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


Mantle dynamics and ore deposits


A. Cruden, M. Fiorentini, S. Barnes, A. Bunger, C. Jackson: Support by ARC DP (commencing 2019)

Summary:  This project aims to investigate where, how and why narrow finger-like conduits form in lithosphere-scale magma plumbing systems by a novel integration of field surveys, three dimensional reflection seismic data, laboratory experiments and rock fracture mechanics. The project expects to generate new knowledge on the formation and location of highly valuable ore deposits of nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum group elements, which are preferentially trapped in poorly understood finger-like magma conduits.


Unveiling the fine structure of the Australian continent using ocean waves


Y. Yang, J.C. Afonso, N. Rawling, M. Ritzwoller, F. Niu: Support by ARC DP (commencing 2019)

Summary:  This project aims to develop new methods to better image lithospheric and uppermantle structures by using noise from ubiquitous ocean waves, and then use these methods to illuminate fine-scale lithospheric-asthenospheric structures in Australia, from the surface to the upper mantle. Imaging the Earth’s structure using seismic tomography is one of the most fundamental tasks of geoscience. Conventional earthquake-based seismic tomography has difficulties in deciphering fine-scale lithospheric structures. The images from this project will provide a better understanding of the nature of intraplate earthquakes and volcanoes, and improve the assessment of intraplate seismic and volcanic hazards in Australia.


A terrestrial hot spring setting for the origin of life? Darwin’s Warm Little Pond revisited


M. Van Kranendonk, M. Fiorentini, K.A. Campbell, D. Deamer: Support by ARC DP (commenced 2018)

Summary:  This Project aims to test the proposal that a terrestrial hot spring field could have been the setting for the origin of life, in preference to the currently favoured site at deep sea vents. This will be achieved by: 1) detailed characterisation of the only known, truly ancient, inhabited terrestrial hot spring analogue in the geological record – the 3.5 billion-year-old Dresser Formation, Western Australia; 2) comparison of this ancient analogue with active hot spring fields in New Zealand; and 3) experimental research on prebiotic organic chemistry using Dresser materials and active hot spring fluid chemistries. Results will be used to develop a terrestrial origin of life setting and assist in the search for life on Mars.


Establishing the critical physical-chemical factors in the early surface environment and tectonic regime that supported early life and continuing habitability


A. Nutman, V. Bennett, M. Van Kranendonk: Support by ARC DP (commenced 2017)

Summary: Engineering planetary habitability: Earth’s first billion years. This project aims to establish the critical physical-chemical factors in the early surface environment and tectonic regime that supported early life and continuing habitability. Life was established on Earth within the first billion years of its 4.56-billion-year history. This project’s integrated geological and geochemical study will investigate this period’s rare sedimentary and volcanic record, including the oldest fossiliferous sequences discovered recently, to show how the early Earth’s chemistry supported life and evolution. The project expects to enhance understanding of why life prospers on some habitable zone planets but not on others


Rehydration of the lower crust, fluid sources and geophysical expression


M. Hand, C. Clark, D. Hasterok, T. Rushmer, S. Reddy, B. Hacker: Support by ARC DP ( commenced 2016 )

Summary:  This project aims to explore a long-standing mystery: the origin of deep crustal electrical conductors detected by magnetotelluric imaging of tectonically stable crust. These features occur in cratons of all ages, and commonly cross-cut structures and lithologies. This project aims to investigate the hypothesis that such features are the record of ancient deep crustal fluid flow, which modified the rocks’ electrical properties. Using an exceptionally exposed natural laboratory preserving large-scale rehydration of anhydrous lower crust, the project plans to determine the source of fluids and the compositional changes they induced. It then plans to experimentally determine changes in resistivity induced by fluid flow and use that data to model the magnetotelluric response at crustal scale.


