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Research Activities 2009

Earth Environment


Click on the links below to read the 2009 Earth Environment research highlights or Click HERE to download the PDF version 30 pages 2.7Mb



The year proved quite challenging for us all, especially with the Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Petrology Review. This forced us to examine our research directions and priorities including also our performance. Basically, Earth Environment's research is on the response of the Australian landscape and the oceans in our region to past, present and future climate change and human impacts, with four broad specific themes focussing on:

  • Ocean chemistry and climate change
  • Coral reefs and global change
  • Landscape evolution and terrestrial impacts of climate change
  • Human evolution, linked to the environment, both in Australia and abroad.

These research themes reflect strengths that are based around a combination of leading expertise and analytical technologies, the latter predominantly developed or enhanced in-house. The recent addition of the new radiocarbon facility, a joint RSES-RSPhysE project funded through an ARC LIEF and ANU MEC grants, stands to play a vital role in understanding processes that operate in the oceans and in particular changes in carbon cycling within the Southern Ocean. Earth Environment houses outstanding analytical facilities, spanning multi-collector ICP-MS for high precision U-series dating and stable isotope geochemistry, laser ablation ICP-MS, TIMS, and oxygen/carbon-isotope mass spectrometry, to cosmogenic isotope, OSL, ESR and palaeomagnetic dating. All are vital for achieving current and new goals set by the Earth Environment. To further enhance our capabilities for environmental reconstruction and fundamental research into ocean processes, we are in the process of purchasing a new oxygen/carbon isotope mass spectrometer through the MEC and new state-of-the-art MC-ICPMS through the ARC LIEF grant scheme.

A new focus for Earth Environment is on culturing marine organisms [from microscopic calcareous and siliceous plankton to sponges, and perhaps corals] in controlled conditions to develop new and validate existing chemical proxies for the reconstruction of past environmental conditions. In combination with the development of new B isotope and trace metal proxies to link past changes in ocean carbonate chemistry and pCO2, these are providing new insights into the threat of oceanic acidification from anthropogenic CO2 under different emission scenarios.

Changes also occurred among our group with the departure of Professor Malcolm McCullogh who accepted the prestigious position of Premier's Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is accompanied by Dr Julie Trotter. Several of his PhD students and Dr J-A. Mallela (Postdoctoral Fellow), appointed by Malcolm, remain at RSES. Dr Tim Barrows also left for a position at the University of Exeter and Dr K. Fitzsimmons is about to depart for a position in Germany. Dr B. Walther left for a position in Texas and was replaced by Dr Mallela. Dr Alibert recently rejoined our group to work with Dr Eggins.

Several PhD students submitted their thesis this year, and many have now been awarded their degrees.

With respect to teaching, Earth Environment provides a core component to the Marine Science undergraduate teaching program and to the BGOS degree, which is attracting high-performance undergraduate students. Other EE staff are involved in teaching and supervision of the newly established Master's course on Archaeological Science.

We are keen to investigate the possibility of developing a new MSc program in "Environmental Geoscience". This program would draw on the large pool of expertise within Earth Environment and provide the basis for pedagogic training for postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students, and has the potential to attract significant numbers of full-fee paying students.


Research Projects

Fate and transport of chemicals in an ACT municipal wastewater treatment plant, its effluent, and receiving waters Jenna Roberts
Which climate signals are captured in tropical speleothem records? Sophie C. Lewis
Reconstructing the history of hydrologic change and drought in Australia Kathryn E. Fitzsimmons
Rhodoliths as environmental proxies in the marine realm, Nicolas Darrenougue
A new chronology for sea level highstands during the penultimate interglacial Andrea Dutton
Landscape evolution and palaeoenvironment reconstruction of the Lake Mulurulu Lunette, Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, NSW. Tegan E Kelly
High resolution Sr concentration and isotope distributions in a Neanderthal tooth from Payre (Ardèche, France) using laser ablation ICP-MS Rainer Grün
Climate change and coral reefs Mallela, J
Coral and Speleothem Reconstructions of Ocean-Atmosphere Dynamics in Southern Indonesia during the 8.2 ka event J. Mazerat
The Quaternary comes in from the cold Brad Pillans
Silicon isotopic fractionation in marine sponges: A new paradigm and model for understanding silicon isotopic variations in sponges Martin Wille
Coral calcification and ocean acidification in the central region of the Great Barrier Reef Juan-Pablo D’Olivo
Extinction implications of a chenopod browse diet for a giant Pleistocene kangaroo Gavin J. Prideaux
Kalkowsky's association of stromatolites and oolites - re-evaluation and geological significance Robert V. Burne
Sediment transport in the Murray Canyons offshore South Australia S. Schmidt
Polar forests on the edge of extinction E. M. Truswell
Higher silicon concentrations in the Pacific sector the Southern Ocean during glacial times Michael J. Ellwood
360 million-year-old giant predator discovered on the South Coast Ben Young
Lead isotopic evidence for an Australian source of aeolian dust to Antarctica at times over the last 170,000 years Patrick De Deckker
The boron geochemistry of biogenic silica Andrea de Leon
Direct dating of fossil human remains Renaud Joannes-Boyau
Biological Germanium Discrimination in Diatoms Jill Sutton
Late Quaternary radiolarians as proxies for past environmental conditions in the eastern and southern sectors of the Indian Ocean John Rogers