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Research School of Earth Sciences
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The Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) is one of the top ten, university-based geoscience programs in the world and the nation’s premier
centre for basic research in the physics, chemistry, material properties and environmental conditions of the Earth. Our research extends across the
spectrum of the geosciences – from the conditions attending the emergence of life on Earth to the effect of human activity on the health of the Great
Barrier Reef.

Cooperation with other ANU programs were bolstered in 2003 by support from the centre. University Council approved a capital borrowing
package that includes co-location of the Department of Earth and Marine Science on the RSES campus, a move that will enhance both geoscience
teaching and research at ANU. The Planetary Sciences Institute, a collaboration with RSAA, received funding in 2003 to permit us to begin
recruitment of the first two joint faculty appointments.

The School has fully transitioned into the new external funding environment. The $3.50M raised from ARC for 2004 alone represents a
500% return on our entry levy. In the first three years of eligibility, our average success rate of 50% in the Discovery and LIEF programs
is more than double the national average. As we approach steady-state funding from ARC sources we have a clear idea, at least for the
intermediate future, of how our performance translates into additional income. This permits us to transfer certain direct research costs from
the block grant to externally derived income. We undertook an internal round of strategic planning in 2003 in which disencumbered block
grant funds were completed for. Six new initiatives representing promising new research directions (described below) were supported.

Most indicators of the present and future health of the School are highly positive. Our success in extramural funding reflects our
distinguished international reputation and close correspondence to national and geoscience community research priorities. Despite
these encouraging developments, several challenges loom. Paradoxically, one is the success of the U.S. Earthscope program through
which the National Science Foundation will pour up to half a billion new dollars into geophysics research over the next decade. While
this augurs well for the employment prospects of our students, we anticipate a highly competitive environment in terms of recruiting
academic staff in this area. Another concern is the lack of matching funds for large scale federal grant programs at the level routinely
available to state universities. While we have been able to increase the number of our RTS students over the past few years, undergraduate
geoscience enrollments are down requiring that we redouble our efforts to place the very best of them at Australia’s premier research university.

Key Statements

Enhancing our national and international roles

  • The Institute for Scientific Information’s Highly Cited Researchers (those designated in the top 0.5% of cited researchers
    worldwide and a key indicator in the ranking of ANU as 49th among world universities) Geoscience category lists 8 RSES
    faculty. This represents 11% of the entire nations total across the 23 disciplines covered by ISI.
  • 2003 was the first full year of RSES ownership of the Australian National Seismic Imaging Resource (ANSIR), the country’s
    principal facility for sub-surface imaging. Additional recurrent funding approved in 2003 to support our Deep Earth Sounding
    initiative meets a national research priority and capitalizes on ANSIR ownership.
    Improving the educational experience of our students
  • In 2003, University Council approved capital borrowing including an RSES initiated proposal for $8.7M to co-locate the
    Department of Earth and Marine Science on the RSES campus. When realized, cooperation engendered by this move will
    greatly enhance geoscience teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
  • In 2003 we introduced our Honours/MSc curriculum in Physics of the Earth. The six courses taught were well subscribed.
    Enhancing our research performance
  • Increased our utilization of ARC Discovery eligibility to 85% of total.
  • Provided significant input into the 2003 National Strategic Plan for the Geosciences, an AAS sponsored activity, that endorsed a research plan essentially inseparable from the
    activities of RSES.
  • Completion of a $0.6M expansion and refurbishment of our electronics design and fabrication facilities.
  • Undertook a round of internal strategic planning using block grant funds freed up by retirement, a policy of over substitution
    of ARC funds, and supplementary R-funds to: appoint a level C faculty in satellite geodesy, recruit two new positions in
    seismology, recruit in the exciting new area of computational mineral physics, and support a $1M, 5-year proposal for a
    Center for Advanced Data Inference (CADI). In addition, matching funds for two major equipment bids were supported.
    Enhancing our role in research training
  • Enhanced efforts at recruitment of RTS students through publication and distribution of a new graduate brochure and
    vast improvements to our web environment.
  • Creation of a research intern program ( targeting high-quality Sydney/Melbourne
    students early in their undergraduate career into a track leading to postgraduate enrolment at RSES. We aggressively
    marketed this scheme through mailings, advertisements, and employment of a special projects officer.
  • Leading a DEST/EU proposal for a 15 institution, Europe-Australia cotutelle MSc.
    Continuing to develop our staff
  • Development of a graduate student induction manual.
  • Continuing commitment to upgrade the skills of academic and support staff through attendance at IT, management,
    vehicle safety, and other relevant courses and through formal technical and professional study.
    Seeking appropriate partnerships and alliances, both academic and business
  • Appointed Dr Chris McFarlane in ore genesis studies via a jointly-funded arrangement with CSIRO Exploration and Mining.
  • Close cooperation with ASI Ltd in developing the new SHRIMP SI ion microprobe and multi-collector ion detection system.
  • Engaging a consortium of Australian research units (UWA, JCU, Curtin, UTas, Macquarie, CSIRO E&M, Melbourne, and Monash)
    to prepare cooperative bids for major federal grant opportunities (e.g., a Centre of Excellence bid in Australia’s Exploration Future).
  • Continued strong linkages with Geoscience Australia, involving a large number of GA visitors and cadets working within the School
    (e.g., ANSIR, SHRIMP, CADI). Diversifying funding base
  • We are core participants in the Australian Earth and Ocean Network bid to ARC.
  • We are partners in three CRCs — Greenhouse Accounting, Landscape Evolution and Mineral Exploration (LEME), and Antarctic CRC.

