Appendix 3: Independently funded basic research projects  


Independently funded research projects within CCFS contribute to the long-term, large-scale strategic goals and play an important role in determining the shorter-term research plans. Research goals for each year are thus linked to the aims of funded projects. Summaries of the current independently funded CCFS-related projects are given below. For Industry funded Projects see Industry Interaction


Down under down under: using multi-scale seismic tomography to image beneath Australia's Great Artesian Basin


N. Rawlinson, Y. Yang: Supported by ARC Discovery (commenced 2011)

Summary:  Seismic arrays will be deployed in the Great Artesian Basin to image the crust and mantle using distant earthquake and ambient noise sources. This will answer fundamental questions about the tectonic evolution of eastern Australia and elucidate the structure of a region containing significant deep Earth resources.


Unravelling the geodynamics of eastern Australia during the Permian: the link between plate boundary bending and basin formation


G. Rosenbaum, S.A. Pisarevsky, C.R. Fielding, F. Speranza: Supported by ARC Discovery
(commenced 2013)

Summary: The Permian evolution of eastern Australia is poorly understood. It involved bending of the southern New England Orogen and simultaneous development of widespread sedimentary basins. This project will combine paleomagnetic and structural investigations to unravel the paleogeography and plate kinematics of eastern Australia during the Permian. We will generate a comprehensive database on paleolatitudes, block rotations and magnetic fabric, and will link, for the first time, the process of oroclinal bending with the development of the East Australian rift System. Outcomes will elucidate the fundamental tectonic process of oroclinal bending and will fill a knowledge gap in our understanding of the evolution of the Australian continent.


The global consequences of subduction zone congestion


L. Moresi, P. Betts, J. Whittaker, M. Miller: Supported by ARC Discovery (commenced 2015)

Summary: This project will use a combination of 3D geodynamic modelling, plate kinematic reconstruction and geological and geophysical synthesis to determine how congested subduction zones influence plate kinematics, subduction dynamics and tectonic evolution at orogen and global scales. The project aims to deliver a transformation change in understanding the links between congested subduction, mantle flow, trench migration, crustal growth, transitions between stable convergent margin configurations and deformation in the overriding plates of subduction zones. Determining these relationships is significant because it will provide dynamic context to interpret the geological record of ancient convergent margins, which host a large percentage of Earth's metal resources.


Timescales of mixing and volatile transfer leading to volcanic eruptions


H. Handley, S. Turner, M. Reagan, J. Barclay: Supported by ARC Discovery (commenced 2015)

Summary: The short-lived lead isotope, 210Pb, has the unique ability to place timescale constraints on volcanic processes, such as the input, mixing and degassing of magma. These processes are believed to be of fundamental importance in the triggering of volcanic eruptions. This project will measure 210Pb isotopic compositions and elemental diffusion profiles in crystals of volcanic rocks that represent the end members of mixed magmas to constrain the volume and timescale of volatile transfer from magmatic recharge and also the time between magma mixing events and eruptions. The project aims to test the paradigm that magma recharge triggers volcanic eruptions and aims to yield significant outcomes for understanding eruption triggers at hazardous volcanoes.


Migmatites, charnockites and crustal fluid flux during orogenesis


I. Fitzsimons, M. Holness, C. Clark: Supported by ARC Discovery (commenced 2015)

Summary: Migration of volatile fluid and molten rock controls many Earth processes including rock deformation and the formation of mineral and energy deposits. Deep crustal fluids are hard to study directly, and their characteristics are usually inferred from lower crustal rock brought to the surface by erosion. For over 30 years one such rock called charnockite has been used to argue that lower crust is dehydrated by influx of carbon dioxide-rich fluid, while other evidence supports dehydration by water extraction in silicate melt. This project aims to use the shape, distribution and chemistry of mineral grains to trace the passage of volatiles and melt through charnockite, constrain the nature of lower crustal fluids and resolve a long-standing controversy.


How the Earth works-toward building a new tectonic paradigm


Z.X. Li: Supported by ARC Laureate Fellowships (commenced 2015)

Summary:  This fellowship project aims to build on the latest technological and conceptual advances to establish the patterns of Earth evolution, and use this information to examine a ground-breaking geodynamic hypothesis which links cyclic plate aggregation and dispersion to deep Earth processes. Half a century after the inception of plate tectonics theory, we are still unsure how the Earth 'engine' works, particularly the forces that drive plate tectonics. The project involves extensive national and international collaboration to potentially create a paradigm shift in our understanding of global tectonics, and hopes to contribute to an understanding of the formation and distribution of Earth resources to provide a conceptual framework for their exploration.


Dating Down Under: Resolving Earth's crust - mantle relationships


E. Belousova: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2012)

Summary: How the continental crust has grown is a first-order problem in understanding the nature of the surface on which we live. Was most of the crust formed early in Earth's history or did it grow episodically? Was its growth related to underlying mantle processes? The project will use in situ isotopic and trace-element microanalysis of the mineral zircon (a geological "time capsule"), extracted from rocks and sediments worldwide, to answer these fundamental questions. It will develop a new model for the timing of crustal formation and the tectonic and genetic links between Earth's crust and mantle. The results will be relevant to the localisation of a wide range of mineral resources.


