Professor Patrick D. Nunn

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Professor Patrick D. Nunn


Research areas

  • climate and sea-level change
  • human–environment interactions — past, present, future
  • community governance and responses to environmental risk
  • geomythology and the role of cultural knowledge in adaptation and disaster-risk reduction
  • perceptions of environmental threats
  • geography, Quaternary geology, geoarchaeology
  • islands and coral reefs
  • Asia–Pacific

After his BSc in Geography and Geology from the University of London King’s College, Patrick went on to undertake a PhD on Quaternary landscape evolution at University College London. After completing this and holding various short-term appointments in UK universities, Patrick was appointed to a Lectureship in Geography at the University of the South Pacific, an international university serving 12 Pacific Island nations, based at its main teaching campus in Suva, Fiji. Thinking he would complete his three-year contract there before returning to the UK, Patrick in fact spent 25 years there, being appointed to a Personal Chair (Professor of Oceanic Geoscience) in 1997 and then in 2009 becoming Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and International). Patrick left the University of the South Pacific in 2010 to become Head of the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at the University of New England, a position he held until joining the University of the Sunshine Coast as Professor of Geography in March 2014.

Patrick’s main research interests for the past 30 years have focused on the Pacific Basin and, as befits a true geographer, have been in a number of distinct areas. His early work on the Quaternary geology and tectonics of many islands and island groups in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu still represents the latest word on many of these issues today. In response to an invitation from the Fiji Museum, he began a collaboration that lasted more than a decade and involved Patrick directing a number of excavations in Fiji, notably the seven-year programme along the Rove Peninsula in southwest Viti Levu Island that involved the discovery of what is still likely to be Fiji’s first settlement at Bourewa. Firmly believing in the importance of community awareness, Patrick has ensured that the results of his research has been returned to the people of the land in ways that they can understand its nature and importance, something helped in the case of Fiji by his fluency in the Fijian language and his familiarity with cultural protocols.

Climate change has also been a long-term research interest of Patrick’s, focused initially on the Pacific Islands region but now more generally situated in poorer countries (the 'developing' world) and the Asia–Pacific region. Sea-level change has been another focus of this research and Patrick was a Lead Author on the most recent IPCC Report (AR5, 2014) on the chapter on 'Sea Level Change' (available at For the last few years, inspired by the manifest disconnect between donor intent, community support and adaptive action in the Pacific Islands, Patrick has started to research the processes of environmental governance in rural/peripheral areas of the Asia–Pacific region with particular emphasis on understanding what needs to happen to ensure that adaptation strategies are both effective and sustainable. A side interest is in oral traditions, particularly those that allude to or may encode memories of extreme events (such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, abrupt land submergence), and the ways that these might be used to improve adaptive strategies to future climate-driven environmental change.

Patrick regularly lectures in the following courses:

  • ENP236 Regions, Change and Sustainability
  • ENP245 Landscapes, Place and People
  • GEO100 Changing Planet Earth
  • GEO340 Historical Geographies
  • GEO390 Advanced Geographical Studies
  • HIS210 Explorations in Environmental History
  • HIS230 Talking History: Memory and the Past
  • INT250 Forces of Change in International Politics

You can also visit Patrick at:

* This is an external website and the University of the Sunshine Coast is not responsible for the content.

Professional memberships

  • Institute of Australian Geographers


  • Best paper of 2016 in Australian Geographer, awarded December 2016 by Geographical Society of New South Wales
  • Shared award of Nobel Peace Prize given to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007
  • Herbert E. Gregory Medal of the Pacific Science Association, awarded only once every five years for the distinguished service to science in the Pacific. Awarded at the 20th Pacific Science Congress, Bangkok, Thailand, 2003
  • Pacific Islands team leader, International Study Team for Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise, Grand Prix (First Prize), Seventh Nikkei Global Environmental Technology Award, 1997


In addition to numerous peer-reviewed publications, Professor Nunn is the author of several books including:

  • Oceanic Islands (1994, Blackwell)
  • Pacific Island Landscapes (1998, Institute of Pacific Studies)
  • Environmental Change in the Pacific Basin (1999, Wiley)
  • Climate, Environment and Society in the Pacific during the Last Millennium (2007, Elsevier)
  • Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific (2009, University of Hawaii Press)

Professor Nunn is also the senior author of the most viewed paper in the 116-year history of the prestigious journal Australian Geographer. The paper was published in September 2015 and describes Australian Aboriginal memories of coastal drowning. According to an editorial in the first issue of the journal for 2016, the paper was downloaded more than 14,000 times in its first six weeks online and as of January 2017 has been viewed more than 23,800 times.

