Degree completed in 2020.

Oceanic assembleges: conceputalising El Nino Southern Oscillation as a more than human oceanography


Twitter: Vanessa Burns @ClimateColumn

Academic Profile

Vanessa Burns is a DPhil Candidate at the Department of Geography and the Environment, and a member of the Technological Natures: Materials, Cities, Politics research cluster. Current research interests include environmental and political geography: especially climate change adaptation, ocean governance, and environmental law.Vanessa has an Honours Degree in Communications (2009) from the University of Technology Sydney. She also holds a Masters Degree in Communications from the University of New South Wales (2012). Vanessa has a professional background as an ethnographer, writer and researcher on a number of environmental history and heritage projects in Australia.


  • 2013 - Norman Ellis Award £600 for academic travel (Jesus College, Oxford)
  • 2013 - Jesus College Graduate Research Award £700 (Jesus College, Oxford)
  • 2012 - Charles Green Award £400 for fieldwork (Jesus College, Oxford)
  • 2010 - External Research Award $5,000 AUD, (University of New South Wales)
  • 2009 - Australian Postgraduate Award $75,000 AUD over three years (Australian Federal Government)
  • 2009 - University Medal: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (University of Technology Sydney)
  • 2009 - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award highest mark attained across the faculty in the final year (University of Technology Sydney)
  • 2008 - First Class Honours - Bachelor of Arts (University of Technology Sydney)

Current Research

Vanessa's research investigates ocean epistemologies in the Pacific region, as they are represented in three disciplines: ocean science, climate adaptation governance, and local and traditional knowledge. More precisely, ethnographic and discourse analytic research investigates how the Pacific climate system of El Niño Southern Oscillation is conceived and represented in marine biogeographies, ecosystem based adaptation approaches, and the adaptive practices of coastal communities in the Coral Triangle Region. The research is interested in how the relational materialities of climate systems connect oceanic and terrestrial environments. On this basis, the research argues for adaptive approaches to reconceptualise the scale of ecosystems to include the open-ocean and deep sea. A comparative study investigates how oceanic environments are delineated, and the challenges they pose to conventional modes of territorialisation. A final analysis considers what the implications are for regional climate adaptation governance.