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Our research

In the Australian Government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2015 assessment, Curtin University received the highest possible ranking for its research in Geology and Geochemistry.

Much of the research in the Department of Applied Geology is supported by world-class facilities and equipment, and funded from a range of government and industry grants.

Mineral systems and exploration under cover

Applied Geology research in mineral exploration and ore deposits ranges from micrometre-scale chemical and microstructural studies of ore minerals to regional geological and geochronological studies of mineralised terrains, including collaborative work with industry and government.

National Resource Sciences Precinct Partnership

The National Resource Sciences Precinct (NRSP) is a CSIRO, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia (UWA) collaboration connecting the world’s best researchers with industry and government to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing the resources industry.
Main Contact: Professor Steve Reddy
Website / more information: National Resource Sciences Precinct

Timescales of Mineral Systems

We are using field mapping and advanced geochronological techniques to establish tectonic frameworks for mineral exploration around the world. We are part of the Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET), and our current projects include banded iron formations of the north Pilbara region and rocks of the Capricorn Orogen of Western Australia, are in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Western Australia and industry partners.
Main Contacts: Professor Birger Rasmussen, Associate Professor Fred Jourdan, Associate Professor Noreen Evans, Dr Chris Kirkland

Distal Footprints of Ore Deposits - Uncover Initiative

Australia is an old continent with much of its remaining mineral endowment obscured by a thick cover of weathered rock, sediment and soil materials. This presents a critical challenge for mineral exploration now and into the future. The key to discovering new resources under cover is the ability to detect and recognise the distal footprints of deep giant ore systems. This Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) supported four-year collaborative project will create a distal footprints ‘toolkit’, an inter-related suite of tools (know-how, methodologies, new field and laboratory analysis techniques) useful for practical exploration in areas of cover. This collaboration between CSIRO, UWA (through the Centre for Exploration Targeting), Curtin University, the Geological Survey of Western Australia, The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems and in partnership with the exploration industry and the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, aims to address the key technical risks impeding future greenfield exploration.
Main Contacts: Professor Steve Reddy, Associate Professor Chris ClarkDr Diana Plavsa

Experimental Geochemistry of Fluid-rock Systems

Applied Geology has a relatively new experimental geochemistry laboratory. This lab covers the full cycle of crustal and uppermost mantle conditions, with facilities to examine surface aqueous geochemistry (led by Dom Wolff-Boenisch), hydrothermal conditions (led by Kirsten Rempel) and deep crust and upper mantle (led by Katy Evans). Equipment includes a comprehensive array of water quality testing kit, titanium and teflon bombs and furnaces (T to 250 and 1100 degrees C respectively, pressures on the saturated water vapour pressure curve), a flow through hydrothermal apparatus (T to 450 degrees C, pressure to 500 bars) and two end-loaded piston cylinder apparatus (T to 1600 degrees C and P to 2 GPa).

The lab is still, to some extent, in the commissioning stages, but research is underway. Current research projects include monitoring and investigation of the new groundwater cooling system for the IVEC supercomputer, experiments on the solubility of Au in organic liquids, and synthesis of homogeneous standards for laser ablation and SIMS analysis, and an exploration of the effect of water on ferric:ferrous ratios in mantle melts.

Main Contacts: Dr Katy Evans, Dr Kirsten Rempel, Dr Dom Wolff-Boenisch

Sedimentary environments, basins and energy resources

Applied Geology research in sedimentary basins and petroleum systems uses field studies, subsurface geophysical data, petrology and geochemistry to investigate ancient sedimentary environments and modern sedimentary systems, with applications to the energy and groundwater sectors. Projects include those listed below and we welcome enquiries from researchers and prospective students.

Chevron University Partnership

Chevron’s University Partnership Program is a global network of universities that Chevron work with to develop centres of excellence in both teaching and research. It was established at Curtin in 2014, and involves the appointment of Professor Chris Elders as the new Chevron Chair in Petroleum Systems. At Curtin the aim is to develop the applied aspects of geoscience training so that graduates from undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes are equipped with the skills that they need to develop successful careers as petroleum geoscientists. It also provides the opportunity to develop collaborative research programmes with Chevron and other industry partners which at Curtin are focussing on the evolution of petroleum bearing basins in Australia.

