News and Events: July 2012 - May 2013

Data mining takes opal mining into the 21st century

15 May 2013

The first digital opal map for the Australian continent, showing where gem-quality opal is most likely to be found, has been created by a team of researchers at the University of Sydney. Congratulations to Andrew Merdith, Tom Landgrebe, Adriana Dutkiewicz et al.

The research was recently published in the Journal of Australian Earth Sciences and in Computers & Geosciences.

Read the full article as featured on the University of Sydney's front page news.

The Reality of Food Aid

11 May 2013

To solve global food insecurity, the first step is to know the right question to ask." Bill Pritchard, human geographer, challenges our views on what it takes to create a food-secure world. Bill is an Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Sydney, where he teaches and researches on food, agriculture and rural and regional development.

Watch Bill Pritchard's talk on TEDx Sydney.

Obituary: Sandy Island (1876–2012)

10 April 2013

In October 2012, a team of scientists led by the University of Sydney uncovered a quirky discrepancy in maps of seafloor topography during their 25-day voyage onboard the R/V Southern Surveyor, and in the process "undiscovered" an island.

The story led to surprising global interest from hundreds of traditional and social media outlets. Read about the science related to this "undiscovery". Read about it here.

Go8's meet the 'China 9'

8 April 2013

More than 100,000 Chinese students study at Australian universities, but fewer than 3000 Australian students attend universities in China. Sydney PhD candidates Erin Smith (School of Geosciences) and Andrew Clayphan have successfully applied to be part of a federal government program aimed at addressing this disparity and fostering engagement between the University of Sydney and other 'Group of eight' (Go8) universities with their 'China nine' (C9) counterparts.

Read the full news story.

This Amazing Earth: Fossils and Time

5 April 2013

From the 4th and 5th April 2013, the School of Geosciences participated in the University of Sydney’s Giant Science program. Giant Science is a two-day workshop that brings the wonders of science to primary school students (years 3-6) and their teachers.

Students got the opportunity to experience real science at the University of Sydney, with a range of hands-on activities from across the science disciplines including hands-on workshops that involved DNA, forensics, human bones, fossils, glowing worms, mummies and more! A total of 600 primary school students were hosted on campus for the Giant Science over the two days!

Samantha Clarke, a Geosciences postgraduate student ran the School of Geosciences session called 'This Amazing Earth: Fossils and Time' with the help of fellow students Elyssa de Carli, Melissa Fletcher and Phyllis Yu. Four different schools (Yagoona Public, Fairfield Public, Villawood East and Marrickville West) totalling 120 students participated in over 4 of our Giant Science sessions.

Students learnt about how fossils offered an amazing insight into a world that was once very different to the one we live in today. They learnt about how a fossil forms and why they are so important to both geoscientists and paleontologists. And most importantly, they also got to make a fossil of their own to take home!


Fossil Talk by Samantha Clarke


The fossil-making process...



Geosciences in the News! Bill Pritchard on Global Food Insecurity

2 April 2013

Associate Professor Bill Pritchard was recently featured on Channel 7's Weekend Sunrise TV program, speaking about global food insecurity. Watch the full interview.

Rio’s Mongolia Copper Dream Awakens 20-Year-Old Nightmare

21 February 2013

Rio Tinto Group (RIO)’s Mongolia copper and gold mine looks a dream location sitting next to China, the biggest market. Yet, Mongolia’s bid for more control of the project draws comparison with a Rio mine that went badly wrong.

Read the article.

Underwater landslides discovered off the Great Barrier Reef

2 January 2013

An extensive undersea mapping program of the Australian coast has revealed some surprises about the deep Great Barrier Reef, including a dense network of submarine canyons, the remains of numerous undersea landslide scarps where large parts of the continental slope have given way, and some areas which may be prone to future underwater landslides.

The research, published in the latest edition of the journal Natural Hazards, was undertaken by Angel Puga-Bernabeu, from the University of Granada in Spain, Dr Jody Webster from the University of Sydney and Dr Robin Beaman from James Cook University.

Read the full article.

