School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering

Environmental Hydrology and Hydrogeology

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Winthrop Professor Keith Smettem

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Environmental Hydrology and Hydrogeology Group.

The work of Professor Smettem focuses on processes of land degradation and management, with an emphasis on understanding water and chemical transport in landscapes and the impact of landuse change on ecological functioning.

Specific projects include:

  • identifying the impact of new perennial vegetation systems on dryland salinity management
  • investigating uncertainties in prediction of recharge to surficial aquifers
  • spatial modeling of the soil water balance under perennial vegetation systems, measurement and modeling of riparian zone processes
  • development of methods for in situ measurement of physical parameters.

Our current projects include:

  • Development and application of high-resolution spatial diagnostic tools to aid in deployment of perennial systems at catchment scale.
  • Development of reactive wireless sensor systems for environmental monitoring (joint with Professor Rachel Cardell-Oliver of CSSE).
  • Spatial patterns of infiltration, recharge and water use under native vegetation on a surficial aquifer (with Associate Professor Ray Froend, Edith Cowan University).

Our planned projects include modeling constructed wetland performance, investigating controls on the variability of catchment runoff response, and the role of soft information for reducing uncertainty in estimates of run-off from ungauged catchments.

  1. Hydrologic applications of infiltration theory
  2. Agricultural hydrology
  3. Eco-hydrology

Hydrologic applications of infiltration theory


The intake and movement of water at the earth/air interface is of central concern to hydrologists and soil physicists. We retain an active interest in both measurement and estimation of infiltration behaviour, particularly in structured media.

Current research is involved with refinement of instruments to measure infiltration parameters.

Relevant publications

  1. Smettem, K.R.J. (2009). The relation between runoff generation and temporal stability of soil macropores in a fine sandy loam. Biologia 64: 470-473.
  2. Smettem, K.R.J.Field measurement of infiltration parameters, In 'Infiltration Theory for Hydrologic Applications'. Water Resources Monograph 15, : R.E. Smith (ed.) Amer. Geophys. Union. Washington DC, 212pp, Ch 8: 135-157, 2002.
  3. Smettem, K.R.J.Field measurement of infiltration parameters, In Infiltration Theory for Hydrologic Applications. Water Resources Monograph Series Vol. 15. Roger E. Smith with K.RJ. Smettem, P. Broadbridge and D.A. Woolhiser (Editors), 8: 135-157, 2002.
  4. Ross, PJ. and Smettem, K.R.J.A simple treatment of physical nonequilibrium water flow in soils, Soil Science Society of America Journal, 64(6): 1926-1930, 2000.
  5. Smettem, K.R.J., Ross, P.J., Haverkamp, R., Parlange, J-Y. and Gregory, P.J.Laboratory and field application of a twin disc infiltrometer, In: Simmers, J. and Dillon, P.J. (eds) 'Shallow groundwater systems' Springer Verlag. Rotterdam, 41-51, 1998.
  6. Smettem, K.R.J., Ross, P.J., Haverkamp, R. and Parlange, J.Y.Three-dimensional analysis of infiltration from the disk infiltrometer. 3. Parameter estimation using a double-disk tension infiltrometer, Water Resources Research, 31: 2491-2496, 1995.

Agricultural Ecohydrology


This research theme focuses on the development of sustainable agricultural systems in a holistic context, including the role of beneficial and deleterious soil organisms, soil structure decline and catchment response to land use change.

Current and future research is focusing on analysing the impact of re-introducing perennial systems into the agricultural landscape and assessing how catchments respond to land use change.

Research projects
  • Decision support tools for managing hydrological threats to biodiversity assets – Lake Bryde.
  • Stage 1 Variability of infiltration under banksia woodland on Gnangara Mound.