To develop a geophysically relevant proton conduction model for the Earth’s upper mantle


S. Clark, J.C. Afonso, A. Jones: Support by ARC DP ( commenced 2016 )

Summary:  The aim of this project is to develop a geophysically relevant proton conduction model for the Earth’s upper mantle. This will allow the robust interpretation of conductivity maps of the interior of the Earth and the discovery of major new mineral deposits. This advance will be achieved through four major initiatives based on recently developed experimental and computational facilities. This project will develop new methods for determining rock conductivities and subsurface mapping from combined datasets. We will obtain new insights into the structure and dynamics of the upper mantle as well as providing key data necessary for a national effort aimed at reestablishing Australia as a primary target for mineral exploration.


Just add water: a recipe for the deformation of continental interiors


A. Putnis, T. Raimondo, N. Daczko: Support by ARC DP ( commenced 2016 )

Summary:  By integrating geochemical, geochronological and microstructural datasets, this project aims to provide a novel framework for fluid-rock systems in the lithosphere. Plate tectonics argues that continental interiors are usually stable, rigid and undeformable, yet mountain belts have formed in these locations. Their existence suggests that strong crust can be weakened to allow the accommodation of deforming forces, but the underlying causes for this change in behaviour are not clear. This project aims to investigate the largely unexplored impact of fluid flow on the characteristics of intraplate deformation. This would improve our understanding of what modulates the strength of continental crust, including its susceptibility to seismic activity, and the ways in which fluids interact with the deep crust, including their mineralisation potential.


Mechanisms of proxy uptake in biominerals


D. Jacob, S. Eggins, R. Wirth: Support by ARC DP ( commenced 2016 )

Summary:  This project plans to combine nano-analytical and aquaculture methods to develop new models that improve the reliability of paleoclimate reconstructions. The compositions of shells and skeletal materials of marine invertebrates are essential archives for quantifying temperatures and environmental conditions before modern climate records began. However, their reliability relies on understanding their formation. Emerging knowledge from material sciences indicates that these biocarbonates form via transient precursors rather than direct precipitation from seawater, profoundly affecting their interpretation. This project plans to transfer this new understanding to the earth sciences using nanoscale analytical methods including in vitro geochemical partitioning experiments. This would enable realistic models for geochemical proxy behaviour to be developed, significantly improving paleoclimate interpretations and assessments of ocean acidification effects on marine calcifiers.


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.


The roles of carbon, water and nitrogen in the development of plate tectonics as drivers of mantle evolution


S. Foley: Supported by ARC Laureate Fellowship ( commencing 2019 )

Summary:  This project aims to understand the roles of carbon, water and nitrogen in the development of plate tectonics as drivers of mantle evolution. Through improved understanding of the impact of melting on the deep earth cycles of carbon, water and nitrogen, this project intends to better understand how key elements are enriched towards economically viable concentrations. This project will generate knowledge of long-term benefit for decision-making in the minerals exploration industry and key government agencies. The project will establish a new generation of Australian scientists with a deep interdisciplinary understanding of earth sciences, and pave the way for eventual unification of plate tectonic with climate systems.


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.


Measuring mantle hydrogen to map ore fluids and model plate tectonics


K.Selway: Supported by ARC Future Fellowship ( commenced 2016 )

Summary: The goal of this project is to use magnetotellurics to measure mantle hydrogen contents 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.


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 on 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.


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 exploration.


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


A. Giuliani: Supported by ARC DECRA (commenced 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.


The Western Australia ThermoChronology Hub


M. Danisik, N. Evans, B. McInnes, C. Kirkland, Z.X. Li, M. Fiorentini, M. Wingate: Support by ARC LIEF (commencing 2019)

Summary:  This project aims to facilitate novel geochronological research in diverse areas of Earth and planetary science by providing a world-first triple-dating instrument facility. Combining three independent radiometric dating methods, the facility will undertake research to advance our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Earth and other planets, and provide tools to enhance exploration for Earth’s resources. Expected outcomes include the formation of a strong collaborative facility for academic, government and industry research and a further strengthening of Australia’s position as an international research and education leader in the field of geochronology. It will lead to an improved understanding of the evolution of Earth’s surface, and the formation and distribution of mineral and petroleum resources.