Budget Performance

The School’s operating grant in 2003 was $8.79 million which was supplemented in the recurrent ledger by a further $1.58 million.
This additional income was made up of internal allocations, including MEC grants, student fees, and transfers and income from other
areas in the University. It also includes external income of $282,000 which was derived primarily from consultancies, hire of research
facilities, the sale of research services and project support. The School also received a transfer of Long Service leave funds of $137,852.
The School’s net cash operating position was $1,009,307, with a cash surplus of $75,164 for the year adding to the cash carry forward from
2002. The School regards this surplus as necessary given the salary increases resulting from the new enterprise agreement. As in 2002,
approximately 73% of the School’s recurrent expenditure budget was taken up by salaries.

Other income to the School in 2003 from sources external to the University was $6.7 million. This was made up primarily of grants of
$2.99 million, contract research ($1.6m), sales of research services ($1m) and external contributions to projects ($634,000). The rest
came from items such as consultancies, the hire of research facilities, interest on held funds and recovery of expenses from external sources.

Gender Equity Performance

The School’s gender profile did not change significantly in 2003. At the end of the year, 25 (26%) of general staff were women. Of the 10
School staff at ANUO9 or above, 3 were women. The small number of women academics continues to be of concern. Four (19%) of 47
academic staff were women, of which only one holds a standard appointment. Despite internationally increased participation at the
undergraduate and graduate levels over the past ten years, we have yet to see a corresponding increase in women applicants.

Significant Achievements in Research and Teaching

Some highlights from each of the four thematic areas of the School are:

Earth Environment

  • The Alpine Iceman Dr Wolfgang Müller’s paper in Science, “The origin and migration of the Alpine Iceman”,
    presented a stunningly detailed reconstruction of the life of ‘Otzi’ based on isotopic evidence.
    The story gained world-wide media attention by providing a superb example of geochemistry as a leading forensic science.
  • Anthropologic degradation of the Great Barrier Reef Prof Malcolm McCulloch’s paper in Nature, “Coral Record of increased s
    ediment flux to the inner Great Barrier Reef since European settlement”, conclusively showed that European faming practices had
    significantly increased the sediment load into the Great Barrier reef. Publication of this paper, with its implications to reef degradation,
    generated heated public debate.

