UNE scientists shine at ‘Geology Olympics’ in Brisbane

Published 28 August 2012

Earth scientists from the University of New England were prominent participants in the “Geology Olympics” – the 34th International Geological Congress (IGC), held in Brisbane at the time of the Olympics in London.

The IGC, held every four years, is the world’s largest gathering of geologists. And this year’s Congress, hosted by Australia and attracting more than 5,000 delegates from 112 countries, was the largest geology meeting ever held in Australia.

Titled “Unearthing our Past and Future”, the 2012 IGC ran from the 5th to the 10th of August at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The UNE delegates presented three Keynote addresses and many other papers, on topics ranging from the vanished islands of Fiji and the effects of sea-level change on island societies, to the lost oceans of Tibet and the discovery of huge, complex eyes in the fossilised remains of an early arthropod.

Ian Metcalfe, an Adjunct Professor in UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science, was one of only a handful of geologists at the Congress who delivered more than one invited Keynote address. In one of these, Professor Metcalfe presented the results of his research over the past 30 years on the formation of the South-east Asian continental crust. And in the other, written in collaboration with several other scientists, he reported on the dating of volcanic ash layers in eastern Australia using precise uranium-lead dating techniques. This is enabling the calibration of climate-change events more than 240 million years ago.

Altogether, Professor Metcalfe was author or co-author of nine presentations at the Congress.

Dr John Paterson from the School of Environmental and Rural Science was invited to present a Keynote address on discoveries, in the Emu Bay Shale of Kangaroo Island, of the well-preserved fossilised remains of soft-bodied animals from the Cambrian period. He was also the co-author of two other related papers at the Congress.

Dr Paterson was the first author of a recent publication in the leading international journal Nature documenting the discovery of complex eyes in the huge marine predator Anomalocaris that roamed the seas more than 500 million years ago.

Professor Patrick Nunn, Head of UNE’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, presented a paper on the effects of climate-driven sea-level change on island societies, using examples from the Fiji Islands during a period 700 to 600 years ago. Professor Nunn was also the co-author of several other papers. And Dr Alan Baxter from the School of Environmental and Rural Science spoke about fossils found in deep-marine sediments from two ancient oceans in Tibet. He was also co-author of two poster papers on Tibetan geology, presented with colleagues from the University of Sydney and the Tibetan Geological Survey.