Science and Engineering

Earth sciences

Overview

What is Earth science?

The Earth is an amazing place, and for an earth scientist it offers a unique natural laboratory that covers space and time. Earth science is a multidisciplinary science that applies chemistry, physics, biology and mathematical tools to understand earth processes, decipher its past and predict its future. Earth scientists work to monitor changes in the Earth’s environment and suggest solutions to issues including:

  • the supply of natural resources including energy, minerals and water for technological advance
  • quality of life for a growing populace
  • management and mitigation of climate change and natural hazards for a safe and sustainable society.

Society depends upon how we understand and manage our planet which compels a need to know more about its processes, its resources, and its environment, and earth science allows us to do this.

Research

Our internationally recognised, multi-disciplinary research focuses on the dynamics and timescales of earth processes, and material and energy exchanges within our planet. These understandings are fundamental to assessing the global environment, including its natural variability in space and time, the influence of human development, and the impact of the environment on society.

Our work is important for ensuring global sustainability, and is influenced by real-world considerations like the need to manage a wide range of natural resources, increasing impacts from environmental damage and change, and threats to human development from geologic hazards.

Areas of specific focus in our research include:

  • earth materials characterisation with specialisation in geochemistry, geochronology and geomechanics
  • marine geology
  • plate techtonics and crustal evolution
  • energy and mineral resources.

We also share research into groundwater systems and natural hazards exist with the environmental systems discipline.

Our research capability is strengthened by the university's significant investment in staff and analytical facilities, such as the Central Analytical Research Facility.

Rankings

Our research has made significant contributions to QUT's Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) ratings. We received a 5 (well above world standard) in Geology.

ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) evaluates the quality of research undertaken in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks.

Facilities

Central Analytical Research Facility

We have infrastructure and expertise in microanalysis and isotopic analysis, as well as laboratory techniques including SEM, XRD, XRF, ICP-MS, LA-ICP-MS and access to equipment including an electron microprobe in the Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF).

Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct laboratory

Our geological lab at QUT’s Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct allows our students, researchers and industry collaborators to prepare and analyse geographical samples with the help of our expert staff. The lab features state-of-the-art equipment for rock cutting and crushing, core logging, soil analysis and mass-producing thin sections.

Access to the Exploration Data Centre

Our students and researchers have access to the Queensland Government’s Exploration Data Centre (EDC) at Zillmere – an invaluable store of the state’s geoscientific data and information. The EDC collections include drill core and cuttings from government and company exploration programs and digital databases, including boreholes and geophysical surveys.

Teaching

Field teaching and destinations

Our students have many opportunities throughout their degrees to travel and explore geographically exciting destinations to gain invaluable hands-on experience in the field.

Petrology (ERB206)
Travel to Gayndah, Noosa, and around south east Queensland to learn how to describe, classify and determine the origins of igneous rocks.
Sedimentology geology and stratigraphy (ERB203)
Learn about sedimentology and stratigraphy on location in Eden, coastal New South Wales.
Deforming Earth: fundamentals of structural geology (ERB204)
This unit provides the essential tools for field geologists, geotechnical engineers and rock physicists, with hands-on field experience in Eden, New South Wales.
Geological Field Methods (ERB305)
Head to Arkaroola in South Australia to develop field mapping and stratigraphy skills, and explore deformed terranes, structural and metamorphic geology.

Intern with the Office of Inspector‐General Emergency Management (IGEM)

Students in our Destructive Earth: Natural Hazards unit have the opportunity to develop an understanding of emergency management through a paid internship over summer semester. Students gain real-world experience working on a dedicated project in the workplace and present their findings to IGEM.

International Ocean Discovery Program Consortium (IODPC) Masterclass

Each year one of our high-achieving second year Marine Geoscience students is nominated to take part in the IODPC masterclass for junior scientists in New Zealand, where they take a geological field trip through Marlborough and North Canterbury, attend lab sessions and lectures at the University of Otago and much more.

