School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Gerald NansonGerald Nanson


Position:  Emeritus Professor


Professional Profile

Gerald Nanson completed his BSc (hons) at Otago University (1970), his MSc at the University of Alberta (1972) and his PhD at Simon Fraser University (1977). He was appointed to the University of Wollongong in 1977 where he has chaired the Faculty of Social Sciences, co-founded the environmental science degree, chaired the Department of Geography, established the luminescence dating laboratory and facilitated the merger of the Departments of Geography and Geology into a School of Geosciences. In 1982 he facilitated the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Geomorphology Group (ANZGG), the professional body in Australasia. He has held distinguished visiting-residential positions at a range of universities internationally and has for a number of years been a Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. His distinctions include the Farouk El Baz Award from the Geological Society of America for excellence in Desert research, the Distinguished Geomorphologists Medal from the Australian and New Zealand Geomorphology Group 2012 and the Linton Medal from the Institute of British Geomorphology in recognition of his outstanding to geomorphological research and scholarship.   

Research Interests

Over 40 years Gerald has conducted his research across a wide range of areas of geomorphology, hydrology and Quaternary science including the study of bedload transport in mountain streams, developing statistical and quantitatively-rational models of channel migration on meandering rivers, detailing the formation and sedimentology of river floodplains, explaining the formation and behaviour of anabranching rivers (a previously poorly studied type), describing the hydrology and geomorphology of desert rivers, examining and dating the formation and migration of desert dunefields, and  detailing the interactive geomorphology, palaeohydrology and Quaternary history of Australia’s rivers and lake systems, especially in the arid zone. In addition to his academic work he has undertaken numerous studies of applied river management. In the past 15 years he has shifted focus from largely empirical to strongly theoretical research by developing (with colleague He Qing Huang) a fully-rational model based on the least action principle to show that alluvial rivers exhibit maximum flow efficiency and are attracted towards the stable stationary equilibrium state. His work is now widely reported in textbooks and encyclopaedias. 

Additional Research Information 

Current Projects 
  • Why do rivers anabranch? (ARC Discovery Project DP130104023)
  • A philosophy of alluvial river self-adjustment. Channel evolution and least action principle.
  • How green were our deserts? A study of climate and hydrological change in central Australia over the past 100,000 years (ARC Discovery Project DP1096911)  

Representative Publications

Searchable Publication List 

  • Hickin, E.J., and Nanson, G.C., (1975). The character of channel migration on the Beatton River, N.E. British Columbia, Canada. Geological Society America Bulletin 86: 487-494.  
  • Nanson, G.C., (1980). Point bar and floodplain formation of the meandering Beatton River, N.E. British Columbia, Canada. Sedimentology 27: 3-29.
  • Nanson G.C. and E.J. Hickin (1986) A statistical analysis of river-bend migration in western Canada. Geological Society American Bulletin 97: 497-504.
  • Nanson G.C. and B.R. Rust and G. Taylor (1986) Coexistent mud braids and anastomosing channels in arid-zone river: Cooper Creek, Central Australia.  Geology 14: 175-178.
  • Nanson, G.C., (1986). Episodes of vertical accretion and catastrophic stripping: a model of disequilibrium floodplain development. Geological Society of America Bulletin 97: 1467-1475.
  • Nanson, G.C., and Croke, J.C., (1992). A genetic classification of floodplains. Geomorphology 4: 459-486.
  • Knighton, A.D., and Nanson, G.C., (1993). Anastomosis and the continuum of channel pattern. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 18, 613-625.
  • Nanson, G.C., and Knighton, A.D., (1996). Anabranching rivers; their cause, character and classification. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 21: 217-239.
  • Huang, H.Q. and Nanson, G.C.  (2000)  Hydraulic geometry and maximum flow efficiency as products of the principle of least action.  Earth Surface Process and Landforms 25: 1-16.
  • Nanson G.C and Huang, H.Q. (2008). Least action principle, equilibrium states, iterative adjustment and the stability of alluvial channels. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 33: 923-942.