March 2013      
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A message from the AGC President

Neil Williams

Neil Williams PSM
Professor, University of Wollongong
President, Australian Geoscience Council

I hope all readers had a relaxing and enjoyable break over the summer vacation period and that you have all returned to workplace refreshed and full of enthusiasm for the new work year. In the September 2012 Edition of GeoEdLink, I said that I would try to get one or two of the Australian geoscientists working on the exciting Mars exploration program, involving the vehicle Curiosity, to contribute an article to GeoEdLink on their work using Curiosity. I am pleased to have the first of these articles in this Issue of GeoEdLink. It is by Dr Penny King who is a Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences in the Australian National University's (ANU) College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences. Penny went to school in Canberra and trained as a geologist at the ANU. From there she moved to North America for 18 years, working as an academic in both the USA and Canada before returning to Australia to take up her current position at the ANU. Her article is interesting from not only a scientific research perspective, but also from a personal perspective. Every seemingly trivial action taken by Curiosity is a triumph of science and engineering and reading Penny's account of the launch of Curiosity and its landing and awakening on Mars brings us some terrific first hand insights into the emotions and excitement that have been felt by those involved in the project.

Speaking of excitement, one aspect of the geosciences that always gives me a thrill is the unexpected discoveries that geoscientists frequently make. One recent one brought to my attention is the discovery of a "lost continent" under the Indian Ocean (see: and:

A group led by Trond Torsvik, a geoscientist from the University of Oslo, has found evidence of continental rocks near the Seychelles Archipelago in the western Indian Ocean. The evidence suggests that more fragments of a "lost continent" might be scattered beneath the Indian Ocean. The dominant rock type beneath the oceans is basalt, so any indications of continental rocks in oceanic regions remote from continents are unusual and exciting. The discovery raises all sorts of questions about how the continental material got to be where it is now. Also, as the ABC news article points out, the discovery has political and economic ramifications, as well as scientific ones, because under the United Nation's Law of the Sea, submarine continental rocks may be used by nations under certain conditions to extend their territorial claims beyond the standard 200 nautical miles from their coastline. I will write more about Australia's Law of the Sea claims in my next GeoEdLink column as it is a subject that involved some fascinating geological research that has received little public attention, but which has had, and will continue to have, a very significant impact on Australia.

Prof Neil Williams PSM
President, Australian Geoscience Council


2013 is already rushing by fast and as I write Term 1 of the school year is coming to an end. The Australian Curriculum - Science (F-10) is rolling out across the states as each state adapts the national document to suit its needs. So far so good albeit with local flavours.

When I wrote in this space for the December edition the final version of the senior Earth and Environmental Science curriculum had not been released. However, by the end of 2012 the draft release had been formally but quietly accepted by the states as a document to work with. Now we have to wait and see just what each state does with this document. Some may take it as is, some will want to change it and some may choose not to adopt it at all. It is not at all clear at the moment how the states will proceed but we will have some idea by July when Victoria plans to decide on its position.

Assuming the states do adopt a version of the senior Earth and Environmental Science curriculum that suits their needs, it remains to be seen how schools, teachers and students react to the new option. Schools do not have the teachers, teachers do not have the resources and students will need to see not only career pathways but also a university entrance system that does not penalise them for taking this option. This will be a set of challenges we must rise to if this new subject is to be a national success.

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


Geoscience Education News & Reviews

 Geotourism event on ice

The Fourth Global Geotourism Conference was scheduled to be held in Iceland in August 2013, but has been postponed by the local organising Committee. An announcement about the revised date and location of the Conference will be shared with GeoEdLink members later this year, as soon as it is confirmed.

 Mapping the world in Earth Science Week

Earth Science Week 2013 aims to engage young people and others in learning how geoscientists, geographers, and other mapping professionals use maps to represent land formations, natural resource deposits, bodies of water, fault lines, volcanic activity, weather patterns, travel routes, parks, businesses, population distribution, our shared geologic heritage and more. Maps help show how the Earth systems, such as geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere, interact.

