Water Engineering

Water researchThe internationally recognised UNSW Water Research Centre (WRC) provides multidisciplinary research in water resources, engineering and management and the development of tools for environmental management and sustainability for improving the aquatic and atmospheric environments.

The WRC consists of two research nodes at the Kensington campus and the Water Research Laboratory at Manly Vale. The WRC operates as an externally-funded UNSW research centre within the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Australia’s water future will require synthetic understanding and innovative approaches to all aspects of the water cycle; water use and re-use; aquatic environments; flooding; estuaries and the coast. The WRC makes substantial contributions to solving these big picture, national and international issues.

Research themes

  • Coastal Engineering: Climate change Vulnerability
  • Ocean Engineering, wave dynamics and structural loadings
  • Behaviour of steep group waves and wave prediction models
  • Climate change impacts beyond sea level rise
  • Effects of sea level rise on aging infrastructure
  • Climate change adaptation.

Current research

Tweed River Sand Bypassing Project (TRESBP) is a joint scheme by the NSW and Queensland Governments to intercept coastal sand moving towards the entrance of the Tweed River in northern NSW and southern Queensland, Australia, and move it up the coast in order to:

  • establish and maintain a clear navigation channel at the entrance to the Tweed River, and
  • achieve a continuing supply of sand to the placement areas (southern Gold Coast beaches) at a rate consistent with natural drift rates.

TRESBP Coastal Imaging Overview – A network of 16 Argus coastal imaging cameras is used to monitor the beaches extending from North Kirra in Queensland to Duranbah in NSW, as well as the Tweed River entrance. Cameras are mounted at four different locations, providing a 180º view of the coast at each site.

Narrabeen-Collaroy Monitoring – Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach is located 16 km north of Sydney’s CBD within the Warringah Council Local Government Area. The beach is characterised by having the most intense and highly-capitalised shoreline development in Warringah. Development along the beach is also classified as the third most at risk nationally from coastal processes. Several processes cause movement of sand within the Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach system. These include natural processes, such as longshore movement of sediment, offshore movement of sediment into deeper water by wave action, and lagoon infilling by wave and tidal action, as well as human activities such as Narrabeen Lagoon entrance clearance works.

Olfactory characterisation of odours for optimising impact assessment – This ARC Discovery project applies a range of pattern recognition techniques, from simple statistical to chemometric analysis, to optimise the chemical characterisation of odorous emissions.

Optimal management of corrosion and odour problems in sewer systems – This ARC Linkage project aims to develop a thorough understanding of all processes leading to odour and corrosion in sewers, along with efficient methods of control. There is a large focus on the optimisation and characterisation of existing technologies, as well as development of effective novel solutions. This is collaborative project between Universities of Queensland, New South Wales, Newcastle and Sydney.

Interdisciplinary greenhouse gas assessment – nitrous oxide emissions from marine wastewater disposal – This ARC Discovery project applies a combination of field surveys, laboratory experiments, hydrodynamic modelling and life cycle assessment methods to address a key gaps in our understanding of full life cycle N2O emissions from wastewater management practices. This research will facilitate more accurate assessments of the international water sector’s ‘carbon footprint’ and will ultimately enable sustainable management of the sector on a global scale.

Detailed consideration of biogeochemical processes in natural and engineered systems – This research aims to improve our understanding of these processes and to develop improved remediation strategies. Areas of research include:

  • Factors controlling the growth and toxicity of marine and freshwater algae,
  • Transformation and fate of contaminants in the coastal zone,
  • Generation of reactive oxygen species and implications in natural systems, water and wastewater treatment and human health,
  • Gelation phenomena in natural and engineered systems, and
  • Transport of radionuclides in subsurface systems.

Innovative Characterisation of Aquifers and Aquitards

Groundwater is a crucial asset that must be an integral part of Australia's long-term water planning, but far more knowledge is needed of sub-surface water systems to effectively manage it. Existing data is limited or non-existent and management decisions are being made using hydrogeologic conceptual models that can be grossly misleading. This research by the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training aims to address these major inadequacies. This next generation of hydrogeology explores various new field methods and tools to gather data and build accurate 3D geological models that link hydrogeological processes. Researchers use various innovative techniques, such as heat to trace water through complex systems.

See also:





Research facilities

WRC resources at Kensington and Manly Vale include a range of analytical, hydraulic and physical laboratories and support instrumentation which are applied to different research programs. These include:


A complex of seven laboratories which include advanced instrumental analyses capabilities used in environmental research:

  • Water quality and analysis laboratory
  • Microbiology laboratory (PC2)
  • Water chemistry laboratory
  • Particle characterisation laboratory
  • Radiation laboratory
  • Odour laboratory
  • Pilot hall facility
  • Pilot Rigs.

WRC staff also have access to, and expertise in, equipment at the UNSW Analytical Centre including the DOC Labor Liquid Chromatography – Trace Organic Carbon Detector (LC-OCD).

Manly Vale

The Water Research Laboratory maintains state-of-the-art equipment and instrumentation including:

  • Hydraulic laboratory
  • Groundwater laboratory
  • Coastal imaging
  • Field equipment.