A novel ToF-SIMS facility for organic and inorganic analyses in WA


K. Grice, W. Rickard, G. Benedix, S.-P. Jiang, S. Reddy, M. Kilburn, P. Clode, D. Peyrot, D. Wacey, P. Lavery, P. Masque, R. Trengove, F. Xia, A. Deditius, G. Maker: Support by ARC LIEF

Summary:  Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry is a surface sensitive analytical technique that provides detailed elemental, isotopic and molecular information on surfaces, interfaces and thin layers with detection limits reaching in the parts-per-billion-range. The proposed facility is a next generation time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer that allows parallel detection of organic and inorganic species in a given sample. Most importantly it will provide structural information of organic molecules intimately associated with minerals, meteorites, fossils, petroleum source-rocks to biochemical samples bolstering Western Australia’s Earth and planetary sciences, energy, materials sciences, life science and metabolomics research.


Cutting-edge electron probe microanalysis driving Western Australia’s resource geosciences


D. Sampson, S. Barnes, M. Fiorentini, I. Fitzsimons, S. Johnson, A. Kemp, M. Kilburn, M. Martyniuk, A. Putnis, S. Reddy, R. Smithies, Y. Uvarova: Support by ARC LIEF (commenced 2018)

Summary:  The overwhelming demand for electron probe microanalysis from outstanding research groups in Western Australia requires renewal of over-subscribed, aging facilities to drive innovation and alleviate bottlenecks in advanced geosciences multi-capability workflows. A new generation electron microprobe, with advances in trace element mapping and cathodoluminescence analysis, will enable superior characterisation of a wide range of materials. The electron probe will drive underpinning geoscience, resources science and economic geology, as well as support a broad range of disciplines and diverse fields, such as nanotechnology, microelectronics and aquatic sciences.


Femtosecond laser micropyrolysis gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer


S. George, J. Paterson, M. Van Kranendonk, J. Brocks, N. Sherwood, D. Jacob, A. Fuerbach, G. Brock, S. Löhr, S. Sestak: Support by ARC LIEF (commenced 2018)

Summary: The project aims to build a femtosecond-laser, micropyrolysis gas-chromatograph-mass spectrometer. The facility will have the capability to selectively analyse very small petrographically-recognisable organic components, hence bridging the analytical gap between organic petrography and organic geochemistry. The project aims to understand the early evolution of life, the response of the biosphere to mass extinction, the migration of fluids in petroleum reservoirs, the heterogeneity of organic matter in shale gas reservoirs, and the composition of macromolecules in biominerals and macerals. The facility will contribute to a broad range of Australia’s theoretical and applied problems in geoscience and geobiology.


Australian membership of the International Ocean Discovery Program


R. Arculus, D. Cohen, S. Gallagher, P. Vasconcelos, C. Elders, J. Foden, M. Coffin, O. Nebel, H. McGregor, M. Clennell, C. Sloss, A. Heap, A. Webster, A. Kemp, S. George: Supported by ARC LIEF (commenced 2016)

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.


Magmatic oxidation state, water content, and volatile nature: New insights into genesis of porphyry copper mineralisation at Zhunuo in the Gangdese belt, southern Tibet