Earth Science Week for 2013 will be held 13 - 19 October. Earth Science Week is an international celebration initiated and hosted by the American Geosciences Institute, promoting the importance of the geosciences to the community. To register your Australian Earth Science Week event or to request an Australian Earth Science Week 2013 poster please contact Geoscience Australia.

 Call for Case Studies
TESEP logo

The Teacher Earth Science Education Programme (TESEP) is collaborating with Earth Science Western Australia (ESWA) to produce case studies that complement their fantastic Earth and Environmental Science (EES) text book.

By updating with Australia-wide examples, the book will more effectively help all Australian teachers when the new Australian Curriculum EES course for years 11-12 is rolled out in the next couple of years. TESEP is encouraging nation-wide adoption of this text and by providing supplementary case studies they are helping to ensure it is of maximum use across the country.

The book has 19 chapters and TESEP are looking for excellent Australian examples to support many areas of text. Each case study will consist of 2 to 6 pages, including an overview of relevant research, clear easy to read diagrams, uncluttered maps and relevant activities written for easy comprehension by senior high school students. The chapters address minerals, fossils, geological time, plate tectonics, geohazards, energy, resources and the 3 rock types but also embrace soils, water, weather, climate change, human activity, ecosystems and biodiversity. A complete overview with some possible case studies is listed on the TESEP website. Follow this link to see what a case study will look like.

Please contact Greg McNamara, TESEP Executive Officer, to discuss useful material you may have or your interest in working up a case study you are familiar with.

 Canberra shows off

Geoscience Australia celebrates Canberra's centenary with some impressive images from the planning, mapping and building of the capital on display in the public foyer. In addition to the static displays, old mapping and surveying films have been digitised and made accessible via touch screens, with special film showing events planned throughout 2013. These films explore Geoscience Australia's role in studying Earth processes, its role as key Australian Government advisor on all aspects of geoscience and as custodian of the nation's geographic and geological data and knowledge. The display is open to the public Monday to Friday during business hours until the end of the year.

 Student Expo in Brisbane
AIG logo

The Australian Institute of Geoscientists Queensland Branch in collaboration with QUT Natural Resource Science Student Society and UQ Geoscience Student Society invite all students (Yr11/12 and University) interested in pursuing a career in geoscience to an afternoon of presentations from graduates and career geoscientists from industry, government and academia. Meet representatives of companies, consultancies and government agencies to discuss career paths. Tentative date is the Thursday 22nd August at a venue to be confirmed in Brisbane City. All enquiries and expressions of interest in booth space, posters, displays, and attendance to

 Treasure Hunt returns to South Australia

The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy's annual mineral resources Treasure Hunt is on for the fifth time this April. The Treasure Hunt is a FREE interactive and educational discovery trail for primary school children (age 9-11) and their parents. This year participants delve deep into the world of crystals and gemstones with workshops on how they are formed and how gemstones are tested for purity. They will also discover the causes tsunamis and earthquakes and embark on some engineering challenges. All this while keeping eyes peeled for hidden treasure! Weary explorers can join in a sausage sizzle at the conclusion of the hunt!
The hunt is on Wednesday 17th April 2013, 10am for 10:30am start, at Barr Smith Lawns, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide.
Book online: or book by phoning 08 8202 9999.

On-line resources - links and reviews:

 GeoTreat heads south to coastal gem

Australia's Coastal Wilderness GeoTreat Project aims to help travellers understand the geotourism opportunities available in the Sappire Coast region of NSW. This pilot will allow the concept to be tested and developed and promises to help bring more tourists to the region. It is based on the GeoTreat program developed as joint project between Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland and is being examined in Australia as yet another way to help tourists effectively plan their itineraries around National Park destinations.

 This WASP is no pest
WASP logo

Earth Science Western Australia, in collaboration with Woodside, have launched their Woodside Australia Science Project (WASP) website and the first set of resources available online are their Year 7 Water and Oil resources that relate directly to the Year 7 curriculum statements: Some of Earth's resources are renewable, but others are non-renewable. Water is an important resource that cycles through the environment. While you are visiting the website you might like to sign up to be notified when future packages are released (Yr 8, 9, 10 & 6), quizzes are added and the first app is released.

