December 2010      
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Planetary geoscience, Mars and you

Michael Leggo

Planetary geoscience and future directions

In this edition of GeoEdLink I have elected to write a short note on a field of geoscience in Australia which, while fascinating, gets little public attention. This is Planetary Geoscience, and it is necessary to set this in the broader context of Planetary Science. I have then used Mars as an example where geoscience is being applied. Follow this link to the Geoscience Views section of the newsletter to read on. Perhaps one day a geologist you know or helped educate will walk on the surface of Mars.

Publishing so close to the end of term and the start of the holiday season I would also like to take this opportunity to wish every reader a safe and enjoyable summer season and a truly educational and prosperous 2011.

Dr Michael Leggo
President, Australian Geoscience Council


The year is rapidly drawing to an end, and we finish as we begun, wondering what the national curriculum will look like and whether it will actually be implemented without further political wrangling. This year, however, we at least have a fair idea about the overall state of the curriculum and an understanding that a national Yr11-12 Earth and Environmental Science course is firmly part of the conversation.

ACARA have released the science curriculum for P-10 and at first glance it would seem that all the hard work put in by geological organisations may not have made any difference, other than perhaps keeping the subject included. I have not yet had a chance to thoroughly appraise the final product but my first impression is that no changes based on feedback I am aware of has taken place and if anything the overall geoscience content has been reduced. I urge you all to examine the ACARA documents via their website; and provide your feedback to ACARA and the AGC. If there are serious shortcomings in the final product we will need to make representations as soon as possible even though they may go unheeded. We can only try.

In closing, I hope all our subscribers enjoy a well earned rest and safe and happy journeys between now and start of term in 2011. If you have a geoscientist friend or family member you may find this link a handy guide to present buying!

Greg McNamara - Editor, GeoEdLink
All feedback and submissions should be sent to the GeoEdLink Editor, Greg McNamara


Geoscience Education News & Reviews

Teachers get the dirt at "Dust Off" 2010

Teachers on the mine tour

The Australian Mining Hall of Fame hosted "Dust Off 2010" in Kalgoorlie on the 29th – 31st October. "Dust Off" is an annual Professional Development Weekend for WA teachers that provides them with the opportunity to explore mining and minerals first hand.

Teachers came from a variety of areas that saw Primary School teachers, High School teachers and Careers Advisors come together to participate in a weekend where they engaged with members of the mining community and other education providers in the Goldfields.

The teachers visited the Australian Mining Hall of Fame where they were able to venture underground, watch a gold pour and participate in hands on learning activities that they will utilize back in the classroom.

They also visited Paddington Gold Mine where they learnt about the geology of Kalgoorlie and the metallurgy involved in the processing of gold.

All teachers who participated in the event said it was a once in a lifetime experience and something that they would definitely recommend to other teachers.

Science students gearing up for a summer of school

The National Youth Science Forum is on again early in the new year in Canberra and Perth. It consists of a mix of scientific, formal, personal development, and social activities. These range from laboratory visits to sports evenings and from a bush dance to group dynamics.

Part of the Canberra experience will be a visit to Geoscience Australia. Read more about the NYSF here.

Rare Earth Elements the next big thing?

Career advisors could do worse than suggest students consider exploration geology, especially considering how essential many hard to find elements are to today's electronic world. Developments in the use of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) in products as diverse as touch screens and hybrid motor magnets mean REEs are not only in big demand but may help solve many environmental problems as they are better understood. Read more here.

Rock eating bacteria lurking in the deep

Research into deep sea sediments and basement rocks is expected to unearth a range of extremophile bacteria that could shed light on how life might survive in more hostile environments within the solar system. The biochemistry involved could potentially be adapted to help astronauts survive on hostile planets like Mars.

On-line resources - links and reviews:

The Scientist and the Saint
What do volcanoes, a scientist priest, a catholic saint, and Geoparks have in common? Follow this link to the Geoscience Views section of the newsletter to find out.

Climate change on-line
The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers is a publication prepared by a Working Group and Oversight Committee made up of Australian Academy of Science Fellows and other Australian scientists with internationally recognised expertise in climate science. You can download all the documents here and also order hard copies from the Academy

What to Buy a Geologist for Christmas
You may enjoy this blog from geologist, writer, traveler, and aspiring polyglot, Evelyn. She is currently a 5th-year PhD student in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program and will obtain her doctorate in Marine Geology & Geophysics (with a Geochemistry focus) sometime in 2011. She is a great example to show people where the science can lead them and how they can have fun along the way!