X. Sun, Y. Lu: Supported by NSFC (commenced 2017)

Summary:  Many models about the genesis of porphyry copper mineralisation in the Gangdese collisional zone of southern Tibet have been advanced based on abundant elemental and isotopic analyses. However, some issues remain unclear, including the source of magmatic water and the contribution of ultrapotassic and high-Mg dioritic magmas to porphyry copper mineralisation. The Zhunuo porphyry Cu deposit in the western part of the Gangdese copper belt is characterised by the occurrence of many Miocene igneous rocks including fertile high Sr/Y monzogranite and monzogranite porphyry, high-Mg dioritic rocks (enclaves and diorite porphyry), ultrapotassic rocks (lamprophyre), and barren low Sr/Y granite porphyry, and by the enriched or curst-like Nd-Hf isotopes of high Sr/Y rocks. These features are rarely present in the porphyry copper deposits in the eastern Gangdese, and thus the Zhunuo deposit offers a new window into the genesis of porphyry Cu mineralisation in continental collision zones. This project is aimed at analysing compositions of some minerals such as zircon, apatite, amphibole, and plagioclase by Electron microprobe analysis (EMPA) and LA-ICP-MS, and in-situ sulfur isotopes of sulfides, studying magmatic oxidation state, water content and volatile (e.g., S, F, Cl) and their evolution during magma mixing, and constraining the source of magmatic water and contribution of different magmas for porphyry copper mineralization. The results will not only be helpful for further understanding porphyry copper mineralisation and evaluate the fertility of igneous rocks in the Gangdese belt but also provide new insights into improving porphyry copper metallogenic theory in collisional zones.


Genesis of comb quartz layers: case studies from porphyry Cu deposits at Qulong, Tibet and Now Chun, Iran


Z. Yang, Y. Lu: Supported by NSFC (commenced 2015)

Summary:  Two hypotheses have been proposed to account for the formation of comb quartz layers (also unidirectional solidification textures, UST). One concept proposes that these textures have grown from pockets of exsolved magmatic fluid located between the magma and its crystallised border, but the other proposes that they have precipitated directly from a crystallising silicate melt. To test these hypotheses, as well as to investigate the nature and source of primitive ore-forming fluids in porphyry Cu systems, comb-layered quartz from Qulong and Now Chun porphyry Cu deposits has been selected for the following studies. Features to be studied include: (1) their distribution, occurrence and petrographic characteristics; (2) their spatial and genetic relationships with Cu mineralisation; (3) characteristics of melt/fluid inclusions (e.g. composition, formation temperature, Cu content) in comb-layered quartz; and (4) their elemental and oxygen isotopic geochemistry. The aims of this study are to: (1) document the nature and variation of initial ore-forming fluids in the two deposits; (2) clarify the genesis of comb quartz layers; and (3) identify the sources of ore-forming fluids for porphyry Cu system.


3D Earth


J.C. Afonso, J. Ebbing: Supported by European Space Agency and MQ University (commenced 2017)

Summary:  The goal of this project is to establish a global 3D reference model of the crust and upper mantle based on the analysis of satellite gravity and (electro-)magnetic data in combination with seismological models and analyse the feedback between processes in Earth’s deep mantle and the lithosphere. Selected case examples will provide the possibility to test these approaches on a global and regional scale. This will result in a framework for consistent models that will be used to link the crust and upper mantle to the dynamic mantle.


CWAS: China-Western Australia Seismic Survey


L. Zhao, H. Yuan GSWA: Supported by the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (commenced 2016)

Summary:  Western Australia is an ideal natural laboratory for understanding the evolution of the Australian craton. To better understanding how and where the cratonic nuclei merged in the Precambrian requires high-resolution probing of the crustal and mantle structure beneath Western Australia. IGGCAS, CCFS and GWSA will install a 900-km-long dense (station spacing of 10 to 15 km) seismic profile across the Western Australia from the Port Hedland to the southwestern border of Kimberly Craton, in order to:

- image the crustal structure of the north edge of Pilbara craton, the Canning basin and south edge of Kimberly craton with a high-resolution, and address the following issues: 1) deep geometry of the craton boundaries, 2) deep geometry of craton collisional belt; 3) differences of crustal structures between two cratons

- image the mantle structure of the north edge of Pilbara craton, the Canning basin and south edge of Kimberly craton and address the following questions: 1) geometry of the convergence beneath the craton boundaries, 2) characteristic difference of the upper mantle of the two cratons.