March-April 2011      
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The Dynamic Earth

Michael Leggo

The recent disastrous earthquakes in Japan (11 March 2011) and the South Island of New Zealand (4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 ) have again focussed attention on the instability in the Earth's crust. It has also reinforced the need for an even greater understanding of how the Earth works.

Seismic activity, manifesting as earthquakes, is particularly prevalent where huge, slowly moving, semi rigid segments of the Earth's crust and upper mantle, known as lithospheric plates, are colliding and interacting with each other. Unfortunately for Japan it is at the nexus of three such plates, while New Zealand lies along the boundary of two plates.

Where an oceanic plate collides with a continental plate, the former is far stronger and the oceanic plate is forced under the continental plate into the Earth's mantle forming what is known as a subduction zone. This causes partial melting of the lithosphere and the generation of magma. Volcanicity and seismic activity can also occur where plates are separating, at what is known as a divergent plate boundary. Not surprisingly therefore volcanicity, or the generation of volcanoes, also occurs along the same boundaries between the Earth's major tectonic plates as do earthquakes, a double geological whammy.

Unfortunately, over the aeons volcanoes have also had disastrous consequences for mankind, not only directly in the vicinity of the particular volcano, but also more generally through atmospheric contamination and on occasions its' global impact, e.g. the Krakatau volcano in 1883. The most recent significant example of major atmospheric contamination was the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in April 2010, which lies on a divergent plate boundary.

Investigations of these phenomena, seismic activity and volcanicity, fall into the geological and geophysical fields and specialists in each are recognized as seismologists and volcanologists respectively. These specialists are most commonly employed by government and international agencies, particularly to monitor relevant activity, to attempt to predict events and to assist in formulating mitigation strategies since regrettably the events themselves are unstoppable. At locations known to be subject to a higher risk of natural hazards, engineering and environmental geoscientists play an important role in the verification of the optimum selection of sites for schools, homes, shopping centres and manufacturing/processing industries, and the monitoring of potential risks.

Dr Michael Leggo
President, Australian Geoscience Council


The new year has already focussed the attention of the world on the geology of our dynamic planet in the most dramatic of fashions. I also note that we have all been able to witness, as never before, many of the processes delivering such drama via security cameras, mobile phones, television and the internet. Modern technology may not be able to prevent such events but it does allow us to study them in new ways. This enables us to learn more about the surface processes as they occur and how they interact with the landscape, the built environment, and the people tragically caught up in them.

Terrible as these events maybe for some, they offer us an unprecedented teaching and learning opportunity and I am sure that all those who have suffered would, if they could, acknowledge that their losses should not be in vain. To that end I am dedicating the bulk of this issue to multimedia sources that can be used to assist students gather a better understanding of the dynamic Earth, in particular earthquakes and tsunami. A quick internet search reveals many resources are available, listed here are just some I think are especially useful.

On a different note, as we digest the implications of the national curriculum decisions by ACARA the government has signalled it plans to cut funding to the Australian Academy of Science for the Primary Connections and Science by Doing programs. Follow this link to find out more.

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


Geoscience Education News & Reviews

Earthquakes everywhere?
A question posed by many students in response to the recent massive earthquakes in Indonesia, Pakistan, Haiti, New Zealand and Japan is: Are big earthquakes becoming more frequent?

• Read this article to find out what the experts think -
This might be a good comprehension exercise for senior students!

• Here is the link to the research behind the story -
This abstract is not for the faint hearted but it does show that real science lies behind the news.

If nothing else this demonstrates that fundamental questions about how the Earth works are still to be answered and that the Earth Sciences are at the cutting edge of research into how the Earth works and how we can work in with the Earth.
To find out more about Earthquake monitoring and analysis go to:

Earthquakes: What are they and why do they happen?