 Newsletters expand your horizons - and narrow your need to search!

GeoEdLink subscribers know the value of eNewsletters that bring information on resources, events and opportunities to your in-box without the subscriber having to sift through endless emails and websites to find what is needed. Here are some more you might like to subscribe to:

  •  Education Centre Updates
      - Geoscience Australia's newsletter for teachers in Australian schools. It is designed to keep you informed of recent developments in geoscience, teacher resources, upcoming events, and competitions for school pupils.

  •  GEOZ
      - Geological Society of Australia's newsletter for interested members of the public, it highlights geoscience related events of interest throughout the world.

  •  Earth Science Western Australia (ESWA)
      - ESWA supports the teaching of earth science by developing teaching & learning resources, providing professional development for teachers, presenting at schools and assisting with field experiences for students.

  •  Amazing Geologist Facebook page!
      - The images and graphics posted on this Facebook site are amazing (and potentially very useful in teaching).

 Eureka moments await

The University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize is awarded for a short film that communicates a scientific concept in an accessible and engaging way. Entries are to take the form of a 1-3 minute film and must tell a real scientific story, which may be a scientific concept, discovery, invention, or the producer's own scientific hypothesis! Anything goes but keep the science in the story and keep the science real. There are some very big prizes for both Secondary and Primary school entrants. Closing date for online entry is by 7pm AEST Friday 3 May 2013. Completed entries must be received by the Australian Museum no later than 5pm AEST Friday 10 May 2013.

 The numbers do add up

2013 is the International year of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is teaming up with societies and organisations in Australia to spread the word about the role of maths and stats in understanding the challenges of our world in a fun and accessible way. Follow this link to read more about the four themes and where Earth Sciences fit in.

 Imperial rock library steps up

Imperial College London has established an on-line rock library with sections devoted to identifying rocks and minerals (complete with search facility), tutorials, and a comprehensive glossary. Aimed at undergraduates and using many specimens from Imperial College teaching materials, this is a great on-line facility to help undergraduates understand rocks, minerals and microscope petrology but would also be a useful tool for some senior high school students. There are even on-line tests available!

 Astronomy picture of the day

Astronomy is cool, and not just because you do a lot of it at night! Check out the picture of the day and the amazing pictures in the archive.

 Big Science Competition

The Big Science Competition is on again and can take place in your school on any day between 22 and 29 May 2013 inclusive.

Students sitting a paper level must all do so on the same day. However, different paper levels may be sat on different days during the competition period. Teachers who register students will go in the draw to win one of four iPad minis.

The levels are:
- Junior (years 7&8)
- Intermediate (years 9&10)
- Senior (years 11&12).

Visit Australian Science Innovation to find out more.

 IUGS-COGE begins a new era

The GEO-ERAis a new, mid to long term (2012-2016) IUGS-COGE project in collaboration with the Geological Society of Africa (GSAf) and aims to provide the entire African continent with a roadmap to advance the target of geoscience education, training and technology transfer. Follow the link, maybe you can help!

 Geoscience Australia education resources

Geoscience Australia continues to update their popular teacher-student resources and add new materials on-line. See their website for details.


Geoscience Education Views

 Working on the Mars Curiosity Rover
Family at launch
Fig1a: The author, Penny King, to the right with her family
Rocket launch
Fig1b: The Atlas V rocket taking the
Curiosity rover to Mars.

On November 26, 2011 hundreds of scientists and their families gathered at Cape Canaveral in Florida to see the launch of the Atlas V rocket that carried the Curiosity rover to Mars. The countdown clock was displayed prominently and, of course, we all had our photos taken with it (Fig. 1a). It was rather surreal because the clock counts down and then stops: a lag time is built into every rocket launch so that the ground crew can double-check everything. Then the safety announcements began along with the real countdown: 10-9-8-.... The rocket lifted up (Fig. 1b) and seemed to be suspended by a string, then all of a sudden it took off and was gone. A few minutes later it was sighted by Australians!

