The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (ERISS) within the Supervising Scientist Branch (SSB) provides specialist technical advice to the Supervising Scientist on the protection of the environment and people of the Alligator Rivers Region (ARR) from the effects of uranium mining. The primary function of ERISS is to conduct research into developing standards and leading practice methodologies for monitoring and assessing the environmental impact of uranium mining in the ARR. The research spans the operational, decommissioning and post-rehabilitation phases of mining.
Areas of expertise
Our environmental research programs are managed by leading senior research scientists, at the forefront of their fields. Our areas of expertise include radioecology, aquatic ecology, ecotoxicology, ecological risk assessment, ecosystem restoration, geomorphology and spatial sciences.
Body of work
Our programs of environmental research are designed to:
- Develop monitoring tools and standards identifying, detecting and assessing the potential impacts of uranium mining on the environment and the public,
- Provide scientific evidence and advice to inform and improve minesite rehabilitation,
- Improve understanding of the environment to mitigate against any potential and significant risks associated with uranium mining.
Outcomes of our research program inform our supervisory activities, the regulatory processes of the Northern Territory Government, and the environmental performance of uranium mines throughout the region. Our research also informs the wider scientific community, evident in the broader uptake of monitoring tools and standards developed by our staff.
The ERISS research program has traditionally focused on detecting and assessing any environmental impacts associated with the operational phase of uranium mining. However, more recently the focus has shifted to Ranger minesite rehabilitation.
Our research programs
Floodplain in Kakadu National Park, NT
Water and Sediment Quality
The Water and Sediment Quality (WASQ) program undertakes monitoring and research that focus on the protection of aquatic ecosystems from mine-derived contaminants. The responses of local organisms to selected contaminants of potential concern are assessed using laboratory (ecotoxicology) and field based (bio-assessment) observations. The team also develops and implements biological monitoring techniques to assess potential impacts from the mine and verify ecotoxicology predictions. The collective knowledge is used to establish site-specific water and sediment quality guideline values for the protection of the environment during mining operations and also to derive rehabilitation standards for mine close out.
Ecosystem Restoration and Landform
Ecosystem Restoration and Landform research is conducted under two sub-programs that focus mainly on minesite rehabilitation. Expertise is available in terrestrial ecosystems (particularly revegetation), restoration of ecosystem processes, faunal recolonisation and stability of rehabilitated mine sites. The landscape and ecology sub-program develops and applies techniques to measure and monitor biophysical attributes of the landscape, including revegetation success after minesite rehabilitation. Data are captured using a range of technologies such as satellite imagery, aerial and aquatic drones and in situ sensors, together with field based methods and the analysis of historical information. The hydrological and geomorphic sub-program undertakes research on erosion and sediment transport, together with landform modelling, to ensure the long-term (up to 10,000 years) geomorphic stability of rehabilitated mine landforms.
Sample preparation in laboratory
Research and assessments performed in the Radiation program provide assurance that people and the environment of the ARR are protected from any radiological impacts associated with uranium mining operations and site rehabilitation. A focus over many years has been radioactivity monitoring of Aboriginal bush foods to ensure they remain safe to eat. Atmospheric monitoring for radon and radioactivity in dust has also been conducted. The team’s capability for radioactivity measurements in bush foods and other environmental samples includes radiochemistry and alpha and gamma spectrometry, with many of the laboratory measurement methods developed in-house. Proficiency with world’s best practice standards and radiation dose assessment methodologies is maintained through participation in technical programs coordinated by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The research we undertake is reviewed biannually by the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC), an independent scientific advisory panel. ARRTC examine the scientific basis for assessing mining operations and site rehabilitation, and report directly to the Minister for the Environment. Additionally our research findings are regularly published as reports or in peer reviewed scientific journals.