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PhD Project

PhD available immediately for an exciting research project entitled, Investigating the impact of bush-fires on Australian petroglyphs

The applicant must be:

  • New to Curtin
  • A domestic student (currently in Australia)
  • Can commence studies and associated project by August 2020
  • Scholarship for 3.5 years (equivalent of RTP) ca. $29,000 per annum

Project relevant to a chemist, geochemist, environmental and analytical scientist.

Must have a first class Hons or equivalent.

The applicant will work in an interdisciplinary team at world class lab of the WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry.

Please send EOI to

Learn more about WA-OIGC Instrumentation


  1. Title
Investigating the impact of bush-fires on Australian petroglyphs
  1. Enter the Field of Research code (four digits):
0402, 0403, 0605, 0604, 2101, 1117, 0502
3.       Project/ Program Synopsis. (Max: 750 words)
Conservation of Australia’s world heritage petroglyph art requires maintenance of the colour contrast between the light-coloured weathered rind and the darker patina. The patina may be prone to degradation due to increased exposure to e.g. atmospheric pollutants. For example, bushfires occurring frequently in Australia are a common source of soot (and black carbon), volatile organic compounds (VOCS), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and resins. Such compounds may affect the rock art surfaces directly, by altering the chemistry of the rock surfaces (Bednarik, 2007; Donaldson, 2011), or indirectly, by supporting the growth of microbial biofilms on the rocks that can cause dissolution of the goethite and hematite that give the patina its contrasting colour. However, the magnitude of such effects are unknown.

In this project, controlled burning experiments will be performed with C3 (marri) and C4 (spinifex) plants, and their emissions will be transferred to a cloud chamber (with mist) containing three rock types (granophyre, gabbro and dolerite) known to host rock art. The rocks will be exposed to wet (mist) and dry emissions. The rocks will be investigated over 2 years by a range of organic and inorganic geochemical (including stable isotopes), geological and geomicrobiology/genetic techniques to establish abiotic and biotic changes that may alter the rock surfaces.

C3 and C4 plants and rocks with and without desert varnish will be collected by a scheduled field trip to The Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga). Aliquots of the VOCs will be measured by thermal desorption compound specific isotope analyses (CSIA, carbon and hydrogen Vitzthum von Eckstaedt et al., 2011). RNA will be extracted and analysed for parallel changes in active microbial compositions through 16S rRNA profiling (e.g. More et al., 2018) and their predicted metabolic functions using PICRUSt2 (Douglas et al., 2019). All organic compounds and geomicrobiology associated with the rocks will be analysed in WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre (OIGC), School of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Inorganic compounds (and minerals) will be measured by a range of imaging techniques from nanoscale to atomic scale in the John de Laeter Centre, Faculty of Science and Engineering. Chamber experiments will be performed in the School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences. The student will gain multidisciplinary expertise in geochemistry, mineralogy, geomicrobiology and environmental science.


Bednarik R.G., 2002. The survival of the Murujuga (Burrup) petroglyphs. Rock Art Research 19, 29-40,

Donaldson M., 2011. Understanding the rocks: rock art and the geology of Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula). Rock Art Research 28, 35-41,

PICRUSt2: An improved and extensible approach for metagenome inference. 2019. Gavin M. Douglas, Vincent J. Maffei, Jesse Zaneveld, Svetlana N. Yurgel, James R. Brown, Christopher M. Taylor, Curtis Huttenhower, Morgan G. I. Langille. bioRxiv 672295; doi:

More, K.D., Orsi, W.D., Galy, V., Giosan, L., He, L., Grice, K., Coolen, M.J.L, 2019. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 496, 248-256.

von Eckstaedt, C.V., Grice, K., Ioppolo-Armanios, M., Jones, M., (2011) Atmospheric environment 45 (31), 5477-5483,