From Core to Ore: emplacement dynamics of deep-seated nickel sulphide systems


M. Fiorentini: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship (commenced 2012)

Summary: Unlike most mineral resources, which are generally concentrated in a wide range of crustal reservoirs, nickel and platinum are concentrated either in the core or in the mantle of our planet. In punctuated events throughout Earth history, large cataclysmic magmatic events have had the capacity to transport and concentrate these metals from their deep source to upper crustal levels. This project aims to unravel the complex emplacement mechanism of these magmas and constrain the role that volatiles such as water and carbon dioxide played in the emplacement and metal endowment of these systems.


The timescales of Earth-system processes: extending the frontiers of uranium-series research


H. Handley: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2012)

Summary: This project will advance our understanding of the timescales of Earth processes using short-lived (22 to 380,000 years) isotopes. The results will provide better constraints on the timescales of magmatic processes and frequency of large-scale eruptions for volcanic hazard mitigation and also soil production rates for landscape erosion studies.


A new approach to quantitative interpretation of paleoclimate archives


D. Jacob: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2013)

Summary: Skeletons of marine organisms can be used to reconstruct past climates and make predictions for the future. The precondition is the knowledge of how climatic and environmental information is incorporated into the biominerals. This project will use cutting-edge nano-analytical methods to further our understanding of how organisms build their skeletons.


Flow characteristics of lower crustal rocks: developing a toolbox to improve geodynamic models


S. Piazolo: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2012)

Summary: This project will investigate in detail how rocks flow in the lowest part of the Earth's crust. The results will be used to improve sophisticated computer simulations of large-scale geological processes, allowing a better understanding of earthquakes, the formation of volcanic areas and location of energy resources.


New insights into the origin and evolution of life on Earth


D. Wacey: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2014)

Summary: This project aims to provide new insights into the origin of life on Earth, life's diversification through the Precambrian, and the co-evolution of life and early Earth environments. It will be discipline-leading in that it will take the study of early life to the sub-micrometre and hence sub-cellular level. This will facilitate new opportunities for identifying the types of life present during early Earth history, their metabolisms, cellular chemistry and interactions with their environment. This project aims to also provide new search engines and more robust assessment criteria for life on other planets, and help to resolve specific scientific controversies, for example, the validity of claims for cellular life from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks.


Roles of deep-Earth fluid cycling in the generation of intra-continental magmatism


X.C. Wang: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship and MQ (commenced 2014)

Summary: This project aims to test a provocative and potentially ground-breaking hypothesis
that fluid released from subducted oceanic slabs and stored in the mantle transition zone, may trigger or control some major intra-plate geotectonic phenomena. It aims to provide a self-consistent model that links geological processes occurring at plate boundaries with those far-field effects well away from plate boundaries via deep-Earth fluid cycling. The outcomes of this project aim to help to better understand links between plume and plate tectonic processes in the
first-order dynamic system of Earth, and identify ways to improve success in future mineral


How the Earth moves: Developing a novel seismological approach to map the small-scale dynamics of the upper mantle


Y. Yang: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship (commenced 2013)

Summary:  The concept of small-scale convection currents from about 100-400 km below the Earth's surface is a model proposed to explain the origins of intraplate volcanoes and mountains. However, direct evidence for the physical reality of small-scale convection cells is generally weak. This project will develop a novel seismological approach combining both ambient noise and earthquake data that can image such small-scale upper mantle convection. The outcomes of this project will help to fill the gap left in the Plate Tectonic paradigm by its inability to explain intraplate geological activity (volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains), which would be a significant step towards unifying conceptual models about how the Earth works.


Earth's origin and evolution: a sulphurous approach


O. Alard: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship (commenced 2015)

Summary:  This project aims to shed new light on global element cycles in the deep Earth and how they connect to the evolution of the exospheres - one of the hottest topics in geosciences. It also aims to produce key knowledge of the extraction and transport of elements from the deep Earth to the surface, which may provide valuable information for resource exploration. Using novel integrated elemental and isotopic approaches, this program aims to track the origin and fate of sulfur, selenium and tellurium during accretion and subsequent redistribution in fluids to Earth's surface. This new knowledge is critical to understanding how these and other elements of strategic and economic importance, such as the Platinum Group Elements, are extracted from the deep Earth and transported to the surface.


