An evolutionary blast from the past

Ancient rock strata

There’s a little gap in the Earth’s history that researchers at the University of Adelaide are looking to unlock – the two billon years of the Earth’s middle age.

Led by Professor Alan Collins, the team at the Tectonics and Earth Systems Research Group is seeking to unravel the ancient rock strata and water chemistry of the greater McArthur Basin, a rock system that covers northern Australia from WA to Queensland.

They aim to develop a unique 3D framework for the basin by collecting data across salinity, oxygenation and biological activity and rebuilding it back from over a billion years ago.

“Little is known about the Earth’s middle age, where many of the fundamental evolutionary changes to the atmosphere, climate and biosphere occurred,” says Professor Collins. “Current knowledge is based on the study of ancient sedimentary rocks that are the Earth’s library of deep time.”

The project is looking at better ways to study and interpret these formations that make up this geological library and to understand what made our planet pivot to become habitable.

This will allow better frameworks for understanding the critical mineral and energy resources that are locked up in these rocks - key indicators of how the Earth was changing at the time they formed.

"Gaining new insights into the development of our planet in deep time will create a vital resource for a broad range of researchers and energy and mineral explorers,” notes Professor Collins.

What’s next?

The Tectonics and Earth Systems Research Group also has another project underway that is working to reconstruct the interlinked earth systems in deep time.

“It is incredibly exciting as each analysis allows researchers to look through the keyhole into the alien world our planet was a billion years ago,” Professor Collins says.

Featured researcher 

Professor Alan Collins
School of Physical Sciences
Faculty of Sciences 

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