To understand earthquakes and the context in which they happen it is a good idea to learn a bit about Plate Tectonics first:
This Dynamic Earth is an excellent starting point online and PDF versions -
• Plate Tectonics is summarised here:
This Dynamic Earth also has a teaching companion -
• Lots of links to Plate Tectonic teaching resources

Software screen shot

Earthquakes are not randomly distributed. The Earth's plates are constantly in motion and most major Earthquakes happen where two or more plates interact. However, earthquakes do happen elsewhere but they too are due to the giant forces that drive the plates.

To help students visualise the relationship between plates, plate boundaries and earthquakes download and run the (Windows only) program, Seismic/Eruption; remarkable software written by research scientist, Alan Jones. It uses real data from global seismic recordings and should leave your students in no doubt about the connection between plate boundaries, earthquakes and volcanoes.

This screenshot [reduced to fit the newsletter] represents earthquakes with coloured circles using just 4 years data from 1960-1964. The software continuously updates from international datasets and shows events over any period you select from 1960 to right now!

More useful earthquake teaching resources:
• from the Geological Society of Australia:
Earthquake Fact-ite
(reading and questions)
• from Geoscience Australia:
Build your own seismograph and calculate an earthquake epicentre

• from New Zealand Geographical Society: Canterbury earthquake resource kit
New Zealand resources from Ellesmere College
lesson plans from around the world

Tsunami: What are they and why do they happen?

Tsunami have long been misunderstood but with more and more people living on and near the coast all around the world we need to understand them better than ever. The Geoscience Australia Hazards group has provided an excellent suite of Tsunami Basics that should make it easier to understand just what tsunami are and how they are generated. Earthquakes cause most tsunami but underwater landslides and other water displacing events can also trigger them. In this animation students can see how a landslide might trigger a tsunami. Click here for a page of links to many other tsunami related animations.

Recent tsunami have not impacted Australia but Australia is not immune from them and historical and geological records demonstrate the east, west and northern coasts have all been impacted. Analysis of the likely sources of earthquake generated tsunami and likely propagation paths also indicate modern Australia could experience major impact by tsunami in certain circumstances. Emergency Management in Australia takes this very seriously.

Japan before and after tsunami

Image caption: This before-and-after image pair reveals changes to the landscape that are likely due to the effects of the recent tsunami in Japan. The new image is on the left. The image on the right was acquired in August 2008. Areas covered by vegetation are shown in red, while cities and unvegetated areas are shown in shades of blue-grey.

Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Full caption here:

More useful tsunami teaching resources:
• from the Geological Society of Australia:
Tsunami Fact-ite

• from Emergency Management Australia:
Tsunami - get the facts

• from Emergency Management Australia:
6 tsunami lesson plans

• from Tsunami basics
everything about tsunami
from the International Tsunami Information Centre plus their very helpful
Awareness and Education resources

On-line resources - links and reviews:

Television as a teaching resource
The last decade has seen a greater penetration of broadband internet into Australian homes and business together with a widening integration of television programming with internet access. The benefits to education are potentially enormous. Teachers can now access broadcasts that were previously ephemeral, bringing documentaries and other useful material into the classroom to students who, very often, will never have had the opportunity to view them at home. In recent months there have been numerous documentaries broadcast that would serve as ideal complements to teaching about Plate Tectonics, earthquakes, tsunami and the impact geological phenomena have had and continue to have on the human condition.

Recent Earth Science teaching resources on ABC iView:
How the Earth made us - 4 episodes only on iView for a very short time
Human Planet 1 - Life in the deep freeze (polar environments)
Human Planet 2 - Roots of power (grasslands)
Planet Earth awesome images from around the globe
The Blue Planet excellent natural history of the oceans
Catalyst regular ABC science show. Each episode on iView for a short period of time
Note: iView can be searched - just follow this link - and use keywords such as planet or Earth

All services:
Free to air TV in Australia offering catch up services

Have you tried EarthCaching yet?
EarthCaching is a fun, outdoor recreational and educational activity, ideal for engaging students. All you need is a GPS unit, access to the internet and a willingness to get out and about. The EarthCache adventure is treasure hunting but not for buried treasure chests, the treasure is the lessons people learn about our planet when they visit an EarthCache site.
Find out more here:
Information for teachers here:
Example lesson plans here:

Blogging: an unlikely teaching resource?
Blogs are a way of life on the internet these days. Some blogs are just the ramblings of folks you may not want your students reading but some blogs are more worthy of attention. Here are several, from Earth scientists, that might help students understand the dynamic Earth a bit better:

Geology in Motion:
Daves landslide blog:
Clastic Detritus:
... and you might like to explore others listed here:

Astronomy on-line
Astronomy software has been around for a while and as computer technology improves and internet access gets faster and easier the ability to utilise the software for teaching has also improved. Here are two approaches to the same problem: graphic representation of the night sky in real time. One downloads for free to your desktop or laptop, the other works directly via your web browser. It is up to you how you use them but teaching about the night sky just got easier. The red-screen option in Stellarium is particularly useful for helping students to identify objects in the night sky directly from a laptop in the field.

Stellarium: Free open source planetarium software -
Solar System Scope: Free interactive 3D browser-based program -


Geoscience Education Views

Funding cuts to the Australian Academy of Science likely to close school education programs
Media release, 25 March 2011 from
Australian Academy of Science

The Australian Academy of Science is deeply disappointed that the Federal Government has signalled that funding will not continue for the Academy’s highly effective primary and high school science education programs.

'The scientific literacy of Australian teenagers is slipping behind that of their international counterparts,' Australian Academy of Science President Professor Suzanne Cory said.

'In the last 10 years, the number of students studying science subjects in high school has fallen significantly. This has grave implications for research, innovation and industry, as well as the ability of our citizens to understand and address environmental and medical problems.

'Now more than ever it is vital that Australia invests in quality science education at all levels. These are proven, cost-effective programs that support teachers to engage children and teenagers in science.'

PrimaryConnections and Science by Doing were established by the Academy and supported by the Government in response to concerns over the quality of science education in schools. Both programs have had outstanding feedback from students and teachers, and both have the capacity to become self-sustaining.

'Independent assessment of PrimaryConnections and Science by Doing clearly show very positive results,' Professor Cory said.

'Students report that they enjoy science immensely when taught using the Academy’s expert-developed programs, and teachers report increased confidence.'

Educators have expressed grave concerns about the possible cancellation of the programs and how that might impact schools' capacity to effectively implement the new national science curriculum.

Most primary school teachers have no science training. PrimaryConnections supports them to integrate science into literacy and numeracy in their everyday classes. Primary Connections units have been purchased by more than half of all Australian primary schools; the program requires a relatively small investment to become self-funding.

Science by Doing enables high school science teachers to present science in a fun, hands-on, engaging manner. It has been successfully piloted in 28 schools across Australia. It plans to develop a comprehensive range of resources for high school teachers and students.

'The Academy is committed to continuing these important programs and wishes to work with the Government to improve the science learning of all Australian students,' Professor Cory said.

More information about PrimaryConnections, Science by Doing, and the scientific literacy of Australian students is available by contacting Mona Akbari (below).

Mona Akbari, Australian Academy of Science
Phone: (02) 6201 9452 | 0447 679 612

The Australian Geoscience Council will be submitting a letter of protest to the Prime Minister, copied to Minister Garrett. Readers are encouraged to do the same.


Geoscience Education Events & Activities

Questacon Smart Moves Invention Convention: Applications CLOSE, 15 April, 2011
An intensive week-long program that provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to develop their product or service as well as opportunities to form networks and get advice from industry experienced presenters and mentors.
Look here for how to apply..

Rio Tinto Big Science Competition: Registrations CLOSE, 30 April, 2011
Look here for more information..

National Science Week: school grant applications CLOSE, May or June, depending upon State, 2011
Look here for more information..

Invention Convention, June 27 - July 1 2011

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..

Australian Institute of Geoscientists at the EKKA, 10-20 August, 2011
Look at the AIG web page closer to the event for more information..

Professions Roadshow in central and southern Queensland, August, 2011
Look at the JCU web page closer to the event for more information. or email the coordinator:

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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