2014 Australian Outback – Journey to the Red Centre

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Who would have thought beneath a barren landscape such marvels could lay buried? Like an unearthed gem, the geology of central Australia served a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered by 18 RSES students this fall. Our journey to the red centre kicked-off in Adelaide, early August, and weaved north through the Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy, Uluru, MacDonell Ranges and Harts Range, to conclude in the heart of Australia, Alice Springs. Beyond the untainted night skies, toasted marshmallows and cool stillness of the desert nights, days teemed to the brim with adventures into the unknown.

Within the Flinders, a traverse along tilted stratigraphy allowed us to visit 130 M.y. of Earth’s History. The assortment of sediments that once filled the Adelaide Geosycline, including glacial tillites from the Sturtian and Cryogenian and fossils from the Ediacaran, demonstrated the complex interplay between global tectonics, climate and life on Earth. Further north, the uranium rich terrain of Arkaroola showcased fascinating rocks relict of an epithermal environment akin to the geysers of Rotorua or Yellowstone National Park. From minerals that fuel weapons to ones that fuel the ego, our journey to the ‘Opal Capital of Australia’, Coober Pedy, proved thought-provoking. The town, concealed beneath a barren plain peppered with mounds of dirt, provided a glimpse into the arduous life of a fossicker.

 Approaching the centre we were greeted by the two revered giants, Uluru and Kata Tjuta, rising 350m above the scarlet desert flat. Up-close and dwarfed by the towering walls of iron-stained arkose and conglomerate, one couldn’t help but ponder how beautiful 300 M.y. of aging could be. Forget youthful appearances, ‘brain-rock’, honey-comb weathering textures and Tafoni (caves) are the quintessence of beauty. From there on, our journey continued as we paralleled alongside the ever-stretching wall of the MacDonell Range. Here we explored the hidden world of Ormiston Gorge. Like cave paintings that depict stories of the past, structures including fold-thrust duplexes, S-C fabrics and recumbent folds told us a story of significant crustal shortening 300 M.y. ago during the Alice Springs Orogeny. Wide-eyed and hungry for zircons, carbonatites and pseudo-rubies (garnets) we drove east into the desolate Harts Range. After a hard 2 days picking in the scorching sun, pockets filled to the brim with allsorts and minds abuzz we called it a day.

Concluding our journey in Alice was bittersweet, because for every kilometre of the three thousand we travelled not only did we learn more about the place we call home but also about ourselves and our peers. One could conclude our journey to the red centre was in all an educational and memorable experience.

Jessica Lowczak PhD candidate 

Updated:  18 June 2018/Responsible Officer:  RSES Webmaster/Page Contact:  RSES Webmaster