About Associate Professor Gavin Birch

The major aim of an environmental research scientist is to provide support to management for the long-term sustainable use of highly valued natural assets. This project will provide that support for one of the most beautiful harbour in the world and one that is under considerable and sustained stress.

Professor Gavin Birch’s interests are in the source, fate and effects of contaminants in marine, estuarine and fluvial environments.

A/Professor Gavin Birch received B.Sc(Hons), M.Sc and Ph.D degrees from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration. He worked for five years at University of Cape Town researching early diagenetic processes in marine sediments and sediment dynamics of continental shelves. Gavin moved into industry for a further eleven years, working for Esso/Exxon Corporation in Australia, USA and in other parts of the world. In 1991 he returned to academia and initiated Environmental Geology at Sydney  University. His recent interests are in the source, fate and effects of contaminants in marine, estuarine and fluvial environments. This work is unusual as it involves the generation of contaminants in the catchment, transport and deposition of toxic chemicals in the estuary and export of these substances to the offshore marine environment. This holistic approach to understanding ‘source-sink’ contaminant systems has lead to some exciting discoveries, such as a new understanding of contaminant generation and remediation in the catchment, novel environmental indicators and tools for assessing biological damage in the estuary and a unique theory for the fate of particle-bound chemicals in the offshore, open marine regions.

This research has lead Gavin to have an unusually wide range of interests within environmental science and to collaborate extensively nationally and internationally. His major areas of interest are:

  • Development of new methodological techniques in environmental chemistry,
  • Assessment of impact of marine waste disposal,
  • Determining estuarine processes and developing a contaminant model for complex mixed/stratified estuaries,
  • Constructing models to quantify sediment toxicity,
  • Providing remedial options for effective stormwater management, recycling and water harvesting,
  • Developing new approaches to environmental and ecological assessment and establishing a regional contaminant framework for New South Wales.

Selected publications

  • Birch, G. F., McCready, S., Long, E, R., Taylor, S. E. and Spyrakis, G. 2008.  Contaminant chemistry and toxicity of sediments in Sydney Harbour, Australia: spatial extent and chemistry-toxicity relationships. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 363, 71-87.
  • McCready, S., Birch, G. F., Long, E. L., Spyrakis, G., and Greely, C. R., 2006. Predictive abilities of numerical sediment quality guidelines for Sydney Harbour, Australia and vicinity. Environment International, 32, 638-649.
  • Golding, C., Smernik, R. J. and Birch, G. F., 2005. Investigation of the role structural domains identified in sedimentary organic mater in the sorption of hydrophobic organic compounds. Environmental Science and Technology, 39, 3925-3932.
  • Birch, G. F. and Taylor, S. E., 2002. Possible biological significance of contaminated sediments in Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 77, 179-190.
  • Birch, G, F, Taylor, S. E. and Matthai, C., 2001. Small-scale spatial and temporal variance in the concentration of heavy metals in aquatic sediments: A review and some new concepts. Environmental Pollution, 113, 357-372.
  • Birch, G. F., 2000. Marine pollution in Australia, with special emphasis on central New South Wales estuaries and adjacent continental margin. International Journal of Environmental Pollution, 13, 1-6, 411-423.
  • Matthai, C. and Birch, G. F., 2000. Effects of coastal cities on surficial sediments mantling an adjacent high energy continental margin – Central New South Wales, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research, 51, 565-576
  • Barry, S. C., Taylor, S. E. and Birch, G. F., 2001. Heavy metal supply to the Port Jackson Estuary, Australia by stormwater. Australian Journal of Water Resources, 4/2, 147-154
  • Birch, G. F., Thomson, J., McArthur, J. M. and Burnett, W.C., 1983. Pleistocene phosphorites off the west coast of South Africa. Nature, 302, 601-603.
  • Birch, G. F., 1980.  A model of penecontemporaneous phosphatization by diagenetic and authigenic mechanisms from the western margin of South Africa. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology., Special SEPM  Publ.,  No., 29:  79-100.
  • Summerhayes, C. P., Birch, G. F., Rogers, J. and Dingle, R. V. 1973.  Phosphate in sediments off the west coast of southwestern Africa.  Nature, 243, 509-511.