Every time the sun shines on a leaf, the wind blows over dry ground or a driver starts their car, the composition of the atmosphere (the gases and particles it contains) is changed. Every change affects the climate, the natural world, or human health. The study of atmospheric composition, then, lies at the intersection of meteorology, chemistry, biology and engineering and uses the tools of mathematics and statistics as well.
Basin studies covers a range of disciplines including sedimentology, stratigraphy, palaeontology, sedimentary geochemistry, petroleum geology and sediment-hosted ore deposits. These disciplines are applied to a wide range of research projects that include age and origin of Indo-Pacific reefs, Southern Australian cool water carbonate systems, and Neoproterozoic reefs and palaeoceanography.
Climate variability & change
Climate variations across Australia and the globe affect agriculture, human health, water resources and ecosystems. This research area is investigating climate variability and longer-term changes through analysis of observations and climate model simulations. It seeks to quantify the contributions to global and regional climate variations due to different factors, such as natural climate modes, increasing greenhouse gases or stratospheric ozone depletion.
The computational geodynamics group studies a wide range of disciplines including planetary evolution, plate tectonics, geodynamics, seismology, active tectonics, geothermal energy and landscape evolution. Computational modelling adds the dimension of time to snapshots of information found in the geological record. It allows the quantitative study of deep-Earth and surficial processes occurring at different temporal and spatial scales.
Research in Economic Geology involves the study of earth materials (e.g. precious metals, base metals, gemstones, hydrocarbons) that have industrial and/or economic benefits. This field is multi-disciplinary and incorporates a range of study areas including petrology, mineralogy, geochemistry, geophysics, structural geology, tectonics and stratigraphy.
Geochemical conditions and processes at Earth's surface are an integral part of our environment, where man-made perturbations play an increasingly important role. We study physical-chemical conditions and processes to predict how these will change in a changing environment. Studies include the assessment of carbonate mineral stability under ocean acidification and the prediction of fluid–rock reactions in CO2 storage reservoirs.
The Geomicrobiology Lab studies microorganisms that contribute significantly to Earth's major nutrient cycles (e.g. carbon, sulphur, iron) and influence the form and fate of many environmental contaminants (e.g. Hg, As, Pb, U). We also study the physical-chemical processes and reactions mediated by these microbes at very small scales that can result in large scale environmental impacts (e.g. acid mine drainage, marine methylmercury pollution).
By listening to the Earth we can hear her speak to us. That is why geophysicists have their ears to the ground. Our 'ears' can include sensitive instruments like seismometers, which measure earthquakes and allow us to investigate stress in the crust, risk and changes caused by human activity, or gravity meters and magnetometers, measuring the fields around the Earth and allowing us to image its structure and potential for various earth resources.
The ability to determine accurately the compositions of rocks, minerals, soils and waters is central to our understanding of the processes that have formed and continuously modify the planet. Armed with these tools, we address a wide range of fundamental questions from the migration of continents and the timing of events resulting in mountain-building and ore genesis, to the nature of climate change in the remote past.
Mesoscale dynamics & cloud processes
Thunderstorms, cold fronts, aircraft turbulence, heavy precipitation and fire weather are examples of mesoscale atmospheric phenomena with important societal impacts. Using state-of-the-art computer models and theory we study a broad range of mesoscale phenomena and cloud processes. Ongoing work on these topics will lead to improved understanding of high-impact weather events and better models for weather and climate.
Noble gas geochronology
Our research in the field of noble gas geochronology involves application of the 40Ar/39Ar dating method to determine the ages and cooling histories of a variety of rocks, including those associated with young volcanoes, ore deposits and metamorphic terranes. In addition, we investigate the noble gas and halogen geochemistry of fluids associated with ore deposit formation and the cycling of crustal fluids into mantle rocks via subduction zones.
Palaeoclimatology is the study of the Earth's past climate on time scales that span the history of the Earth. Palaeoclimatologists use geological and biological indicators such as rocks, sediments, ice sheets, tree rings, corals, shells and microfossils to reconstruct past climate over decades to millennia. The results of this research help us to understand natural climate variability and the role of industrially-caused climate change.
Polar weather & climate
Our research relates to the complex atmospheric and glacial behaviour in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. A key focus is on the dramatic changes that have been occurring in the two polar regions over recent decades and how they compare to changes in the past. The research is undertaken with a range of observations and with computer modelling. Investigations are being conducted to explore scenarios of future conditions in these polar domains.
Tectonics & geodynamics
Exploring the link between the thermal, mechanical and topographic evolution of the continents, our work involves both field-based observations (structural geology, geomorphology) and numerical modelling. Applications include natural hazard assessment (earthquake, landslides) and novel resource utilisation (especially geothermal). We do fieldwork in a variety of places including East Timor, Antarctica, Madagascar, Bohemian Massif and Australia.
Theoretical petrology is involved in methodological and practical aspects of metamorphic phase equilibria calculations: 1) generation of an extensive internally-consistent thermodynamic dataset for the end-members of minerals, fluids and melts; 2) creation of activity — composition relationships for these phases; 3) devising methods of calculation and representation of phase equilibria; 4) development of software, particularly THERMOCALC, which implements these methods; and 5) understanding metamorphic reactions, in the context of application of phase equilibrium calculations to metamorphic rocks.
Tropical meteorology & climate
Almost half of Australia is in the tropics, yet many of the mechanisms of tropical weather systems are not completely understood. Some important topics include the study of tropical cyclones, tropical convection, the Madden-Julian or intraseasonal oscillation, the El Nino Southern Oscillation phenomenon, and the effects of climate change on these weather systems. Research in these topics is conducted using a combination of data analysis and numerical simulation.
Thermochronology & continental tectonics
Thermochronology applies temperature-sensitive radiometric dating methods to study the thermal histories of rocks in the low-temperature environments of the upper few kilometres of the continental crust. Techniques include Fission Track Analysis and (U-Th-Sm)/He methods applied to common accessory minerals such as apatite and zircon, which are typically enriched in the radiogenic parent isotopes of U and Th.