Speaking of blogs
Here is another geoscience blog, full of interesting reading and insights into how young geoscientists think, what they work on and what they enjoy. It seems they are normal, fun loving people (with an interest in science). Who'd have thought?

Incursions rock in Western Australia

Teachers on the mine tour
Geo-Ed, a Western Australian group, has developed a Geology-based incursion program that links into the current WA Curriculum for Years One to Seven in dynamic and interesting ways.

Recently, an eight session Geology based course was designed and offered to The Swan Education District Primary Extension and Challenge students. Student and Staff feedback was very positive.

At the end of October, Kinross College Year Seven were exposed to the topic; Earthquakes, Tsunamis & Volcanoes. All participants enjoyed it immensely.

Further information on how schools can use Geo-Ed to enrich learning programs can be found at

Call for help finding fossil plants
Geologist John Byrnes is collecting any facts on fossil wood or trees in NSW. If you know of locations, specimens on display or other related information please let John know via email:


Geoscience Education Views

Planetary geoscience
Dr Michael Leggo, AGC President

The state of planetary science in Australia
The field of planetary science encompasses a broad range of disciplines, including astronomy, astrophysics, geophysics and geology, geochemistry and cosmochemistry, astrobiology, meteorology and atmospheric sciences, plasma physics. The objects of planetary science studies are the planets of the solar system, as well as extra-solar planets, with regard to their formation, composition, evolution, and the possibility of hosting life as we know it on Earth.

The Australian scientific community already comprises all the relevant expertise that could generate a significant international "foot-print" in planetary sciences, with Australian scientists at the forefront of all the disciplinary fields encompassed by the broad scope of planetary science research. It is therefore not surprising that there is also a substantial research output in planetary science from individuals and groups residing in Australia. This output is demonstrably of high quality and international impact, as also testified by the many international collaborations established by Australian based researchers who often are involved in research funded by major international space agencies, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

Fields and centres of investigation
Cosmochemical studies of the composition of the Sun, the solar nebula, meteorites, asteroids and the Moon are conducted at the Australian National University. Geochemical investigations on early planetary compositions and evolution (including that of the Earth and the Moon) are conducted at the ANU and at Curtin University. At Macquarie University core-mantle segregation studies are carried out by experimental petrology methods. Geophysical models of early planetary evolution are investigated at Macquarie University and Monash University.

Australian astronomers and planetary scientists are involved in a number of international projects aimed at the exploration of the outer objects of the solar system, and which contribute to the search for extra-solar planets. The bulk of this activity is concentrated at the UNSW, with collaborations involving the University of Southern Queensland, the University of Western Australia (Perth Observatory), and the University of Tasmania (Canopus Observatory).

Observation and exploration of planetary surfaces and atmospheres is conducted by individuals with expertise ranging from geology to geophysics to astronomy to astrophysics. Mostly these researchers, who are spread across a variety of host institutions, principally in NSW, the ACT, and SA, collaborate internationally. The common element in this branch of research is represented by the use of orbiter data sets and the computing and modeling techniques needed to process the data and interpret them. A very good example of this is Mars.

Mars as an example of the application of geoscience to planetary studies
In 1971, orbiter Mariner 9 returned images that, although fuzzy by current standards, showed some of the most impressive geological features ever described on a planetary body and also led to the first comprehensive global geological map of Mars. Most of the subsequent and planned missions to Mars have the search for water and life as their primary objectives.

With Mars Global Surveyor (1997-2006), the Martian surface was imaged in unprecedented detail. This mission demonstrated that Mars is a geologically active planet on which volcanic and tectonic processes occurred until very recent times, and where water and aeolian erosion are widespread. These features have been the subject of numerous detailed investigations and interpretation utilizing computer based GIS and remote sensing techniques.

Subsequent NASA missions, including the Scout Program Phoenix lander and others still ongoing, have furthered our knowledge of the Martian surface with imagery as good as 25 cm/pixel and by direct analysis of soils, rock and ice along sub-equatorial regions and in the arctic. The Phoenix lander has shown that there are oxidizing compounds and that the soil has nutrients that could sustain life. It is comparable to the soils of the Atacama Desert in Chile, and there is certainly life there.