New study uncovers how often rural land is chaging hands

17 December 2012

Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard has led a team of researchers who have mapped the changing ownership patterns of rural land in Australia. This research was funded by the Australian Government’s Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation. For more information about the study, click here.

ERA Success for the School of Geosciences!

The world-class standard of University of Sydney research has been confirmed in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluations for 2012. ERA judges the quality of research conducted at Australian universities. Of the almost 100 academic fields of research assessed at the University of Sydney, 75 percent performed above or well above world standard.

December 2012

This year, the School of Geosciences was rated to be Above World Standard in the areas of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sciences as a discipline area overall, rating Well Above World Standard for Geology and Geophysics research areas, and Human Geography attaining an Above World Standard rating, which was the highest rating given in the category across Australia. Congratulations to the School of Geosciences for its ERA Success this year!

Visit the University of Sydney ERA page for a comprehensive look at the 2012 ERA results.

Hot spots for world's more powerful earthquakes revealed

6 December 2012

The locations of where the world's largest earthquakes are most likely to take place have been pinpointed with greater accuracy than ever before, by researchers from the University of Sydney.

"Subduction zones, where one plate slips under another, have long been known to harbour very powerful earthquakes but our research suggests that regions where fracture zones on the seafloor meet subduction zones are at much higher risk," said Professor Dietmar Müller, from the University's School of Geosciences.

Read the full news story.

School of Geosciences student, Amy I’Anson, recognised by the Geographical Society of New South Wales

4 December 2012

On 4 December 2012, the Geographical Society of New South Wales hosted its Annual Award Dinner: a chance to recognise the special efforts and contributions of people within the Geography community. This included the annual award of prizes for the best undergraduate geography students from across the state for 'outstanding academic achievement'.

This year, the winners came from a diverse mix of backgrounds and interests. Winners included University of Sydney student, Amy l’Anson, who studied geography for the Higher School Certificate before going on the study it here at the University of Sydney. Of geography, Amy said:

“it is a subject that I find phenomenally interesting with profound implications for society. It forces us to think, about the social and environmental implications of our decisions, for now and for the future, but most importantly, geography allows us to put our heads together to come up with real solutions to the inequities that pervade society. I cannot think of anything more important”.

Awards were presented by the President of the Geographical Society of NSW, Professor Gordon Waitt. Celebrating its 85th year in 2012, the Society links renowned geographers, up-and-coming experts in the field, and those passionate about the study and application of geography. It also produces Australian Geographer, Australia’s oldest academic geography journal that is internationally respected. Visit the Geographical Society of NSW.

Food For Thought by Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard

November 2012

The global financial crisis was a product of the affluent West, but its effects have been felt the hardest in developing countries. Since 2008 the number of undernourished people in the world has risen by 115 million – including more than 30 million in India.

Read 'Food For Thought' and view the complete University of Sydney 'World' publication.

Food For Thought by Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard

Food For Thought by Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard

Pieces in a Puzzle by Ana Gibbons

November 2012

Sydney geoscientist Ana Gibbons is helping to shed light on how the Indian Ocean grew to its present size and form.
Read 'Pieces in a Puzzle' and view the complete University of Sydney 'World' publication.

Ana Gibbons

Pieces in a Puzzle by Ana Gibbons

A sprint to the end of Australian horseracing as we know it - a global perspective

Phil McManus

Associate Professor Phil McManus: "While our historically close relationship with horses has almost completely disappeared, the horseracing industry it created is now part of a global market and faces major challenges."

19 October 2012

What will the future of Australian thoroughbred horseracing look like in 10 years?

A vision of the future could be a Melbourne Cup with no Australian competitors, races without real horses apart from the occasional event at racinos (racing casinos) and racing entertainment complexes, all country race tracks closed and punters watching and betting online on Australian-bred horses in overseas races. It could also include a ban on artificial reproduction overturned and thoroughbred breeding dominated by artificial insemination and cloning.

