Geosciences

See the supervisors involved in Geosciences in the School, and the projects they'll be working on in the coming year.

Dr Januka Attanayake, Prof. Mike Sandiford and Mr Abraham Jones

A high resolution crustal seismic model for southeast Australia

A diagram showing s-wave and P-wave measurements with a heat map image representing the density of rock areas below ground level.

Southeast Australia inherits a complex geological history, much of which is imprinted on crustal structure. Thus, deciphering crustal architecture in this region can provide insights into past geologic processes and present-day geodynamics.

In this project, the Master's candidate will image the crustal thickness and seismic properties, namely P and S wave velocity ratio, using the H-K stacking method.

Earthquake waveform data for the project will be obtained from the University of Melbourne seismic network and other partner networks currently operating in Southeast Australia.

Expected outcomes of this project are: (1) a new high resolution 3-D crustal structure model for Southeast Australia, (2) an interpretation of geological history and geodynamics based on the new crustal seismic model. A background in geology, physics, math, and computer coding is desirable.

Seismic Template matching and Automated Source Location

In this project, the student will develop workflows to automate earthquake detection and location using template matching and nonlinear location inversion techniques. The outcome of this work will result in a new seismic catalogue for southeast Australia based on data recorded by UoM's high-precision seismic network over the last five year. Also, the student is expected to interpret observed seismicity in terms of geology of the region.

Find an expert: Dr Januka Attanayake

Find an expert: Professor Mike Sandiford


Dr Januka Attanayake, Prof. Mike Sandiford, Associate Prof. Mark Quigley, and Mr Abraham Jones

Determining the physics of the M5.9 Woods Point earthquake in Victoria

The M5.9 Woods Point earthquake is the largest earthquake to occur in Victoria in nearly 200 years. Its source process and governing physics are yet to be investigated and they are important to understand and interpret the southeastern seismic hotspot of Australia. In this project,  the student will develop full waveform computational tools and worksflows to determine parameters (e.g. stress drop, energy partitioning) that enable a physical interpretation of the earthquake source. In addition, the student will use full waveform seismic relocation techniques to precisely determine aftershock locations so that source dimensions can be tightly constrainted and their association to the mainshock can be established.

Find an expert: Dr Januka Attanayake

Find an expert: Prof. Mike Sandiford

Find an expert: Prof. Mark Quigley


Dr Samuel Boone, Dr Ling Chung, Prof. Andrew Gleadow, Prof. Barry Kohn, Melbourne Thermochronology Research Group

Quantifying the thermal effects of the 2019-2020 southeast Australian bushfires on the geological record

Wildfires have played a significant role in the Earth system since the appearance of terrestrial plants nearly 420 million years ago, influencing floral diversity, fauna habitat, the carbon cycle and climate. However, in areas where fossil charcoal has not been preserved, wildfires are not easily discernible in the geological record.

Thermal map imagery of the eastern coast of Australia with an overlay image of a bushfire.

Using the 2019-2020 southeast Australian bushfires as a natural laboratory, this MSc in geology project will explore the potential of low-temperature thermochronology, temperature-sensitive radiometric dating techniques, as a novel method for fingerprinting ancient bushfires in the deep past. Core samples will be collected from previously analysed rock outcrops in areas of eastern Victoria and New South Wales burnt out during the 2019-2020 bushfires. These will then be analysed using a series of thermochronology techniques (apatite and monazite fission track and apatite (U-Th-Sm)/He) of varying temperature sensitivities and compared to pre-2019 results to systematically quantify the sensitivity of these methods to the thermal effects of bushfires.

Using Australia’s Greatest Rift Valley to better understand crustal evolution

The Early Cretaceous sandstones of the Otway Basin have played an important role in the development of thermochronology – methods that use temperature-sensitive radiometric dating techniques to reconstruct the thermal and tectonic history of the continental crust. Deep borehole samples from the Eumeralla Formation provide ideal materials for the first geological test of laboratory-based fission track annealing models for apatites of significantly different compositions.

The project will involve hands-on experience with some of the most advanced analytical facilities in the School, including Electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), Laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), Automatic fission track imaging and analysis (AFTIA), and possibly Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning techniques.