Projects

Current Australian Research Council (ARC) funded projects within our discipline:

The missing link in the Tasmanides: evaluating tectonic evolution and resource exploration potential of the southern Thomson Fold belt

Research team
Associate Professor Scott Bryan, William Collins (UON), Gideon Rosenbaum (UQ), Alistair Hack (UON), Charles Verdel (UQ), Rosemary Hegarty (Geological Survey of NSW), David Purdy (Geological Survey of Qld).
Project dates
2017-2019
Project description

Understanding the Thomson Orogen, which straddles the NSW-Qld border, is critical for developing geodynamic models for the evolution of eastern Australia, and assessing resource potential. However, it lies under the Great Artesian Basin.

This project focusses on groundtruthing geophysical acquisition studies using drillcore from a targeted drilling program, designed to maximise the available tectono-stratigraphic information. The outcome will be a 3-D geological map of the region, which can be interrogated for mineral exploration targeting, and from which 4D evolutionary geodynamic models of eastern Australian can be integrated.

The role of pressure waves on the mechanics of earthquakes and faulting

Research team
Dr Christoph Schrank, Professor Klaus Regenauer-Lieb (UNSW), Dr Emmanouil Veveakis, Dr Thomas Poulet (UNSW), Dr Benjamin Marks (US), Dr Sotirios Alevizos (UNSW).
Project dates
2017-2019
Project description

Pressure waves on the mechanics of earthquakes and faulting. This project aims to decipher the physics of faulting and earthquakes from damage zones around seismogenic faults. It will examine a mechanism for instability in solids: volumetric collapse due to a dissipative pressure wave. This pressure wave may control damage-zone geometry and relate to earthquake stress and rock material properties.

The project will research the instability through theoretical, laboratory and field studies. Anticipated outcomes include advances in earthquake and fault prediction, tools to determine the stress state and material properties of Earth’s crust, and knowledge of a class of solid instabilities.

Slope and deep marine sedimentation: IODP Expedition 359: Maldives Monsoon & Indian Peninsula Paleoc

Research team
Dr Craig Sloss is collaborating with 15 investigators across multiple universities.
Project dates
2017-2019
Project description

This proposal is for a 5-year membership of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), the world’s largest collaborative research program in Earth and ocean sciences addressing intensively reviewed, international priorities. The Program conducts seagoing coring expeditions and monitoring of instrumented boreholes to study the history and current activity of the Earth, recorded in sediments and rocks below the seafloor.

The program’s aims include understanding past global environments on multiple time scales, the deep biosphere, plate tectonics, occurrence and distribution of resources, and generation of hazards. Several multinational expeditions are scheduled and planned in our marine jurisdiction and within the Australasian region.

Finite strain with large rotations: a new hybrid numerical-experimental approach

Research team
Dr Christoph Schrank, Professor Klaus Regenauer-Lieb (UNSW), Associate Professor Dr Ali Karrech (UWA), Dr David Boutelier (UON).
Dates
2014-2016
Project summary

Deformation up to large strains and rotations is important in rocks, metals, polymers, and biomaterials. Computational mechanics is a standard tool for modelling such deformations. However, in earth sciences, mechanical theories use small-strain formulations or large-strain approaches with classical stress rates. Classical stress rates can lead to incorrect stored energies.

This project proposes to test a new large-strain theory tailored to rocks experimentally, and to apply it to a pivotal geological problem: shear zone formation. The project will advance our fundamental understanding of the mechanics and energetics of rock deformation and provide a novel tool for the modelling of large deformations.

Resolving the influence of intraplate orogenesis on continental margin tectonics

Project leader
Associate Professor Scott Bryan
Dates
2013-2015
Project summary
Novel, multi-dating of continental sedimentary rocks will be undertaken to examine the effects of a high sediment flux from an enigmatic, major mountain-building event on a distant continental margin. This will expand our understanding of the range of tectonic influences between continental interiors and margins and onshore resource potential.

Environmental stress indicators in coral skeletons

Project leader
Dr Luke Nothdurft
Dates
2010-2015
Project summary

Coral reefs are critical for Australia's tourism and fisheries industries, cultural heritage and international conservation responsibilities. The proposed research will test and document two newly identified stress indicators in corals, one of which will allow stress to be documented by visual inspection on living reef flats.

Both new techniques will allow documentation of historical records of stress events, thus improving understanding of reef dynamics through intervals of climate change, and importantly, they also may help detect 'early warning signs' of poor health in living reef corals. Thus, the research will inform both palaeoclimate studies and current reef management strategies.

