The EarthByte Group

The EarthByte Group is one of the world's leading research groups for global and regional plate tectonic reconstructions and for studying the interplay between the deep earth and surface processes. Research is conducted in topics as diverse as basin evolution, geodynamic controls on ore deposit formation, continental deformation, formation of Australian opal, causes of long-term sea-level change and Phanerozoic plate tectonic reconstructions. The EarthByte Group leads the development of open-source plate reconstruction software, GPlates and the GPlates web portal. GPlates enables the interactive manipulation of plate-tectonic reconstructions and the visualization of geodata through geological time, and it facilitates interoperability of plate tectonic data and models with geodynamic computing services for applied and fundamental research purposes.


Researchers at EarthByte provide world-leading software infrastructure, in the form of GPlates, which enables to construction of detailed regional and global plate motion models. The resulting reconstructions help us understand the geological evolution of oceans and continents, as well as the resulting effects on oceanic circulation from the rearrangement of continents and ocean basins.

Recently the EarthByte Group has teamed up with National ICT Australia (NICTA), SIRCA and Macquarie University to unearth ‘big data’ insights for the natural sciences. The $12M, three-year research and innovation project will advance fundamental mathematics and statistics to provide a framework, methodologies and tools for data-enabled scientific insight and discovery. It is supported by $4M from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) and $8M from the research collaborators over the life of a three-year research project. It will combine NICTA’s world-class machine learning capabilities and SIRCA’s expertise in big data software engineering with three natural science groups from the University of Sydney and Macquarie University:

  • Geosciences and Earth dynamics and tectonics led by Dietmar Müller
  • Terrestrial Ecology led by Mark Westoby at Macquarie University
  • Physics and Mathematics of Complex Laser Systems led by Deb Kane at Macquarie University

One aspect of research being led by EarthByte is a better understanding the long-term evolution of the planetary surface and interior. This image is a snapshot at 70 million years ago in GPlates showing the sinking cold slabs (subducted plates, blue) and the complementary upwelling of hotter material at the core-mantle boundary (red).


At finer spatial and temporal scales, the EarthByte group is leading research into the coupling of mantle processed with crustal deformation and surface processes, with models that also include erosion and deposition. Depicted here is a numerical model of an evolving surface influenced by the deformation of underlying geology and the modulating effects of erosional and depositional processes.

The essence of the Big Data Knowledge Discovery project is to bring some of brightest people in the world in computer science from NICTA (in machine learning and analytics) and SIRCA (in software and big data) together with three of Australia's most distinguished natural scientists in physics, plant science and geosciences to tackle grand scientific challenges in completely new ways. The EarthByte team has previously had success in applying big data mining for constructing long-term earthquake hazard maps along subduction zones and with generating Australia’s first opal prospectivity map The premise of the geo-portion of the SIEF Big Data Knowledge Discovery project is to develop an understanding of Australia’s geology beyond the present day setting, trying to reconstruct the original tectonic setting in which particular geological provinces were formed. The project plans to assimilate combined geological and geophysical data into a database and software framework, which will facilitate interpretations of geological processes that have previously been very difficult or impossible to achieve.


EarthByte researchers have successfully led many ocean-going expeditions that collect data in poorly explored regions of the world. Here Dr Maria Seton is pictured with rocks collected from the ocean floor aboard the RV Southern Surveyor, adding key constraints for the tectonic evolution of the Eastern Coral Sea.