, Southern Cross University and the University of Southern Denmark.

For more information – contact Adam Kessler

How do anoxia-tolerant worms change nutrient cycles?

Supervisor: Adam Kessler
Field of Study: Biogeochemistry (lab/field)
Support Offered: Lab, field & technical costs
Collaborating Organisation: School of Chemistry

Burrowing polychaetes (worms) pump overlying water into their burrows to keep them oxygenated, and pore water from in and around their deep burrows is flushed to the overlying water, termed ‘bioirrigation’. In doing so, they often transport large amounts of oxidised species – such as O2, nitrate, iron oxides – around the sediment. Recently, we have shown that many of these worm species are tolerant of very low oxygen concentrations, and can even survive for some time without any oxygen. This means that they are able to transport large amounts of reduced solutes – such as Fe2+ or ammonium.

This is a panacea project that will give you experience in a wide range of skills and disciplines. You will do field work at Paynesville and Patterson Lakes, and laboratory incubation experiments where oxygen is carefully controlled and the underlying biogeochemistry is measured. You will use oxygen imaging techniques and a combination of micro-sensors and nutrient analysis to measure changes in sediment biogeochemistry. There is also some scope for numerical modelling, if you like. This model has already been created, so you would mostly be performing simulations, and little-to-no coding experience would be needed.

For more information – contact Adam Kessler

Remove or recycle? Understanding the balance between denitrification and DNRA in Estuaries.

Supervisor: Adam Kessler
Field of Study: Biogeochemistry (field/lab)
Support Offered: Lab, field & technical costs
Collaborating Organisation: potential collaboration with Schools of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, EPA, Melbourne Water, DELWP

The balance of the two processes which remove or recycle nitrate from aquatic sediments is an important topic, both scientifically and from the perspective of waterway management.

This project aims to understand the physical, chemical, microbial and/or land-use factors which control the fate of nitrate in Port Phillip Bay and its receiving estuaries. This project could involve a combination of field, lab, and/or modelling activities, and would especially suit someone interested in moving into environmental management following their Honours year (e.g. working at DELWP, EPA).

For more information – contact Adam Kessler