Interdisciplinary and inter-institution projects

Some of the other projects we are contributing to with other disciplines and institutions are:

  • Geomorphological development of coral reefs, southern Great Barrier Reef: an integrated record of Holocene palaeoecology and palaeoclimate from cores, 2012-2015
  • Australian membership of the International Ocean Discovery Program
  • Decision intelligence: determining pest natal origins (Plant Biosecurity CRC)
  • Timing and duration of extension, magmatic and mineralization events in the southern part of the Sierra Madre Occidental: an integrated U-Pb, Ar-Ar and fission track study (237745, CONACyT, Mexico); in collaboration with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
  • Oligo-Miocene magmatism of the southern part of the Sierra Madre Occidental and Comondú Group (Mexico): terminal phase of subduction or initiation of rifting of the Gulf of California? in collaboration with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Student topics

Current higher degree research projects

Our staff are supervising higher degree research students in the following diverse range of research topics. Contact the relevant staff member to find out more about potential research opportunities.

Associate Professor Scott Bryan:

  • Pascal Asmussen: Stabilisation of accretionary orogens; insights from cover basins
  • Nicholas Dyriw: Evolution of magma systems feeding seafloor massive sulphide deposits: implications for mineralisation
  • Aidan Kerrison: Supra-subduction zone arc magmatism during phases of contractional deformation along orogenic margins: implications for subducting processes along the eastern Gondwanan margin
  • Joseph Knafelc: Petrology of the raft pumices produced by the Havre 2012 eruption
  • Katarzyna Sobczak: Investigating far-field tectonic events as drivers of provenance change in sedimentary basins.

Dr Oliver Gaede:

  • Mitchell Levy: Mechanism driving fines production within coal seam gas wells in the Surat Basin, Qld
  • Yong Ling: Structural evolution and basin analysis in the light of petroleum prospectivity of Roebuck Basin, Northwest Shelf
  • Adam Wright: Effect of reducing environment on in situ montmorillonite dehydration.

Professor David Gust:

  • Brenainn Simpson: Identifying magma recharge using cryptic mineral variations in the Somerset Dam Igneous Complex, Queensland, Australia.

Dr Patrick Hayman:

  • Gloria Awo Senyah: Lithostratigraphy of the Birimian Supergroup of Western Burkina Faso, West-Africa: implications for terrane evolution.

Dr David Murphy:

  • Audrey Nourse: The formation and hosts rocks of the Manaman skarns and their implication for a larger porphyric mineralisation
  • William Ryan: Tectonothermal magmatic evolution of the lower crust of North Queensland as recorded in lower crustal xenoliths of the McBride Volcanic Province
  • David Searle: Variation in magma chamber processes recorded in the chemistry of pyroxene phenocrysts from Tristan da Cunha, south Atlantic
  • Lana Wenham: Geochronology of Titanium as a tool for quantifying timing of deformation events in the Pilbara Basalts.

Dr Luke Nothdurft:

  • Lisa Kearney: Understanding the 'whole reef system' to predict future reef behaviour using geological modelling techniques
  • Brett Lewis: Study of the skeletal microstructure and biological mechanisms employed by the order Scleractinia (Family; Acroporiidae) during and after environmental stress
  • Mardi McNeil: Evolution and sedimentary architecture of Halimeda bioherms in the Great Barrier Reef: understanding origin, development, morphology, and palaeo-environment.

Dr Christoph Schrank:

  • Katherine Gioseffi: Gypsum dehydration: the interplay between nanoporosity formation, dehydration and phase transformation
  • LauraQuigley: Shear zones at finite strain: a new energetically consistent approach
  • Mathew Lynch: Coupled thermo-hydro-mechanical-chemical (THMC) processes in carbonates: microphysical insights from oolitic grainstone as a natural THMC gauge.

Dr Craig Sloss:

  • Alexander Devereaux: The influence of sea level change and changes in the Mediterranean outflow waters (MOW) on sediment transport
  • TiffanyWaller: A changing coastal landscape on the southeast coast of New South Wales: separating anthropogenic and natural induced change start.

Dr Jessica Trofimovs:

  • Amber Hughes: Controlling factors of eruptive styles between the subaerial and subaqueous segments of the late Devonian Boyd Volcanic Complex, NSW.

Contact

School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences

  • Level 3, R Block, Room 302
    Gardens Point