    Earth Chemistry

  • Plutonium and the origin of the atmosphere Prof Harrison discovered evidence, in the form of xenon isotopes in 4.1 to 4.2 billion
    year old zircons, that plutonium was present on Earth for the first 500 million years of its history. This recognition provides a basis
    for us to learn about the physical conditions on Earth during its most formative stage, including the age and origin of the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • A SHRIMP multi-collector and the origin of the solar system After 20 years in development, the first stable isotope measurements using
    the SHRIMP II multi-collector were undertaken in 2003. Oxygen isotopes in lunar metal grains reveal that solar wind is depleted in 18O
    and 17O relative to the Earth. This supports a radically new view of a primordial 16O anomaly that has puzzled cosmochemists for 30 years.

    Earth Materials

  • An improved understanding of the Earth’s seismic structure Laboratory measurements of the shear modulus and strain
    energy dissipation in an important mantle mineral by Dr Faul and Prof Jackson shows that a globally extensive layer of
    low seismic velocity in the Earth’s upper mantle is not due to melting, as long believed, but instead reflects viscoelastic relaxation.
  • Spatial distribution of gold mineralisation Dr Micklethwaite and Prof Cox have advanced the theory that spatially
    concentrated aftershock activity, following rupture on major faults, focuses the flow of fluids from which gold ores are deposited.
    This concept, which can aid in assessing gold prospectivity, has been dubbed the “Golden Aftershocks” hypothesis.

    Earth Physics

  • Terrawulf Drs Braun and Sambridge commissioned the 128 processor computer cluster, Terrawulf. This system is the
    centrepiece of the Centre for Advanced Data Inference, an initiative dedicated to extracting unprecedented insights into
    Earth behaviour from ultra-large datasets. Current investigations include ensemble Earth tomography and tectonic modelling
    of the Himalaya.
  • Structure of the Australian continent Prof Kennett established a large-scale array of broad-band seismometers in central
    and eastern Australia to better define the transition in the mantle between the ancient core of the continent and the younger
    belts in the east. Results will lead to a better understanding of how our continent and its mineral resources formed.

Student Numbers

At the end of 2003 the School had 36 postgraduate students enrolled (35 PhD and 1 MPhil). 32 were in the Earth Sciences Graduate
Program and four in the Quaternary and Regolith Studies Program. The most popular broad areas of study were Earth Environment
(14 students) and Earth Physics (nine students). The popularity of environmentally focused studies is steadily increasing, particularly
amongst Australian students. During 2003, 18 students commenced postgraduate study (compared with 9 in 2002) and 11 students
submitted their theses.

Major Prizes, Honours and Awards


  • Prof Mervyn Patterson was awarded the Walter Bucher Medal (American Geophysical Union) for “seminal, and innovative
    contributions to understanding the strength and mechanical behaviour of crustal materials”.
  • Profs Anton Hales, John Chappell, William Compston, David Green, Ross Griffiths, Brian Kennett, Kurt Lambeck,
    Ian McDougall, Mervyn Paterson, and Stewart Turner were awarded the Australian Centenary Medal.
  • Prof John Chappell was awarded the David Brown Medal, “for contributions to Geology” (ANU)
  • Prof David Green was elected as a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in recognition of his scientific
    research on the Earth’s mantle and on the genesis of basalts.
  • Prof Ian Jackson was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
  • Dr Hugh O’Neill was awarded the Schlumberger Medal from the Mineralogical Society of London.


  • Ms Nerille Abram was awarded the RSES Robert Hill Memorial Prize in recognition of her interdisciplinary research and
    effective communication in the Earth Sciences.
  • Ms Rebecca Fraser and Mr Tim Wyndham recipients of the Mervyn and Katalin Paterson Fellowship in 2003.
  • Ms Julia Mullarney was awarded a Summer Fellowship by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA, to attend the
    Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Summer Program, June 23 – August 22.
  • Mr Todd Nicholson was awarded the ANU J.G. Crawford Prize for his Ph.D. thesis submitted in 2002.