The Australian horseracing industry is part of a global industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars. A new book by Associate Professor Phil McManus and Raewyn Graham from the University of Sydney (and Glenn Albrecht from Murdoch University), titled The Global Horseracing Industry: social, economic, environmental and ethical perspectives looks at the contemporary horseracing industry and its possible future from economic, social, ethical, geographic and environmental perspectives.

The book draws on six years of research in Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand, and explores the economic structure of the global racing business, its social and cultural roots and ethical issues ranging from reproduction to the use of the whip.

"Racing in rural areas of Australia has taken place almost since settlement and we have more racetracks per head of population than anywhere in the world," said Associate Professor McManus, from the University's School of Geosciences.

"While our historically close relationship with horses has almost completely disappeared the horseracing industry it created is now part of a global market and faces major challenges."

Associate Professor McManus's father trained harness racing horses in a country town in Western Australia. "That's where my interest in horses started. The economic, technological and cultural changes since then mean the world of thoroughbred racing and breeding is now experiencing unforeseen transformations," he said.

Among the issues covered in the book are the following.

  • How economic imperatives are skewing Australian thoroughbred breeding towards the production of 'sprinters' who excel at speed over short distances, not 'stayers' who can race over longer distances such as the Melbourne Cup. "It means owners can get a faster return on breeding, which is where the real money is, but there is a concern the emphasis on breeding for speed is undermining other qualities such as soundness," McManus said.
  • How online gambling and multimillion dollar entertainment racing complexes will cement the trend of the horse being a mere 'betting tool'. Rural race tracks will close and rich breeders will concentrate on breeding horses for the emerging markets in China, India and Brazil.
  • If the ban on artificial reproductive technology, currently under challenge in Australia's Federal Court, is overthrown it will revolutionise breeding and the cultures of 'tradition' and 'nature' underlying the horseracing industry. Both aspects are highly constructed. Natural breeding, for example, can see 'shuttle stallions' being shipped across the world, servicing over 150 mares a season in each hemisphere. The mares, in their turn, are stimulated by hormonal drugs and artificial light.
  • Black Caviar's popularity is partly built on the ethical appeal of not being 'whipped to the line' instead appearing to win with apparent ease and enjoyment. Ethical questions over whipping, jumps racing and the disposal of horses will continue to shape the industry.
  • Case studies of contested breeding and racing landscapes in Victoria and the Upper Hunter in NSW where, respectively, disputes over jumps racing and the introduction of mining have taken place.

Annual Postgraduate Presentations 2012 - November 1 2012

The Annual Postgraduate Presentations for Human Geography will be taking place on Thursday, 1st November 2012 at the Madsen Conference Room 449.

See the presentation list to see the schedule.

Honours Presentations 2012 - October 30th 2012

The final Geoscience honours presentations will be taking place on Tuesday, 30th October 2012 at the Madsen Conference Room 449.

See the presentation list to see the schedule.

Recent progress in modelling past greenhouse climates and implications for the future

Presented by Professor Matthew Huber
Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Purdue University, USA

Friday 12 October 2012, 3-4pm
Eastern Avenue Lecture Theatre

Professor Huber is visiting Australia as a Distinguished Lecturer supported by the Australian and New Zealand IODP Consortium, and has been heavily involved in the forefront of research linking geoscience information on past climates with climate modeling for both the past and the future. His presentation should be of great interest to those interested in Earth and Climate Science.

Visit the Faculty of Science Events page for more information.

Southwest Pacific Ocean IODP Workshop in October 2012

Southwest Pacific Ocean IODP Workshop
Sydney, Australia, 9-11 October, 2012

The Southwest Pacific Ocean has had a complex tectonic history, with plate boundary interactions resulting in an assemblage of deep oceanic basins, volcanic arcs, back-arc and fore-arc basins, continental ribbons and emerged and submerged carbonate platforms. The proposed IODP workshop will identify the leading scientific ideas, hypotheses and questions for this region that are pressing and require ocean drilling. The region's extensive plateaus and basins can provide crucial sedimentary records to help understand the developing interactions between the tropics and Antarctica and between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Furthermore, Australia has been one of the two major land masses undergoing major northward migration during the Cretaceous through Cenozoic (the other being India) with resulting fundamental changes in the tectonic and climate development of Earth and its biota.