Measuring mantle hydrogen to map ore fluids and model plate tectonics


K. Selway: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship (commenced 2015

Summary:  The goal of this project is to use magnetotellurics to measure mantle hydrogen content to aid in the discovery of new mineral deposits. Hydrogen controls the strength of Earth's mantle and is a vital component of the systems that form giant ore deposits. However, mantle hydrogen content is unconstrained. Ore-forming fluids hydrate the mantle pathways on which they travel. The first aim of this project is to image these fluid pathways to improve mineral exploration techniques. Plate tectonic models assume that the lithospheric mantle is dehydrated but existing data from magnetotellurics and mantle rocks show high hydrogen contents. The second aim of this project is to create a map of the hydrogen content of the plates, which may lead to new models for continental evolution and mantle dynamics)


A new approach to revealing melting processes in the hidden deep Earth


A. Giuliani: Supported by ARC DECRA (commencing 2015)

Summary: Kimberlite magmas are very rich in volatiles (for example carbon dioxide and water); they are the major host of diamonds and provide the deepest samples from Earth's mantle. The primary compositions of these melts can provide unique information on the nature of the deep mantle. However, kimberlite melts mix and react with wall rocks on the way up, obscuring their primary composition. To see through these secondary processes, the project aims to use a novel approach integrating the study of melt inclusions in magmatic minerals with analysis of radiogenic and stable isotopes, and investigating reactions between kimberlite magmas and wall-rock fragments. The project aims to provide new understanding of the constraints on melting processes and recycling of crustal material in the deep mantle.


Australian membership of the International Ocean Discovery Program


R.J. Arculus, E.J. Rohling, A.P. Roberts, N.F. Exon, C.J. Yeats, S.Y. O'Reilly, S.C. George, D. Muller, J.C. Aitchison, J.M. Webster, M.F. Coffin, P.M. Vasconcelos, K.J. Welsh, T.C. McCuaig, A.D. George, C.G. Skilbeck, A.T. Baxter, J.M. Hergt, S.J. Gallagher, C.L. Fergusson, C.R. Sloss, A.D. Heap, W.P. Schellart, J.D. Stilwell, J.D. Foden, A.P. Kershaw, W.R. Howard, M.B. Clennell, J.J. Daniell, L.B. Collins: Supported by ARC LIEF (commenced 2014)

Summary:  This project is for an Australian membership of the International Ocean Discovery Program. The Program will recover drill cores, situate observatories, and conduct down-hole experiments in all the world's oceans from lowest to highest latitudes to address fundamental questions about Earth's history and processes within four high-priority scientific themes: climate and ocean change - reading the past and informing the future; biosphere frontiers - deep life, biodiversity, and environmental forcing of ecosystems; earth connections - deep processes and their impact on earth's surface environment; earth in motion - processes and hazards on a human time scale.


Expanding the frontiers of mass spectrometry: a high resolution laser ablation multiple streaming facility


A. Kemp, M. McCulloch, M. Fiorentini, T. McCuaig, A. Rate, C. Clark, B. Rasmussen, N. Evans, S. Reddy, P. Bland, T. Raimondo, N. Pearson, E.Belousova, D. Jacob, D. Rubatto, C. Spandler, S. Barnes: Supported by ARC LIEF (commenced 2015)

Summary: This geochemical facility with an innovative, world-leading micro-analytical capability intends to support research of fundamental and strategic problems at the frontiers of the Earth and Environmental Sciences. The facility aims to allow new insight into the age, composition, thermal history and structure of the Australian continent, as necessary for delineating mineral endowment and for tracing the sources of ore metals. It will provide a higher resolution record of climate and environmental change which will better inform assessment of the impacts, both locally and regionally. It is intended that the facility will amplify national and international scientific collaboration and create unique research opportunities for Australian-based scientists.


A fully automated, fully shielded paleomagnetic system


Z.X. Li, E. Tohver, A. Roberts, G. Rosenbaum, C. O'Neill, S. Pisarevsky, C. Clark, C. Elders, P. Bland, S. Wilde: Supported by ARC LIEF (commenced 2015)

Summary: This project aims to establish the first fully automated and magnetically fully shielded superconducting paleomagnetic data acquisition system in Australia. Paleomagnetism is a key research field that has applications to a broad range of pure and applied geoscience disciplines. Australia has been a world leader in this field, including the application of palaeomagnetism to both global and regional tectonic studies. Paleomagnetic studies demand a labour-intensive process of treating and measuring a large number of samples. The system will significantly enhance the efficiency and accuracy of paleomagnetic analysis, and thus enhance Australia's research capacity in this and related research fields.


Mineral Systems Flagship Cluster


T.C. McCuaig: Supported by CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund (commenced 2013)

Summary:  As Australian mineral exploration moves into areas of deep cover, the expense of exploration drilling will increase dramatically. Explorers will demand increasingly sophisticated targeting tools to plan drilling programs and an improved understanding of the processes that influence the transport and deposition of metals by ore-forming fluids. The cluster has 3 Themes to deliver on each of the advertised requirements notably:

Theme 1: An experimental program to assess the behaviour of meta-stable organic compounds in targeting mineral systems and validate thermodynamic models and interpretations.

Theme 2: A complementary field program aimed at providing data from key mineral systems to support the thermodynamic and experimental programs.

Theme 3: An integrated thermodynamic treatment of organic and inorganic systems that includes recently documented organometallic complexes.