New Grants

Australian Research Council grants (commencing in 2003)

Discovery grants (2003)

Dr R. Armstrong: Precise global time scale for the oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere between 2.6 and 2.0 billion years ago. $60,000 (2003-05)

Dr A. J. Berry and Dr J. Hermann: Water storage in the Earth’s mantle – understanding the process of OH incorporation in olivine. $87,000 (2003-04)

Dr J. Braun: Constraining landform response to tectonic and climate changes in an active orogen: a multi-disciplinary approach. $385,000. (2003 – 05)

Prof. J. Chappell, Dr M. Honda, Dr D. Fabel and Dr L.K. Fifield: Production and transport of soil and sediments,
determined by cosmogenic radionuclides and noble gases. $295,000 (2003-05)

Prof. J. Chappell and Dr T. Esat: Millenial scale instability of sea level and climate system: new analysis of coral terraces in
Papua New Guinea. $295,000 (2003-05)

Dr W. Dunlap and Dr S McLaren: From synchrotron characterisation of single fluid inclusions to Archaen geodynamics:
an integrated study of fluid-rock interaction in the primitive crust. $46,200 (2003-05)

Dr M. Gagan: Quantifying the El-Nino-Indian Ocean Dipole system using high-resolution coral palaeoclimate archives. $300,000 (2003-05)

Dr R.W. Griffiths and Dr R.C. Kerr: The fluid dynamics of lava flows: Silicic domes and basaltic channels. $220,000. (2003-05)

Prof. R. Grun and Dr M.K. Gagan:Stable Isotopes in marsupials: reconstruction of environmental change in Australia. $210,000 (2003-05)

Prof. T.M. Harrison, Dr T.R. Ireland and Dr V.C Bennett: A mission to very early Earth: when did conditions suitable
for life emerge on Earth?” $300,000 (2003-05)

Dr M. Honda: Diamonds – a window into the ancient mantle; the origin and Earth’s atmosphere and outgassing of the mantle. $50,000 (2003)

Dr T. Ireland: Lithic astronomy: the age and origin of the elements and their incorporation in the solar nebular. $195,000 (2003-05)

Prof. B.L.N. Kennett: Craton edges and sutures in the Australian mantle $340,000 (2003-05)

Prof. K. Lambeck, Dr D. Fabel and Dr P. Tregoning: Looking back to see the future: Change in the Lambert Glacier and the
East Antarctic Ice Sheet. $530,000 (2003-2006)

Prof. G.S. Lister and Prof. M. Harrison:Tectonic reconstruction of the evolution of the Alpine-Himalayan orogenic chain. $710,000 (2003-07)

Dr A.P. Nutman and Dr V.C. Bennett: Early Archaen Ecology – exploring the evidence and habitats for early
(3.6 – 3.85 billion year old) life. $162,000 (2003-05)

Dr A.P. Nutman: Deep crustal section through a late archaen orogon (Greenland): Archaen crustal sutures, abyssal peridotites and gold.
$170,000 (2003-05)

Dr H.S.C. O’Neill, Dr J. Hermann, Dr J. Mavrogenes and Prof. R.J. Arculus: Properties of hydrous fluids and silicate melts at very
high temperatures and pressures. $260,000. (2003-05)

Dr C. Pelejero: Uptake of Atmospheric CO2 in the oceans and implications for global change: new proxy developments. $263,035 (2003-05)

Dr P. Tregoning: Caught in a vice: Modelling crustal deformation in Papua New Guinea. $380,000 (2003-07)

Linkage grants

Dr I. Jackson: High temperature elastic wave speeds of mantle minerals and their seismological implications. $20,000 (2003-04)

ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities Grant
Dr J. Braun, Dr M Sambridge ARC LIEF: GeoWulf: An Inference Engine for Complex Earth Systems $376,951(2003)