This workshop will provide a forum to review the latest work in the region, briefly outline possible future IODP expeditions, coordinate activities associated with scheduled and proposed geoscience research cruises in the area, and set up working groups to develop proposals for post-2013 IODP expeditions.

More details can be found at the conference website.

Lada Phadungkiati receives award at International Geographical Union conference

Geosciences PhD student Lada Phadungkiati was awarded the runner's up prize for best poster at the International Geographical Union (IGU) International Congress in Cologne in late August, 2012. Lada acknowledged the Assistance of Professor Philip Hirsch, Dr. Robert Fisher and Mattijs Smits for their comments and suggestions on references for her poster.

The IGU International Congress brings together geographers from all over the world. There were about three thousand geographers in attendance at the Cologne congress, with the majority from Germany but at least 38 Australians present. The School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney was represented by Associate Professor Bill Pritchard, Lada Phadungkiati and Mattijs Smits.

View Lada's award-winning poster.

Lada Phadungkiati

Lada Phadungkiati (fourth from left) at the International Congress in Cologne

Geosciences Honours Information Session on 17th September 2012

If you are interested in enrolling in Honours in Geography, Geology or Geophysics next year, come along to the School of Geosciences Honours Information Session at the Madsen Conference Room (room 449, Madsen Building) at 3pm on Monday 17 September.

A degree with Honours provides you with greatly enhanced prospects for graduate employment, and a stepping stone for post-graduate degrees. At this session, the expectations and requirements of the Honours year will be discussed, and the procedures for enrolment explained.

For further information about Geosciences honours, contact the honours coordinator .

Journey Through Time with Professor Dietmar Müller

In this issue of the University of Sydney's international brochure 'World', read about Professor Dietmar Müller's Journey Through Time and learn about how the GPlates software developed by an international team led by Professor Müller has helped investigate major geophysical events around the world.

View the complete University of Sydney 'World' publication.


Professor Dietmar Müller

Geography student Chetan Choithani on food security

In this issue of the University of Sydney's international brochure 'World', read about article 'By Special Invitation' which features Geography postgraduate student Chetan Choithani. Learn about how his research into food security in rural India is making a difference.

View the complete University of Sydney 'World' publication.


Chetan Choithani in India

Geographers engaging with climate change issues

Geography was prominent among the many academic disciplines represented at the Symposium on Vulnerability, Adaptation and Climate Justice Symposium held at the University of Sydney on 21 August, 2012. The Symposium was organised by the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society, in which the School of Geosciences is well represented.

Phil McManus presented on “Food, coal and greenhouse gas emissions”, drawing on recent research in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW. Bill Pritchard followed with “A people-centred perspective on climate change and food security: hungry and vulnerable in rural India”. A number of staff and postgraduate students from the School of Geosciences attended the symposium, which included a Sydney Ideas Keynote Lecture by Professor Dale Jamieson from New York University, video links to participants in Oxford and Boulder (Colorado), state government representatives and academics from universities in NSW and from Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne. The second Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society event will be advertised later this year.

Marine Connections Seminar: Marine Boundaries

Come along to the second of four seminars run by USIMS on Thursday, 23rd August 2012 from 1-2pm. Three speakers present for 15 minutes each followed by a 5-10 minutes each followed by a 5-10 minute Q&A. This semester will examine Marine Boundaries. See the invitation for more details.

Geopark pioneer wins Hong Kong award


Dr Young Ng, who graduated in May 2012 with a PhD in geography, was recently awarded a Medal of Honour by the Hong Kong SAR for his work on establishing the Hong Kong Global Geopark of China and on geoconservation generally. Young’s thesis on geoparks and geotourism included the study of Leiqiong and Danxiashan geoparks in China, from which he incorporated lessons into the Hong Kong geopark to earn national and global recognition.

For more details, and other “geography in the news”, please visit the Geographical Society of NSW website.