First image
Fig2: The first image of Gale Crater that was sent back
within a few minutes of landing on Mars.

I was waving goodbye to the Curiosity rover because I am a Science Co-Investigator one of the scientific instruments: the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer or APXS for short. The APXS measures the chemistry of rocks and soils that is used to determine the rock type and past environment. My students and I have been helping make good measurements with the APXS by examining a wide range of materials on Earth in the laboratory.

On August 6, 2012, we all held our breath as the Curiosity rover went through an incredible six minutes of gymnastics that ended when the rover was gently lowered onto the surface of Mars. I was lucky enough to be at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena with the Science Team working on the mission and you could feel the tension in the air. Many of us were unsure of our emotions after the landing and when we saw the first picture of the landing site was sent back to Earth (Fig. 2). What were those rocks that we saw in the black and white picture? What could we do with that information? What next?

The Entry-Descent-Landing (EDL) sequence seemed to defy logic ( First, the cruise stage - a clam-shaped container for the rover - separated from the remainder of the rocket. The stage decelerated through the atmosphere from about 6 km/s, while the heat shield took the brunt of heating. After some maneuvering, a parachute was deployed that further slowed the cruise stage to about 125 m/s when the heat shield was released and video was taken of the heat shield dropping to the surface ( The next step involved releasing the parachute and the back-shell of the cruise stage, leaving just a rocket-powered "sky crane" with the rover attached below. As the pair got closer to the surface dust clouds lifted up and the rover was lowered to the surface on cables that were then released and the sky crane flew off for a crash landing a safe distance away. The HiRise camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite imaged the parachute and the debris from the landing (Fig. 3). The satellite was in view of the landing site when Curiosity arrived so that it could help beam information back to Australia's Tidbinbilla Tracking Station and then on to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. I found it ironic that my family who were viewing the landing at Tidbinbilla were closer to the data when it first came down than I was in California!

Gale site
Fig3: View from the HiRISE camera of the landing site showing the debris from landing and the Glenelg area.
NASA/JPL/Uni. Arizona.

Why would NASA go to such lengths to lower a rover on the surface of Mars? Why not use airbags again like the Mars Exploration Rovers that landed in 2004? The new EDL system allowed the rover to land within a 20 x 7 km ellipse. Such unprecedented precision is needed for any future missions to collect and bring samples from Mars to Earth and for future human exploration in the solar system. Another reason for not using airbag balls is that the Curiosity rover carries a huge range of fragile instruments and a nuclear power source.

What is the Aim of Sending Curiosity Rover to Mars?
Curiosity was built to be a field geologist, an analytical lab and a car. Thus, the rover contains instruments for looking at rocks; instruments for determining the chemistry and physical properties of the environment; and a mobility system for moving across the surface (Fig. 4). Much of the first 100 sols (or Martian days) involved verifying these systems. This approach makes sense when you realise that the instruments on the arm (right side of Fig. 4) are the size of a small lawn mower and include instruments that can shake, sieve and drill! The SAM instrument alone contains more than 600 m of wiring, 52 micro-valves and ovens that heat samples above 1000 °C, so it was certainly one of the more complicated instruments to go through a Martian "checkout".

So, what will Curiosity tell us?
The goals of the mission are to:
  •  Assess the biological potential of the site by investigating any organic and inorganic compounds and the processes that might preserve them;
  •  Characterize the geology and geochemistry, including chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic composition, and geological processes;
  •  Investigate the role of water, atmospheric evolution, and modern weather/climate; and
  •  Determine the surface radiation environment

Fig4: Artist's rendition of the Curiosity rover showing the scientific instruments. NASA/JPL

What is Involved in Driving a Rover on Mars?
After the rover landed on Mars, I spent about two months at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on mission operations. There are two main jobs for scientists. One kind of job involves "tactical" operations which involve sending commands to make a scientific instrument work properly. In my case, this means helping out with the APXS (Fig. 6). The other kind of job involves "strategic" operations that involve deciding what the rover should do - it is thrilling to be able to look at new images and data from Mars and then make quick decisions about what to do next. The larger science team is divided into smaller groups that are brought together by representatives at several meetings throughout a day. The end of most days includes a Science Discussion where researchers present observations and hypotheses.