Other Grants commencing in 2002

Dr A.J. Berry, grant from the Victorian Dept of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development for the Australian Geological Convention.:
$10,795 (2003)

Dr A.J. Berry, ANSTO ASRP grant to undertake work at the Australian National Beamline Facility, Photon Factory, Japan.
$4,370 (2003)

Dr A.J. Berry, Dr J. Mavrogenes and Dr H. O’Neill, ANSTO AMRFP grant to visit GSECARS, Advanced Photon Source, Argonne
National Laboratory, USA. $11,050. (2003)

Dr A.J. Berry, Dr H. O’Neill and Mr S. Sommacal, ANSTO AMNRF grant to visit the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
, Grenoble, France. $11,150 (2003)

Dr A.J. Berry, ANSTO ASRP grant $6,680 (2003)

Dr E. Tenthorey, Swiss National Science Foundation Research Fellowship for work to be conducted at the ANU $105,000. (2003)

Dr J.G. Wynn, Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering: AMS C-14 determinations of particle size fractions from
Australian soil organic carbon (SOC) to test Century model of SOC dynamics, $7357 (2003).

Major Equipment Committee

Dr J. Braun, Dr M Sambridge ARC LIEF: GeoWulf: An Inference Engine for Complex Earth Systems $75,000 (2003)

Dr. H O’Neill : High resolution powder X-ray diffractometer with controlled-atmosphere high temperature capabilities $199,000 (2003)

National Institutes

Virtually all RSES Faculty and a number of graduate students and general staff are members of either the National Institute of
Physical Sciences (NIPS) or the National Institute of the Environment (NIE), with several holding joint membership. Prof Chappell
is on the NIE Board of Management, gave a NIE/NITA public lecture, and participated in the “Factor of Ten” environmental expo
as speaker and essayist. Prof Harrison is on the NIPS steering committee. NIE funded a joint RSES/CCRC project on the
environmental legacy of selected naturalists.

Future Directions


In 2003, the National Committee for Earth Sciences, under the auspices of the Australian Academy of Science, launched its
National Strategic Plan for the Geosciences ( The document identified
six exciting, emerging research opportunities in the geosciences: Decoding the dirt –environmental challenges on a dynamic Earth,
Exploring submerged Australia, Exploring covered Australia, Journey to the centre of the Earth, The origin of life and its role in
earth systems, and the Science of other worlds – is anyone out there? With the exception of the second theme, RSES is without
question the national leader in developing these research opportunities.

Over the coming years, the School will evolve consistent with the School reorganization put in place in 2002. We look to our Planning
Fund (see 2001 Report to Council), success in ARC competitive grants, and initiatives funded via the Vice-Chancellor’s re-distribution
of the 3% withheld from recurrent budgets to align our research with School, university, community, and national priorities. The Planning
Fund will be used to maintain support for those high risk, long term activities of national significance for which the block grant is properly
used. During 2003 we undertook an internal competition for support through the Planning Fund and approved proposals for new faculty
appointments in planetary sciences (2 positions), deep earth sounding (2 positions), computational mineral physics (1 position), and geodesy
(1 position). A new Centre for Advanced Data Inference was funded for 5 years at $200,000/yr and matching funds
for both a stable-isotope-capable SHRIMP and 14C accelerator were approved.

Students and Teaching

The School is giving priority to increasing student numbers. My target remains a progressive increase to a student load of around 40
with a 2:1 balance of RTS vs. international students. This represents a real challenge, particularly given decreasing enrolments in physical
sciences and the propensity of Australian universities to work against the ultimate best interests of both students and the universities
themselves by encouraging their own students to pursue postgraduate study within their undergraduate department. In 2003, the formula
for internal allocation of School funds was modified to include a student load factor. Several initiatives (brochure, recruitment officer,
improved web page) enhance our visibility in this regard.

Mark Harrison
March 10, 2004

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