Advancing the new monazite fission track technique - a cutting-edge tool for potential investigations into ancient wildfires, paleoclimate and landscape evolution

This MSc will place the candidate at the forefront of developing the cutting-edge monazite fission track technique (MFT), an ultra-low temperature thermochronometer recently developed in the Melbourne Thermochronology Research Group. Laboratory-based experiments (Jones et al., 2021 - Geochronology) indicate that the MFT technique is sensitive to ambient temperatures of geological timescale, making it a potentially powerful new tool for investigating a wide arrray of Earth processes ranging from dating ancient bushfires, constraining past periods of climate change, and quantifying geomorphological landscape evolution.

Through a combination of laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), digital microscopy, borehole studies and field sampling, this project will use analytical- and natural-laboratory experiments to test potential applications of this powerful new thermochronology method.

Find an expert: Dr Samuel Boone

Find an expert: Dr Ling Chung

Find an expert: Prof. Andrew Gleadow

Find an expert: Prof. Barry Kohn

Melbourne Thermochronology Research Group


Prof. Russell Drysdale

The timing of glacial Termination IX in Italian lake sediments: a test of orbital theory.

Termination IX (the climate transition between Marine Isotope Stages 20 and 19, about 800,000 years ago) occurred as Earth's glacial-interglacial cycles switched from a ~40-kyr to a ~100-kyr periodicity. It is one of only two terminations of the last million years that lacks firm radiometric age constraints. In this project, stable-isotope and carbonate-content analysis will be performed on lake sediments from the Sulmona Basin (Italy) that span T-IX. The results will be used to reconstruct rainfall isotope and temperature changes across the termination that can be directly tied to the record of ice-sheet collapse preserved in ocean sediments off Portugal (data already available).

Tephra layers in the lake sediments have already been precisely dated – all that remains is the construction of the palaeoclimate record. The resulting time series will be used to estimate when the termination commenced and how long it took to play out. This information will be compared with changes in Earth’s orbital parameters to test a recently published model of termination forcing over the last million years.

Palaeotemperatures in southern Australia during warm intervals of the recent past.

In this project, a recently developed method for estimating palaeotemperatures from speleothems (cave concretions) will be used to determine how warm regions across southern Australia became during ‘global warming analogues’ of the recent past: the Last Interglacial (128 ka), Marine Isotope Stage 11c (420 ka) and the late Pliocene (3.2 Ma). This is a low risk project: the samples have already been collected and the analyses (further radiometric dating and stable isotopes) will be conducted in our own laboratories.

Find an expert: Prof. Russell Drysdale


A/Prof. Stephen Gallagher

Microfossils, climate and environment

View of a water basin area surrounded by a rock cliff with rough face and layered rocks.

The following project combines various stratigraphic techniques with microfossil assemblage and stable isotope geochemistry (once the labs reopen) to interpret Cenozoic to recent climate and ocean change:

  • The Twelve Apostles: age and environment change through the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum 15 million years ago
  • Castle Cove, Cape Otway: the icehouse cometh, a window into the first Cenozoic icesheets 33 million years ago
  • International Ocean Discovery Program: evidence of the waxing and waning of the British Irish Icesheet over the last 500,000 years from offshore Ireland.

Find an expert: A/Prof. Stephen Gallagher


Dr Eleanor Green

First principles structural optimisation of feldspars

The feldspar group of minerals appears in a wide range of rock types in the crust and shallow mantle. Given the ubiquity of the feldspars in crustal rocks, it is important to describe their thermodynamic properties accurately when we model the occurrence of rocks under given conditions of pressure and temperature (an approach known as phase-equilibrium modelling; see https://hpxeosandthermocalc.org). Currently, however, our modelling is hindered by our limited understanding of the framework-type lattice structure of the feldspars. Feldspars undergo complex solid solution, constrained by the ordering of Al and Si on the tetrahedral sites, and subject to polymorphism. You will seek new insights into feldspar structural and thermodynamic properties, using first-principles (ab initio) structural optimisation via the SIESTA software.

A close up image of granulite-facies metabasite.
A granulite-facies metabasite containing plagioclase feldspar, clinopyroxene and orthopyroxene.

Find an expert: Dr Eleanor Green


Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost

Budj Bim Indigenous technology

The Budj Bim World Heritage Cultural Landscape is internationally recognised for preserving the world’s oldest aquaculture system, which provided an economic and social base for the Gunditjmara people of South-western Victoria for more than six millennia. What technologies were used by Gunditjmara people to carve canals in the volcanic landscape? Oral tradition suggests that fire was used to assist cracking, but empirical evidence is lacking.