Main contact: Professor Chris Elders

Structural and Stratigraphic Evolution of Hydrocarbon-bearing Sedimentary Basins

We evaluate the links between sedimentation, sequence development, basin evolution, and diagenesis on the formation and evolution of petroleum systems in Australia, SE Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere, including regional studies and the characterisation and prediction of reservoir quality.
Main Contacts: Professor Chris Elders, Dr Moyra Wilson, Dr Nick Timms, Dr Aaron Hunter, Dr Milo Barham

Equatorial Carbonate Sedimentary and Reservoir Development

We are studying Earth surface processes and past global and local environmental change to investigate the influence of climate, oceanography, relative sea level change and tectonics on coral reefs, marine shelves and the coastal zone.

Main Contacts: Dr Moyra Wilson, Dr Robert Madden

Crust-mantle evolution and geodynamics

Applied Geology research in crust-mantle evolution and geodynamics integrates structural, palaeomagnetic, geochemical and geochronological data to understand tectonic and geodynamic processes on scales ranging from individual rock units to mountain belts, basins, and entire continents. Projects include those listed below, and we welcome enquiries from researchers and prospective students.

ARC Centre of Excellence in Core to Crust Fluid Systems

The CCFS CoE is involves collaborative partnerships with Macquarie University (Sydney) and University of Western Australia (Perth), the Geological Survey of Western Australia and numerous international Universities. It aims to integrate previously disparate fields – geochemistry, petrophysics, geophysics and numerical and thermodynamical modelling – to reach a new level of understanding of Earth’s dynamics and the fluid cycle(s) through time
Main contacts: Professors Simon Wilde, Zheng-Xiang Li, Steve ReddyAlexander Nemchin, Chris Clark, Dr Xuan-Ce Wang
Website / more information: CCFS CoE website

The Early Earth-Moon System and the Development of Continents and the Biosphere

We are using Earth’s oldest minerals and rocks, particularly those preserved in the ancient Yilgarn and Pilbara cratons of Western Australia, to study the first stages of Earth history, and to constrain the evolution of Earth’s early atmosphere and life. We are using geochemical and microstructural analysis of Earth’s oldest mineral grains and rocks, together with samples of lunar rock, to decipher the earliest history of the Earth-Moon system.

Main Contacts: Professors Simon Wilde, Alexander Nemchin, Birger Rasmussen, Steve Reddy, Dr Nick Timms, Dr Marion Grange

Supercontinents, Mantle Processes, Tectonics and Geodynamic Cycles

We study how the configuration of the continents has changed with time using palaeomagnetism and the entire array of geological information and tools. We examine the links between assembly and breakup of supercontinents such as Pangaea, Rodinia and Nuna, global episodes of magmatism and mineralisation, and the formation of Earth’s hydrosphere and atmosphere using temporal-spatial correlations and geodynamic modelling. We analyse basaltic rocks and lamproite to model the thermal state and compositional heterogeneity of the Earth’s mantle, and to delineate tectonic environments (particularly mantle plumes and Large Igneous Provinces).

Main Contact: Professors Zheng-Xiang Li, Simon Wilde, Dr Katy Evans,Dr Xuan-Ce Wang, Dr Sergei Pisarevskiy, Dr Katy Evans, Dr Xuan-Ce Wang, Dr Christopher Spencer

Mineral Chemistry and Microstructure, Geochronology and Isotope Geochemistry

With an impressive range of state-of-the-art analytical equipment at our fingertips, and research expertise in this research topic, we are well known for our research in geochronology, isotope geochemistry, and microstructure of minerals.

Main Contacts: Professors Simon Wilde, Peter Kinny, Steve Reddy, Ian Fitzsimons, Noreen Evans, Chris Clark, Dr Richard TaylorDr Nick Timms, Dr Svetlana TessalinaDr Christopher Spencer, Andrew Putnis, Dr Chris Kirkland, Dr Aaron Cavosie

Quantitative Simulations of Natural Systems in Thermodynamic Modelling

Current work focuses on ultra-high temperature and ultra-high pressure metamorphism, sulphur in metamorphic fluids, mixed-solvent high-salinity fluids, chlorine and sulphur in silicate melts, and the role of fluids in redox-transfer processes.

Main Contacts: Dr Katy Evans, Dr Tim Johnson, Chris Clark

Planetary Science

Applied Geology research in planetary sciences includes tracking fireballs and meteorite recovery, microanalysis of samples from the Moon, Mars, asteroids and other meteorites, and studies of meteorite impact craters and shocked minerals. Current projects include those listed below and we encourage prospective research students to contact us.

