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Research School of Earth Sciences
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Research Activities 2011

Earth Materials and Processes




The Earth Materials and Processes area comprises research groups in Rock Physics, Experimental Petrology, and Structure & Tectonics. A large part of our research centres around laboratory based measurements at high temperatures and pressures under carefully controlled conditions that simulate those occurring in nature; such experiments are characterized by a rich array of analytical equipment, which are also put to use studying natural samples. These activities are complimented by extensive field-based observations, often in collaboration with scientists from other institutions, nationally and internationally. Through such investigations we aim to develop understanding of the structure and chemical composition of the Earth and planetary interiors in general, and the processes by which the Earth and other rocky planets evolve. Our interests start at the very beginning of solar system history with how the Earth and other rocky planets accrete, and then cover the ongoing processes of mantle convection, volcanism, metamorphism, global tectonics and the formation of ore deposits.

Areas of current research activity include:

  • The making of terrestrial planets. Chemical constraints on the accretion of the Earth and similar planets from the solar nebula, and the processes of core formation; mineralogical and chemical properties of the mantle and their influence on global tectonics.
  • The nature of the Earth's upper mantle. Experimental studies and thermodynamic modelling of the phase equilibria relevant to upper mantle melting and ultra-high-pressure metamorphism associated with crustal thickening and subduction; experimental and microstructural studies of phenomena associated with lattice defects and grain boundaries including incorporation of water into nominally anhydrous minerals and microscopic mechanisms of seismic wave attenuation; experimental studies and modelling of grain-scale melt distribution and its implications for melt transport, rheology and seismic properties.
  • Speciation and coordination of metal ions at high temperatures. Studies of crystals, melts and hydrothermal solutions by X-ray absorption spectroscopy, using synchrotron radiation. Studies of silicate glasses and melts to very high temperatures under controlled redox conditions. Analysis of hydrothermal solutions trapped in synthetic fluid inclusions is providing important basic information on metal complexes at high temperatures.
  • Coupling between fluid flow and fault mechanics in the continental crust. Field-based studies of a normal fault system in Oman, along with complementary stable isotope and other geochemical studies of associated calcite vein systems, are being used to explore how fault-controlled fluid flow is localized among components of regionally extensive fault networks. Laboratory studies of the seismic properties of the cracked and fluid-saturated rocks of the upper crust.
  • Building "The Map That Changes The Earth" to provide a spatio-temporal context that will allow a greater understanding of planetary tectonics from the point of view of plate-scale physical processes. To provide critical data for the tectonic reconstructions "listening posts" are being established that provide samples that can be analysed and dated using 40Ar/39Ar and U-Pb geochronology.

Professor Hugh O'Neill
Associate Director, Earth Materials & Processes

Research Projects

EM: Rock Physics   
Dynamic permeability and the evolution of fluid pathways in fault networks Paul Stenhouse
Rheology & Seismic-Wave Attenuation in the Earth’s Upper Mantle Robert Farla
Seismic Properties of Cracked and Fluid-Saturated Crustal Rocks Melissa Olin
Platinum group element abundances in the upper continental crust revisited Jung-Woo Park
Particle fluidization in fault zones:  implications for transitory, rupture-controlled fluid flow regimes Stephen F Cox
EM: Petrology   
Selenium speciation in silicate glasses Jeremy L. Wykes
Arc Peridotite Xenoliths Sarlae R. B. McAlpine
Transition Metal Stable Isotopes at High Temperatures Paolo A. Sossi
Melting of altered oceanic crust and consequences for the deep carbon cycle in subduction zones Laure Martin
Mapping Fe3+ distribution in mantle garnet using Fe K-edge XANES Brendan J. Hanger
Application of Fe K-Edge XANES Determinations of Fe3+/∑Fe in Garnet to Peridotite Xenoliths from the Udachnaya Kimberlite GM Yaxley
Al diffusion in olivine: an experimental study Irina Zhukova
Quartz isn't always just quartz... Dominique Tanner
First continental roots down-under: an outback window into Hadaean craton foundations Oliver Nebel
EM: Tectonics   
Where does India end and Eurasia begin? Lloyd White
Does India's slow-down mark its collision with Eurasia? Lloyd White
Experimental determination of diffusion rates between garnet & ilmenite using pulsed laser deposition of thin films Iona R. Stenhouse
The structure of subucting lithospheric slabs Gordon Lister