It is worth noting that Astronaut Harrison H Schmidt, a geologist and the only scientist to walk on the Moon, believes that at least one field geologist should be part of each crew landing on Mars.

The Scientist and the Saint – 150 years before Kanawinka Geopark
Ian D Lewis
Consultant Karst Geomorphologist and Chairperson,
Community Interpretation and Education,
Kanawinka Global Geopark Board

The Kanawinka Global Geopark in Australia is the world's largest by far. 400 kilometres long, it stretches from Colac in Western Victoria along the southern coastline to Beachport in South-eastern South Australia. It has several outstanding major geological features.

A beautiful series of volcanoes and lava flows extend 150 kilometers inland and run westward right across the region, with coastal volcanic shorelines and cliffs at Port Fairy, Portland and the spectacular Cape Bridgewater, Victoria's highest coastal cliffs. Lava caves at Byaduk, shield and caldera volcanoes, nested maars at Koroit and Camperdown, altered valleys and basaltic waterfalls near Hamilton and lakes around Colac mark the variety of one of the world's most continuous sequence of volcanic features, ending in Australia's youngest volcanoes at Mt Gambier (23,000 years) and Mt Schank (6000 years). Mt Schank began erupting when the foundation stone was laid for the first pyramid in Egypt!

The slightly higher land of Western Victoria is the striking tableland of the Dundas Plateau around Casterton and Coleraine, where several quarries across this region reveal that the peaceful plateau flatness masks great distortion from the tectonic forces undergone by the rock beneath.

To the west, this higher land drops to a vast limestone plain of much younger creamy white rock, riddled with over 1000 recorded caves, sinkholes, dolines and springs which feature world-renowned freshwater scuba diving, fossil sites, bat colonies and petroglyphic rock carvings understood to be over 20,000 years old. Even younger limestones form a series of stranded Pleistocene shorelines preserving 13 cycles of interglacial high seastands extending back nearly one million years.

The drop in the land from volcanics and laterite Tablelands down to the limestone plain (called a karst plain) is marked by the longest fault line in the region, the 150-kilometre Kanawinka Fault running from Naracoorte in the north to Dartmoor in the south, and directing part of the Glenelg River valley. The Kanawinka Geopark is named after this feature and an early pastoral station built on it in the 1860's. The name is interpreted as "The Land of Tomorrow".

In the 1860's a remarkable priest arrived in this Kanawinka district. The Reverend Julian Tenison Woods was a product of the scientific enlightenment of the age at the centre of the British Empire. His father was an editor of the London Times and young Julian moved within the circles of the London Geological Society. He wrote many important papers and several books about the volcanoes and caves and coastlines of the Kanawinka country, publishing them London. He spent his life observing and recording new geological science in direct opposition to his Catholic teachings and repeatedly clashed with the church hierarchy. The most famous of these battles revolved around his inspiration and support of Sister Mary McKillop, now Saint Mary of the Cross, as together they founded her Australia-wide schools for the poor and destitute children of mothers deserted by their menfolk for gold diggings and pioneering in a vast and hard new country.

These two outstanding people have made remarkable contributions to Australia and in particular to Kanawinka country in Victoria and South Australia. Geoparks are not just for geologists - they celebrate the role of communities within them and promote visitation and appreciation of their landscapes through the new and exciting advent of Geotourism. Although the concept of a Kanawinka Global Geopark was 150 years to come, The Scientist and the Saint along with many others began weaving its texture as they moved and worked through its landscape.

Several websites provide much more detail to their stories and the Kanawinka Global Geopark itself: — The Scientist — The Saint — The London Geological Society — About UNESCO's Global Geoparks — About Kanawinka Global Geopark


Geoscience Education Events & Activities

Australian Geography Teachers Association Conference, 10-13 January, 2011
Geography goes national
Register here.

Australian Science Teachers Association Conference - CONASTA 60, 10-13 July, 2011
Note: the dates have varied from other years to better accommodate state and territory holidays.
Look here for more information..

34th Session of the International Geological Congress (IGC) 5-12 August, 2012
This may seem a long way off but it is guaranteed to be a big event with something for everyone. You will need to start planning for it now!
Register your interest now - you know you want to.


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