The Desert Fireball Network

Meteorites generate a fireball as they come through the atmosphere – you may even have seen one of these yourself. The Desert Fireball Netork is a network of digital cameras in the outback desert of Australia which capture photographs of the night sky. By making networked observations of the fireball we can triangulate its trajectory, track the rock forward to where it lands, and back, to where it came from in the solar system.

Main contact: Professor Phil Bland, Dr Martin Towner
Website / more information: Fireballs in the Sky

Meteorite Studies of Early Solar System Processes, Planetary Accretion and Differentiation

We are studying the microstructure, geochemistry, mineralogy and geochronology of meteorites and asteroids in order to gain new insights into processes of planetary accretion and differentiation, as well as the evolution of the solar system. For example, we are using actual Martian meteorite data to better understand the geological evolution of Mars.

Main Contacts: Professors Phil Bland, Alexander Nemchin, Steve ReddyDr Gretchen Benedix-Bland, Dr Nick Timms, Dr Katie Dyl

Impacts, Volcanism, Mass Extinctions, Evolution and Global Environmental Change

Current work includes using noble gas geochronology to determine precise ages for large igneous provinces and meteorite impact craters, and methodological development of the 40Ar/39Ar dating technique. This research is helping to constrain the causes of global mass extinctions and climate change.

Main Contact: Dr Fred Jourdan, Dr Aaron Cavosie

The Early Earth-Moon System and the Development of Continents and the Biosphere

We are using Earth’s oldest minerals and rocks, particularly those preserved in the ancient Yilgarn and Pilbara cratons of Western Australia, to study the first stages of Earth history, and to constrain the evolution of Earth’s early atmosphere and life. We are using geochemical and microstructural analysis of Earth’s oldest mineral grains and rocks, together with samples of lunar rock, to decipher the earliest history of the Earth-Moon system and investigate the origins of life on our planet.

Main Contacts: Professors Simon Wilde, Alexander Nemchin, Birger Rasmussen, Steve Reddy, Dr Nick Timms, Dr Marion Grange, Dr Aaron Cavosie

Decoding the Geochronology of Mars

Integrating image processing, high performance computing, geochemical and geochronological studies, this project aims to determine a detailed and accurate geologic timescale for Mars. The exploration of Mars excites humanity as it is the nearest planet to our own in terms of possible habitability. The project aims to apply novel automated feature recognition techniques to high resolution space-craft derived images of the surface of Mars. Combining this with formation ages of Martian meteorites, the anticipated goal of the project is to define an absolute chronology for Mars. A more complete timescale will provide context for the geologic processes that affected Mars and may help to better understand the past habitability of the planet.

Main Contacts: A Prof Gretchen Benedix, Dr Martin Towner

PhD Research Projects

Palaeomagnetism of Paleo-Mesoproterozoic Mafic Rocks in Australia and Reconstruction of the Supercontinent Nuna - Prof Zheng-XIang Li

Project description This project will focus on investigating targeted mafic rocks in northern and/or western Australia, and through comparing Australian data with that of other continents, to reconstruct the assembly, configuration and breakup history of the geologically hypothesised supercontinent Nuna.

Funding availability: ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (3 year scholarship and project costs).

Commencement date: Negotiable

Applicant qualities: Candidate required to have a strong geological, geophysical or physical background.

Application deadline: Flexible

Verifying Australia's LIP Record: Geochemistry and Petrology of Paleo-Mesoproterozoic Mafic Igneous Provinces - Prof Zheng-XIang Li

Project description: This project will focus on the petrogenesis of targeted Precambrian mafic igneous provinces in Australia that are believed by some to be related to mantle plume activities. The purpose of the study is to examine how many of these provinces have the geochemical and petrological characteristics typical of high-temperature melting, a deep mantle source, and high magma productivity predicted of mantle plumes. An improved Australian LIP (large igneous province) record, combined with the global record, will enable us to examine the possible presence of cyclicity in plume activities, and its potential linkage to tectonic cycles.

Funding availability: ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (3 year scholarship and project costs).

Commencement date: Negotiable

Applicant qualities: Candidate required to have a strong geochemical and petrological background.

Application deadline: Flexible