School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Bruce Selleck
It is with great sadness that we heard of the sudden death of Professor Bruce Selleck of Colgate University (Hamilton, New York state, USA) last week. Bruce was a Professor of geology and had a long association with the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, in relation to the Colgate University Study Groups in addition to undertaking joint research with some members of our School. We extend our sympathy to his family and the Colgate community. Link to Bruce Selleck obituary.

Spotlight on SEES

27 September:
Voyage of exploration into Australia’s deep past

Dr Lloyd White 269x170Geologist Dr Lloyd White, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will join an international team of scientists on board the research vessel JOIDES Resolution as it embarks on a voyage of discovery, sailing from Hobart to Fremantle from September 26 to November 26.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) lecturer will be one of about 40 scientists from all parts of the world and representing many different specialisations on board the ship as it makes its way around the southern coastline of Australia, stopping at several target locations to drill down into the rock bed under the ocean.

“We will be sailing between Hobart and Fremantle, and coring four sites into parts of the ocean floor to learn more about the Earth’s climate in the Cretaceous period (66 - 144 million years ago) and to learn more about the history of the supercontinent Gondwana as it began to separate into different continents (Australia, Antarctica and India),” Dr White said.

19 September:
UOW joins international partners in South American study

Allen Nutman - thumb

Collaboration the first as a member of the University Global Partnership Network 

Researchers from University of Wollongong’s (UOW) School of Earth and Environmental Sciences will work alongside colleagues from Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Canada, India, Argentina and Uruguay in a five-year, $1.75 million project to study the geology of the Rio De La Plata Craton and the eastern Gondwana assembly. 

It is the first collaboration to come under the umbrella of UOW’s membership in the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) and recently signed agreement with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the most prestigious state-based research and development funding agency in Brazil.

The project, led by University São Paulo (USP), runs from August 2017 to August 2022. UOW’s involvement is led by Professor Allen Nutman, the head of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science Medicine and Health.

20 July:
Kakadu site dates Australia’s human history back to at least 65,000 years ago

Madjedbebe thumbMore than 10,000 artefacts recovered at site, revealing new details about the first Australians

New evidence uncovered by a team of archaeologists and dating specialists shows Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years — much longer than the 47,000 years argued by some archaeologists.

The findings have been published in Nature magazine this week. The new discoveries were found at Madjedbebe, a site on Mirarr land within the Jabiluka Mineral Lease near Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. The researchers worked in partnership with the Mirarr Traditional Owners under a landmark agreement with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC). 

10 May:
Primitive cousin Homo naledi much younger than thought

Tony Dosseto - thumbEfforts to date Homo naledi fossils have produced an unexpected result; the early human species lived much more recently than scientists had thought.

Homo naledi fossils were discovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013. While the fossils shared some anatomical features with modern humans (such as the shape of their wrist bones), other features (such as the small size of the skull) had more in common with some of the earliest members of the Homo genus, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, who lived close to two million years ago.

While the mix of primitive and modern features made it hard to place in the evolutionary timeline, the most common theory was that Homo naledi probably lived perhaps one to two million years ago.

However, a large international team of researchers has now dated those fossils, and the results show that Homo naledi was most likely alive sometime between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago. The finding means Homo naledi was alive at the same time as Homo sapiens – modern humans – first appeared. 

Nicolas Flament
Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award 2017

Nicolas Flament - Award 2017The 2017 Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award is awarded to Nicolas Flament for his contribution to understanding global mantle dynamics by combining geodynamic and seismic models with geological data and field observations.  

27 April: 
San Diego mastodon discovery rewrites the story of humans in North America

Richard Fullagar - thumbEvidence from an archaeological site in San Diego, California, has dramatically shaken up our understanding of when early humans arrived in North America.

Until recently, the oldest records of human sites in North America generally accepted by archaeologists were about 15,000 years old. But the fossils from the Cerutti Mastodon site (as the site is being referred to in recognition of San Diego Natural History Museum field palaeontologist Richard Cerutti who discovered the site and led the excavation), were found embedded in fine-grained sediments that had been deposited much earlier, during a period long before humans were thought to have arrived on the continent.

University of Wollongong archaeologist Professor Richard Fullagar joined the team studying the Cerutti Mastodon site in 2015, brought in for his expertise in impact and wear marks on stone tools. 

Facial Deconstruction with Nick Rheinberger

In a world first, Nick Rheinberger is getting his head "deconstructed". Facial Anthropologist Susan Hayes normally takes ancient skulls and puts faces on them, but as a teaching aid, she's taking Nick's head and turning it into a digital skull. The first part of the project is a series of hi-resolution photos of Nick's completely still and level head. Take a look at this time lapse

19 April
Gerald Nanson honoured for uncovering the secrets of Australia’s geological past

Gerald Nanson 2x1At the Autumn graduation celebrations, Professor Nanson was awarded the title Emeritus Professor in recognition of his contributions to Earth sciences research. Professor Nanson joined UOW as a lecturer in 1977.

He played a major role in shaping the research and teaching initiatives in the former Department of Geography, the subsequent School of Geosciences, and ultimately the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences. 

18 January
Hotspot created when Russia and China collided

Dr Nicolas Flament thumb

Geophysicists solve mystery of the Perm Anomaly’s formation 

Deep below the city of Perm in Russia, about 2500 km down, lies an unusual geophysical structure known as the Perm Anomaly, a region of the Earth’s mantle that is significantly hotter than the material surrounding it.

Its discovery in 2012 took scientists’ understanding of the deep mantle zone of the Earth’s interior to an unprecedented level of detail. (The mantle is the section of the Earth’s interior between the base of the crust and the top of the core at the centre. About 2850 km thick, it accounts for about 84 per cent of the Earth’s volume.) Now, new discoveries about the formation of the anomaly are further challenging our understanding of the mantle and its relationship with the process of plate tectonics.

Top 100 most-discussed journal articles of 2016

Allen Nutman – ARTICLE #40 OF 100
Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures
Letter in Nature
Fossils discovered by Australian researchers in a remote area of Greenland provide evidence to support a theory of rapid development of early-stage life on Earth.

Gerrit Van Den Bergh – ARTICLE #60 OF 100
Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores
Letter in Nature
This paper was one of two studies published in Nature that dramatically increase our understanding of early humans and their 'hobbit' ancestors