The RV D Hill, pictured at Heron Island at high tide (top) and low tide (above), is only moored on bare sand or reef rock.

The purpose-built Research Vessel D Hill (RV D Hill) allows us to collect and analyse shallow core samples from dead reef rock in the southern Great Barrier Reef.

By analysing the geochemistry of the coral skeletons and other materials in the samples, we can improve our understanding of how the ecology and geology of the reef system has responded to historical environmental changes over the past several thousand years. In turn, we can then predict how the reef might respond to future environmental change.

Predicting how the reef will respond to future changes in sea levels, climate and water quality is crucial if we are to effectively manage this valuable system.

Safety and impact

Based at our Heron Island Research Station, the RV D Hill comprises a barge and separate drilling platform that allows recovery of rotary cores to a depth of 30 metres below the reef flat of modern coral reefs, while avoiding significant environmental damage.

To minimise damage to the reef environment:

  • the platform is only moored on bare sand or bare reef rock, having no impact on live corals in the area
  • coring is only in dead reef rock and holes are capped after the cores are extracted
  • appropriate safety measures are used to limit any pollution being released from the vessel
  • the drilling platform is only used for 12 days in each location.

World authority

The vessel is named after the late Professor Dorothy Hill (1907-1998), a UQ geologist, palaeontologist and world authority on coral reefs. She was UQ's first female professor and was instrumental in establishing what is now our Heron Island Research Station. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Australian Academy of Science and to its presidency.

Adjunct Professor Trevor Graham designed the unique vessel and coring platform.

Professor Graham is CEO and Principal Scientist of Geocoastal Group, one of Queensland's leading coastal environmental consulting firms. The RV D Hill project was funded by start-up funds in the Dorothy Hill Chair Package, as well as philanthropy from both Professor Graham and the Geocoastal Group.

Also instrumental in the project were Professor Gregory Webb, Dorothy Hill Chair of Palaeontology and Stratigraphy and Head of the Integrated Palaeoenvironmental Research Group (IPRG), and collaborators from a number of Queensland companies.

RV D Hill was commissioned and successfully deployed in late 2014 by the IPRG. It was deployed for a second time in late 2015.

For more information about the RV D Hill, read how our researchers and international collaborators use it to predict the reef's future.

Related links

Equipment and facilities