Relevant publications

  1. Oliver, Y.M. and Smettem, K.R.J.Predicting water balance in a sandy soil: model sensitivity to the variability of measured saturated and near saturated hydraulic properties, Australian Journal of Soil Research, 43: 87-96, 2005, ED 1821.
  2. Bari, M.A. and Smettem, K.R.J. Development of a salt and water balance model for a large partially cleared catchment, Australian Journal of Water Resources, 7(2): 93-99, 2003, ED 1882.
  3. Oliver, Y.M. and Smettem, K.R.J.Parameterisation of physically based soluted transport models in sandy soils, Australian Journal of Soil Research, 41: 771-788, 2003, ED 1774.
  4. Gill, J.S., Sivasithamparam, K. and Smettem, K.R.J.Size of bare-patches in wheat caused by Rhizoctonia solani AG-8 is determined by the established mycelial network at sowing, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 34(6): 889-893, 2002.
  5. Gill, J.S., Sivasithamparam, K. and Smettem, K.R.J.Size of bare-patches in wheat caused by Rhizoctonia solani AG-8 is determined by the established mycelial network at sowing, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 34(6): 889-893, 2002.
  6. Harper, R.J., Mauger, G., Robinson, N., McGrath, J.F., Smettem, K.R.J., Bartle, J.R., and George, R.J.Manipulating catchment water balance using plantation and farm forestry: Case studies from South-Western Australia, Proceedings of a national workshop, 20-21 July 2000. In Sadanandan, E.K., Nambiar and Brown, A.G. (eds). Plantations, Farm Forestry and Water, 44-50, 2001.



This research seeks to quantify the role of vegetation in hydrological processes. Future work is directed towards improved quantification of root water uptake in perennial systems.

Research projects

  •   Perth Groundwater Model.

Relevant publications

  1. Horsnell, T.K., Smettem, K.R.J., Reynolds, D.A., and Mattiske, E.M. (2009). Composition and relative health of remnant vegetation fringing lakes along a salinity and waterlogging gradient. Wetland Ecology and Management.  17; 489-502.
  2. Harper, R.J., Smettem, K.R.J., Carter, J.O., and Mc Grath, J.F. (2009). Drought deaths in Eucalyptus globulus (Labill.) plantations in relation to soils, geomorphology and climate. Plant and Soil. 324; 199-207.
  3. Harper, R.J., Smettem, K.R.J., Sochaki, S. And Robinson, N. (2010). Producing bioenergy feedstocks in a dryland environment using short rotation woody crops. Energy and Fuels. 24; 225-231.
  4. Chen, X, Cheng, Q, Chen, Y.D., Smettem, K.R.J. and Yu, C-Y. (2010) Simulating the integrated effects of topography and soil properties on runoff generation in hilly forested catchments, South China. Hydrol. Processes 24; 714-725.
  5. Noorduijn, S.L., Ghadouani, A., Vogwill, R., Smettem, K.R.J, and Legendre, P. (2010). Response of the watertable to an experimental alley farming trial: dissecting the spatial and temporal structure of the data. Ecological Engineering 20(6): 1704-1720.
  6. Sochacki, S., Harper, R.J., and Smettem, K.R.J. (2011) Bio-mitigation of carbon following afforestation of abandoned salinized farmland. Global Change Biology Bioenergy  doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2011.01139.x
  7. Wei, X., Sun, G., Vose, J.M., Otsuki, K., and Smettem, K.R.J. (2011). Forest ecohydrological processes in a changing environment. Ecohydrology 4: 143-145.
  8. Townsend, P.V., Harper, R.J., Brennan, P.D., Dean, C., Wu, S., Smettem, K.R.J., and Cook, S. (2012) Assessment of multiple environmental services as an opportunity for watershed restoration in south-western Australia. Forest Policy and Economics 17: 45-58.
  9. Smettem, K.R.J.Deep drainage and nitrate losses under native vegetation and agricultural systems in the mediterranean climate region of Australia, Land and Water R & D Corporation Occasional Paper Series. RAPPS02/98 LWRRDC, Canberra, 43pp., 1998.


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