geology

Come along to hear the Fresh Scientists of 2010 talk about their discoveries at one of our public events.

You will be able to hear them at the following venues:

  • Monday 7 June, 7pm at the Duke of Kent for Fresh Science at the pub.
  • Thursday 10 June 11-12 or 12:30-1:30 at the Melbourne Museum at the free school forums.

For more information on these events, visit our events page.

We are pleased to announce the Fresh Scientists of 2010:

  • Peter Domachuk, School of Physics, University of Sydney
  • Naomi McSweeney, School of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Western Australia
  • Andrew Dowdy, Bureau of Meteorology
  • Julien Ridoux, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, The University of Melbourne
  • Bridget Murphy, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney
  • Dave Ackland, Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Melbourne
  • Colin Scholes, CRC for Greenhouse Gas Technologies
  • Bianca van Lierop, School of Chemistry, Monash University
  • Jason Du, CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment
  • David Floyd, Anglo-Australian Observatory /The University of Melbourne
  • Nasrin Ghouchi Eskandar, Ian Wark Research Institute, University of South Australia
  • Rylie Green, Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, University of New South Wales
  • Jennifer Firn, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
  • Natalia Galin, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Science, University of Tasmania
  • Andrew Ward, South Australian Research and Development Institute
  • Jacek Jasieniak, CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies

More information on the 2010 Fresh Scientists will be available in the coming weeks.

Bore hole through ice. Credit: Mike Craven Australian Antarctic Division (AAD)Researchers at Geoscience Australia have unravelled the development of a unique seafloor community thriving in complete darkness below the giant ice sheets of Antarctica.

The community beneath the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica is 100 km from open water and hidden from view by ice half a kilometre thick. This ecosystem has developed very slowly over the past 9000 years, since the end of the last glaciation.

Today it is home to animals such as sponges and bryozoans fed by plankton carried in on the current. [click to continue…]

Lava flows in Australia. Credit: Fred Jourdan courtesy of L Evins, formerly at University of Western Australia.

Lava flows in Australia. Credit: Fred Jourdan courtesy of L Evins, formerly at University of Western Australia.

A Curtin University researcher has shown that some ancient periods of massive eruptions released green house gases so quickly that they caused rapid climate change and mass extinctions.

But today we are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than even the most rapid sequence of eruptions.

“We have carefully dated minerals contained in the volcanic rocks and shown that only the fastest sequences of eruptions caused significant species extinctions,” says Dr Fred Jourdan who works as part of an international team.

[click to continue…]

Using microscopic streams of liquid to separate valuable metals from dissolved rock could revolutionise mineral processing, according to researchers at the University of South Australia.

The researchers already have shown the technique can be used to extract copper quickly and efficiently. They believe the process can be scaled up to industrial levels and used for recovering many other minerals such as nickel, uranium, gold and platinum. [click to continue…]

Surfing in Alice Springs

16 August 2006

in 2006

(before NT and SA collided two billion years ago)

TWO BILLION years ago, the Australia we know today existed only in pieces. Northern, western and central Australia all belonged to different continents. [click to continue…]

Could Australia rise to the top of the diamond pipe again? Macquarie University researcher
Craig O’Neill believes his research could open new diamond fields across Australia.

[click to continue…]

Billion year old bacteria in NT rocks and bugs from outer space

Researchers from the CSIRO, Sydney University and Colorado State University have developed a means of detecting signs of ancient microbes which may have lived on Earth or come from outer space.

The group already has picked up signs of bacteria more than a billion years old inside rocks from the Northern Territory.

The technique centres around analysing tiny oil droplets-sealed inside rocks as they formed-for traces of chemical compounds known only to be produced by particular types of organisms. The results provide unequivocal evidence of their presence.

“Oil forms from decayed organisms, and therefore contains fatty tracers or biomarkers for the organism from which they came-like the footprint of a dinosaur, but at a molecular level,” says Herbert Volk from CSIRO Petroleum, a member of the research team.

“It’s important that we understand these early organisms, as they were the building blocks for the evolution of the more complex life forms which play an important part in today’s ecosystems.”

The team has managed to extract such biomarkers from oil droplets sealed in Precambrian rocks from the Northern Territory for more than a billion years.

The chemical analysis of the oil indicates that it is derived from single-celled cyanobacteria, the aquatic and photosynthetic bacteria responsible for increasing oxygen levels in the atmosphere. There is also evidence of the presence of more complex strains of life.

“Microscopic evidence of fossilised microbes is very rare in rocks of this age, and if present are often fiercely debated,” Volk says. “Biomarkers have been extracted from rocks of similar age before, but these were not from oil droplets sealed in crystals, so they may have been contaminated by more recent life forms. The new results are free of such doubt.

“And should oil inclusions be found in extraterrestrial rocks such as meteorites or Martian rocks, the molecular signature would be perfectly protected from traces of terrestrial life that could otherwise compromise the information.”

Herbert is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

To view larger image, click on image:  
Remote arid landscape near the drill site in the Roper Superbasin in the Northern Territory, near the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Photo: Dr David Rawlings
The Roper Superbasin is one of the oldest basins known to contain petroleum which is where the researchers look for life.
 This is a thin slice of rock viewed through a microscope with UV light. The oil inclusions are seen fluorescing in bright blue. What the researchers look for are biomarkers of life. Some of the chemical structures they look for are hopanes, derived mainly from hopanols which are fatty alcohols in the cell walls of bacteria.
This is the chemical structure of a hopane molecule.
Herbert Volk (right) and colleague Simon George (left), analysing the oil droplets using a mass spectrometer.

