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Dr Thomas Oliver


Fields of Research (FoR)

Physical geography and environmental geoscience, Geomorphology and earth surface processes, Natural hazards, Geochronology, Geophysics, Geospatial information systems and geospatial data modelling, Photogrammetry and remote sensing

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Dr Thomas Oliver studied at the University of Wollongong and completed Bachelor of Marine Science Advanced Honours (Class 1) supervised by Dr Kerrylee Rogers and Prof. Colin Woodroffe. He then completed a PhD under the supervision of Professor Colin Woodroffe reconstructing the depositional history of three prograded coastal barrier systems in southern NSW using OSL dating, Ground Penetrating Radar and airborne LiDAR. Dr Oliver continued and expanded this work as a post-doctoral research fellow at UOW before arriving at UNSW Canberra at the beginning of 2018 as a Lecturer in a teaching and research position. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2022.

Dr Oliver is interested in all aspects of coastal science spanning a range of time and space scales, from the late Quaternary to present-day processes, and from barrier and estuary evolution through to cyclic cut and fill of beaches by storms and estuary entrance behaviour. He has conducted research in many coastal locations around Australia including north Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. An overarching theme of his research is the application of our knowledge of sandy shoreline behaviour to coastal management in light of future coastal pressures. His research also involves the application of OSL dating to coastal sediments and he has led or co-authored publications that have contributed >350 OSL ages. This has furthered our understanding of the timing of coastal deposition and better constrained the age of key coastal landform features.

Research interests and potential PhD topics:

  • Holocene evolution of prograded coastal barriers
  • Reconstructing Late-Quaternary and Holocene sea levels in southeastern Australia from raised coastal landforms
  • Application of Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating to young (<500 years) sediments
  • Sandy shoreline behaviour on planning timescales from sedimentary archives - extending the record of east coast lows along the NSW coast
  • Beach morphodynamics at Bengello Beach - continuing a 50-year monitoring program with new technologies
  • Luminescence dating of Australian coastal sediments - a review and contribution to the OCTOPUS database in collaboration with CABAH at UOW.
  • Understanding the sediments of the shallow sea bed and the character of drowned landforms
  • Quantifying the contribution of river sediments to the coast in southern NSW.
  • Barrier washover in the sedimentary record and on historical timescales


Honours project topics:

  • Historical washover events at Brou Beach barrier - stratigraphy and sedimentology
  • Sediments of the lower Moruya River - do they reach the coast?
  • Merimbula barrier washover plain, morphology, age and stratigraphy 


Recent Media:

Follow me on Twitter: @dr_tom_oliver

My Grants

Local Government Contract, Bega Valley Shire Council - Understanding sediment movements within the lower Bega River estuary

Research Infrastructure Scheme: Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments for environmental geospatial research

My Research Activities

I have made numerous independent contributions to research that have had a significant impact in my field of expertise. My research track record has been recognised nationally and internationally through contributions to Holocene coastal evolution of sandy barrier systems. I have spoken in sessions specific to my discipline at major international conferences. My research applying OSL dating to coastal sediments has been especially influential given the academic prominence of several study sites such as Moruya, Cowley Beach and East Gippsland. I have collaborated with others in revisiting these and other sites with new techniques and revised the interpretation of shoreline history and coastal evolution.

One of these key sites, Moruya, has the longest continuous beach-monitoring program in Australia and was intensely studied in the late 1970;s and early 1980’s forming the basis of important models of coastal barrier deposition by eminent researchers in coastal geomorphology in Australia such as Prof. Bruce Thom and Peter Roy. More broadly, my work using OSL dating to understand the deposition of the coastal barriers of southeastern Australia (NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia) has greatly expanded and enhanced our knowledge of the deposition of sandy coastal barriers over the mid- to late- Holocene (past ~7000 years).

I am beginning the process of taking over the monthly beach surveying from Prof. Roger McLean to continue to extend this exceptionally long running dataset of beach change into the future. First started in 1972 with Prof. Bruce Thom, this is a historic and globally significant dataset. It is a privilege to be involved in continuing this initiative and the furthering a dataset which is already one of the best records of coastal erosion and recovery in the world.

In my discipline of coastal geomorphology/geology, I have been at the forefront of pushing the application of several relatively new methods for coastal systems in Australia. One example is my collaboration with Dr Toru Tamura, which has demonstrated how OSL dating combined with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) can be used to reveal the recent (past few centuries) pattern of storm erosion and recovery. This highly innovative approach to dating younger coastal sediments is an important contribution to understanding contemporary shoreline behaviour.

My published works have also featured the use of airborne LiDAR as a means of visualising and understanding the 3D surface of coastal foredune ridges. During my PhD, post-doctoral research and during my appointment at UNSW Canberra, I have been at the cutting edge of utilising this important remotely sensed data. In numerous publications I have showcased these datasets and developed reliable digital elevation models (DEMs) which capture the ‘bare earth’ allowing unprecedented insights into coastal dune morphology, especially at locations blanketed by thick vegetation.

I have been privilaged to collaborate with A. Prof. Randolph McBride through an extensive field-data collection campaign while at the Univeristy of Wollongong in 2016. The main outcome of this work was an important contribution to the highly-ranked journal Sedimentology published in 2021. I have continued to collaborate with Randolph on a significant book chapter which was published in 2022 "Morphodynamics of Modern and Ancient Barrier Systems: An Updated and Expanded Synthesis".