Water flow, fast and slow, during tailings remediation (hydrology/environmental engineering)

As a result of the physical and chemical processes used during minerals extraction, tailings are usually fine-grained, structureless materials deposited into large scale field storage facilities at high water content. In situ remediation and transformation of tailings into soil using microbial and plant biotechnologies drastically alters the physical properties of tailings, and this has consequences for the outcome of bioremediation and closure through impacts on ongoing changes in chemical properties as well as plant water availability and drainage. An ongoing challenge is understanding fast (preferential) and slow (matrix diffusion) water flow in tailings, regardless of remediation status. The effects of microbial and plant biotechnologies on physical properties of tailings are particularly poorly understood. This project will evaluate the effects of microbial and plant biotechnologies on the physical properties of tailings at field scale to better characterise water flow and movement, and then use this to optimise remediation processes and inform improved geochemical models to predict remediation outcomes.


This project will involve installation and interrogation of data from field sensor arrays quantifying water and energy fluxes in tailings under different remediation treatments, to partition fast (preferential) and slow water flow and quantify near-saturated drainage fluxes. This data will then be used to build a robust hydrogeochemical model to predict performance of the microbial and plant biotechnologies into the future.

Given the need to be close to the Perth-based field site, this position is based at the University of Western Australia (Talitha Santini, Sally Thompson), with co-supervisors at Southern Cross University (Ed Burton) and the University of Queensland (Peter Kopittke).

Research team leader: Associate Professor Talitha Santini

My research interests are centred on soil formation and weathering, geochemistry, mineralogy, and microbiology; in particular, the interactions between abiotic and biotic processes that drive soil development and global biogeochemical cycles.


How to Apply

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project - The ideal candidate will have a Bachelors or Masters degree in (preferably Environmental) Engineering, with previous experience in hydrological and/or geochemical modelling.
Submit enquiry to research team leader
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact to proceed with your application


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

Similar projects you may be interested in