Did the earth move for you?

16 August 2005

in 2005

Recent Australian earthquakes

In the past 100,000 years, Australia has been hit by at least five large, landscape-changing earthquakes, a young Melbourne researcher has found.

Each was at least 10 times as big as the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, which caused $1.5 billion damage. And he expects there to be more.

Mark Quigley, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences, has discovered large faults in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the Barrier Ranges in New South Wales which could only have been generated by earthquakes of a greater magnitude than 6.6 on the Richter scale.

“My results challenge the traditional view that the ancient landscape of the Australian continent is unaffected by modern geological processes,” Quigley says. “Parts of Australia’s landscape are much younger and dynamic than previously thought.”

The faults indicate that the Australian crust is being squeezed in an east-west direction, and is forming mountains as parts of it are broken and thrust upward. Using new dating techniques, Quigley and co-workers have studied the response of the landscape to this uplift. It seems that in addition to surface uplift, erosion rates have increased in recently faulted areas. This has resulted in steeper river gradients, steeper hill slopes, and thicker accumulations of sediment flowing out of the mountains.

Quigley estimates that landscape-changing earthquakes have occurred about once every 20,000 years on a large fault system north of Port Augusta in South Australia. Similar structures with similar recurrence intervals are likely to exist throughout South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria, suggesting that the next big earthquake to hit southeastern Australia could occur within our lifetime.

Mark is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

A PhD student in QLD improves mine safety with her predictive computer program

Some of the risk involved in working underground is being reduced by a revolutionary approach to predicting the collapse of mine retaining walls .

“In mining, huge voids are created underground when valuable ore is removed. Voids often the size of a 50 story-high building,” said Kirralee Rankine, a PhD student at James Cook University.

“The holes are filled up with waste rock. First the rock is crushed to a powder and mixed with water to make a slurry that is about the consistency of soup. It is then pumped back into the underground holes.”

“Retaining walls are constructed to contain the slurry as it is being pumped into the hole. If the walls breaks, thousands of tonnes of slurry is released into the underground tunnels.” 

“If we can accurately predict soil and rock behaviour, we can properly manage the risk of in-rush,” she said.

Kirralee has done just that. As part of her PhD, she has developed laboratory techniques and written a computer program to simulate components of the filling and drainage processes in underground mines. This have given the mining industry a better understanding of drainage behaviour.

The three-dimensional computer program is the first of its kind that will be available for mines throughout Australia and worldwide to use as an effective prediction tool in mine drainage.

The techniques developed by Kirralee are already being implemented in mines across Australia, and she hopes that through continued research and with the aid of her drainage prediction tools, the potential for mine in-rush will be reduced.

Kirralee is one of 15 early-career scientists presenting their work to the public and media as part of Fresh Science, a national competition that highlights the work of young scientists. The person who best meets the requirements of the program will win a study tour to the UK courtesy of British Council Australia. 

   
Underground retaining wall construction    
A very well prepared mud pie  Preparation of mine slurry  Brick pressure testing chamber

A new theory to explain the formation of the mountains of Western Europe will be unveiled in Melbourne today (Wednesday).

Until now, geoscientists worked on the basis that mountain ranges such as the Alps were formed when the tectonic plates carrying Europe and Africa came into collision. [click to continue…]

Forget meteorites. Bin volcanic eruptions. When it comes to mass extinction continental drift is the mega-killer, claims Australian palaeontologist Dr Malte Ebach. [click to continue…]

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Fossil molecules from cells of bacteria and algae many millions of years old may hold the key to reading life signals from extra terrestrial sources, according to research conducted by AGSO – Geoscience Australia researcher, Dr Graham Logan.

Some molecules within living cells fossilise very well and can reveal evidence of past life, environments and geothermal processes.

Geologists have been studying such fossils in their quest to better understand the formation of major mineral deposits of lead, zinc and silver. Such an understanding will lead to better and more efficient exploration of new Australian mineral deposits.

Dr Logan studied the 1640 million-year old lead-zinc-silver deposit at McArthur River in the Northern Territory. [click to continue…]

Fossil molecules in rocks obtained from mining operations have unlocked dramatic secrets of immense fluctuations in climate and sea level in prehistoric times.

The method charts climate changes through history and paints a new picture of the Earth’s vegetation cover.  It is used by the petroleum industry to identify likely drilling sites for oil wells. [click to continue…]

A new geological study in the Antarctic has shown that the coldest continent split in two about 30 million years ago, and solved a long-standing mystery among geoscientists.

Geoscientists try to understand the evolution of the land masses which form countries and continents in today’s world, by reconstructing the movements of tectonic plates. [click to continue…]

Researchers in Monash University’s Australian Crustal Research Centre have made a discovery that could have important implications for pinpointing where to look for large deposits of metal.

While the Earth’s crust had previously been thought to be the source of most metals, these new findings suggest that they in fact originate much deeper, in the mantle. [click to continue…]