Featured publications
  • Dean, A.F., Green, D. and Nunn, P.D. 2017. Too much sail for a small craft? Donor requirements, scale, and capacity discourses in Kiribati. In Strateford, E. (ed.), Island Geographies: Essays and Conversations. New York: Routledge, 67–88.
  • Goff, J. and Nunn, P.D. 2016. Rapid societal change as a proxy for regional environmental forcing: Evidence and explanations for Pacific Island societies in the 14–15th centuries. Island Arc, 25, 305–315. DOI:10.1111/iar.12117.
  • Hine, D.W., Phillips, W.P., Cooksey, R., Reser, J., Nunn, P.D., Marks A.D.G., Loi, No. and Watt, S. 2016. Preaching to different choirs: how to engage audiences that are dismissive, uncommitted and alarmed about climate change. Global Environmental Change. DOI:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.11.002.
  • Janif, S., Nunn, P.D., Geraghty, P., Aalbersberg, W., Thomas, F.R. and Camailakeba, M. 2016. Value of traditional oral narratives in building climate-change resilience: insights from rural communities in Fiji. Ecology and Society, 21(2): 7. DOI: 10.5751/ES-08100-210207.
  • Nunn, P.D. 2016. Australian Aboriginal traditions about coastal change reconciled with postglacial sea-level history: a first synthesis. Environment and History, 22(3): 393-420. DOI: 10.3197/096734016X14661540219311.
  • Nunn, P.D. 2017. Coastal settings. In Gilbert, A. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer, 145–156.
  • Nunn, P.D., Kumar, L., Eliot, I. and McLean, R.F. 2016. Classifying Pacific islands. Geoscience Letters, 3(1), 1-19. DOI:10.1186/s40562-016-0041-8.
  • Nunn, P.D., Runman, J., Falanruw, M. and Kumar, R. 2016. Culturally grounded responses to coastal change on islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, northwest Pacific Ocean. Regional Environmental Change. DOI:10.1007/s10113-016-0950-2
  • Nunn, P.D., Mulgrew, K., Scott-Parker, B., Hine, D.W., Marks, A.D.G., Mahar, D. and Maebuta, J. 2016. Spirituality and attitudes towards Nature in the Pacific Islands: insights for enabling climate-change adaptation. Climatic Change, 136(3), 477-493. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1646-9.
  • Scott-Parker, B., Nunn, P.D., Mulgrew, K., Hine, D., Marks, A., Mahar, D. and Tiko, L. 2016. Pacific Islanders’ understanding of climate change: where do they source information and to what extent do they trust it?  Regional Environmental Change. DOI:10.1007/s10113-016-1001-8.
  • Xue, W., Hine, D.W., Marks, A.D.G., Phillips, W.J., Nunn, P.D. and Zhao, S. 2016. Combining threat and efficacy messaging to increase public engagement with climate change in Beijing, China. Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584.

In addition, Patrick has recently produced a number of popular articles, including:

Current PhD students

  • Annika Dean (Climate change adaptation in the Pacific: Lessons from Fast Start Finance). PhD awarded 2016
  • Aaron Driver (Climate change communication)
  • John Grogan (Defining and actualising 'migration with dignity' for I-Kiribati)
  • Jack Koci (Hydrogeomorphic processes controlling gully erosion and their effect on sediment and nutrient dynamics in grazed tropical savannas of northern Australia)
  • Shalini Lata (Perceptions of climate risk in Fiji and its implications for future adaptation)
  • David Moffitt (Application of remote sensing to the assessment of coastal susceptibility of Pacific Islands and the protection afforded by natural geographical features)
  • Madeleine Page (Knowledge for climate-change adaptation in remote Queensland communities)
  • Jasmine Pearson (Understanding Pacific Islander knowledge and attitudes towards changes in mangrove ecosystems and associated coastal resources)
  • Annah Piggott-McKellar (Improving the efficacy of climate-change interventions in the Pacific)
  • Preetika Singh (Evaluating future scenarios for Pacific Island countries)
  • Janet Turley (Food and nutritional security in Pacific Island countries)
  • Xue Wen (Roles of world views, affect and reason in determining risk perceptions and adaptive responses to global climate change). PhD awarded 2016

Potential research projects for HDR and Honours students

  • Understanding people's attitudes towards environmental risk (including climate change)
  • Threats to traditional livelihoods in the Pacific Island countries
  • Interpreting Aboriginal and other culturally-embedded myths about environmental change
  • Effects of sea-level change on coastal landscapes and human systems
  • Traditional coping with environmental risk and natural disasters
  • Human–environment interactions, particularly in poorer Asia–Pacific countries

Research grants

Project name        Investigators Funding body    Year Focus
Risk and resilience in the Pacific:  influence of peripherality on exposure and responses to global change Nunn Asia–Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN)A$196,000 2016–2019 Understanding community diversity along core-periphery gradients in archipelagic countries
USP–USC Twinning Scheme Nunn Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) A$600,000 2016–2020 Cooperating with the University of the South Pacific to improve outcomes for students researching in agriculture, fisheries and forestry
Optimising community-based climate change adaptation in the Pacific Islands McNamara, Nunn, Watson Australian Research Council (ARC) A$180,000 2016–2019 Helping Pacific coastal communities respond appropriately to climate change
Enhancing climate change communication: strategies for profiling and targeting Australian interpretive communities Hine, Reser, Nunn, National Climate Change Adaptation Facility (NCCARF) $79,964 2011–2013  
Geoarchaeology of Lapita-era settlements, Rove Peninsula, Fiji Nunn Various $248,000 2004–2009 Reconstructing paleoenvironments  
Global change affects oceanic islands Nunn Vetlesen Foundation $187,000 2008–2011 Effects of global change in island livelihoods in Fiji and Samoa
Integrated methods and models for assessing coastal vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Pacific Island countries Nunn, Koshy Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change (AIACC), START- International grant $240,000 2001–2004  
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