For the first three months, we worked on Mars time. Since Mars has about a 24 hr 40 minute day, this meant that if you started work one day at 10pm, then the next day you would start around 10:40pm. This was quite disorienting and I learned that breakfast is a good meal at any time of the day! I am pleased to report that we are now operating on a normal Californian day time and I can now do operations from my computer at home (at 2am…).

Mt Sharp 1
Mt Sharp 2
Figs 5a & 5b: Views of Mt. Sharp, the ultimate destination in Gale Crater. The rocks are layered on the mountain from oldest at the bottom
to youngest at the top and so they provide a record over time of Mars's environment. NASA/JPL/MSSS

After landing, we had some immediate decisions to make. Should we stay or should we go? The rocks beneath us were coarse grained conglomerates that we did look at briefly while still checking out some of the instruments on board. We decided that, instead of travelling directly to the Mt. Sharp, we would first check out the Glenelg area in the opposite direction where three different kinds of surface features intersect (Fig. 3). On that journey, we have found a range of interesting and unexpected features including hydrated calcium sulfate and nodules that are unlike any we've seen on Mars before (Fig. 7a,b). The first sand was scooped and analyzed by X-ray diffraction for its mineral content, and by SAM for its isotopes and gas components. We also drilled and analyzed the first rock on Mars.

What Resources are Available? There is a lot more to learn, and some great short videos about the mission at:

Penny King, Research School of Earth Sciences Australian National University

Fig6: End of Curiosity's arm showing the APXS in the center. NASA/JPL/MSSS
Fig 7a: A conglomerate
(named "Link")
indicating that water once flowed on the Martian
Mt Sharp 2
Figs 7b: Hydrated calcium sulfate veins and nodules in basaltic sediments in Sheepbed rock also indicate the presence of fluids in the past. NASA/JPL/MSSS


Geoscience Education Deadlines, Events & Activities


 Labtech Conference 2013, Melbourne 14 June
Supporting the Australian Curriculum in Science Classroom. Call for sessions closes Friday 19th April.
See the web site for more information.

 Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prizes
Supporting the Australian Curriculum in Science Classroom. Entries close Friday 3rd May.
See the web site for more information.

 ICT/STEM Conference 2013, Melbourne 30 August
Supporting the Australian Curriculum in Science Classroom. Call for sessions closes Friday 21st June.
See the web site for more information.

 STAQ 60th Queensland Science Contest.
The contest is open to all Queensland students from Prep to grade 12, and is judged across 6 grade divisions. Entries must be registered by Friday 6 September 2013..
See the web site for more information.


 Geological Field Trip for Kalgoorlie teachers (run by ESWA with support from BHP Billiton), 5 April 2013. Kalgoorlie.
Follow this link for more information.

 SASTA conference and exhibition, 15-16 April 2013. Adelaide.
Theme: Science from the Classroom to the Workplace.

 Treasure Hunt for primary school children (age 9-11) and their parents, 17 April 2013. Adelaide.
Book online or by phoning 08 8202 9999.

 CONSTAT conference, 17-18 May 2013. Hobart.
CONSTAT is getting ready for 2013!

 Science at the Shine Dome, 29-31 May, 2013. Canberra.
Power to the people: the science behind the debate.

 Labtech Conference, 14 June 2013. Melbourne.
Quantum Victoria will host Labtech.

 CONASTA 62, 7-10 July 2013. Melbourne.
Abstract submissions closed, final program to be announced in April!

 WorldSTE2013 Conference, 29 September – 3 October 2013. Kuching, Borneo Island, Malaysia.
Share your accomplishments and network with science education leaders and teachers here.

 Earth Science Week, 2013.
Earth Science Week for 2013 will be held 13 - 19 October.
See the web site for more information.


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