A digital image created of the elevation in the carved canals using green and red shading to emphasize shape and depth.

This project will use archaeomagnetic analysis to provide evidence for ancient fire technology. With permission from the traditional owners, volcanic rock samples will be collected in and out the canals. Stepwise thermal demagnetisation will inform on the heating histories since the 40,000 years old Tyrendarra lava flow, including an evaluation of bushfire effect.

This project is part of a larger project led by Dr Martin Tomko (School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne) that aims to elucidate the engineering processes that enabled the Gunditjmara to site, plan, construct, operate and maintain this aquaculture complex, to show how it may have evolved over time, and how it responded to changing social and environmental circumstances. The student will conduct the magnetism experiments at the Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory at La Trobe University (Melbourne) in collaboration with Professor Andy Herries.

Find an expert: Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost


Dr Roland Maas

Timing and provenance of the Grampians Group, western Victoria

The Grampians, that magnificently exposed fold-and-thrust belt in western Victoria, is part of the Paleozoic Lachlan Orogen but has been thrust onto Cambrian basement of the adjacent Delamerian Fold Belt. The largely clastic sediments of the Silurian (?) Grampians Group were deposited in a terrestrial setting, unlike the vast bulk of Silurian sedimentation elsewhere in the Lachlan Orogen.

This project will attempt to fix the currently poorly constrained timing of deposition using U-Pb dating of diagenetic xenotime, constrain the provenance using large sets of detrital zircon U-Pb ages and compare Sr-Nd-Pb-Hf isotope signatures in minerals and whole rocks with those in marine age equivalents and potential provenance areas.

The aim is to clarify the age and tectonic setting of this fold-and-thrust belt within the history of the Lachlan Orogen

Find an expert: Dr Roland Maas


Dr Jan-Hendrik May

Upcoming and potential projects

Hendrik (Henne) May is a geomorphologist with a focus on Quaternary landscape evolution in the Southern Hemisphere. His main interest is reconstructing the impact that climatic changes have on landscape-scale Earth surface processes utilizing field and laboratory methods as well as remote sensing and GIS. He has ongoing research projects in several parts of Australia (e.g. Flinders Ranges, lower Murray River, Top End) and cooperative projects in NW Argentina and China.

Possible HSc and MSc research projects include (but are not restricted to):

  • Late quaternary human and environmental history of the Central Murray River – a GIS aided literature review (associated with DP200101875 Environmental and cultural change along the Central Murray River)
  • Investigating climate and environmental controls on sedimentary dynamics along the Central Murray river (associated with DP200101875 Environmental and cultural change along the Central Murray River)
  • Source-bordering dunes and their value in understanding the late Quaternary fluvial history of the lower Murray River (associated with DP200101875 Environmental and cultural change along the Central Murray River)
  • Pleistocene Aeolianites along the Victorian south coast – sedimentology and paleoenvironmental significance
  • Late Quaternary landscape evolution along the Werribee River, Victoria
  • Testing grain sized based methods of reconstructing wind speed variations in NW Argentina over the last 1.2 Mio years
  • Understanding changing sedimentary environments in a high-elevation elevation Andean landscape (NW Argentina)

Find an expert: Dr Jan-Hendrik May


Dr Harry McClelland

Earth-Life interactions through modelling and experiments

Two species of phytoplankton, as viewed through a powerful microscope.
Two species of phytoplankton. Scale bar = 0.001 mm

Life has shaped, and been shaped by, its chemical environment, throughout its 4 billion year history on Earth. Harry is a geobiologist, interested in supervising projects involving the development of simple mechanistic or statistical models and/or experiments to understand the interactions between microorganisms and their environment.  Of particular interest is quantifying how these interactions are preserved in the geochemical record.

One specific project will be an investigation of growth rate in microscopic phytoplankton cells.  How well do population-level observations reflect the behaviour of individual cells? Under certain circumstances, simple relationships between the population and the individual break down.  This occurs when cellular division is synchronised among phytoplankton populations grown under diurnal light. This project will involve growing phytoplankton cultures in the laboratory, and tracking cellular growth throughout the course of a day. A novel mathematical expression will be derived to relate population-level observations to growth at the cellular level.

Other projects to be discussed can include collaborations with paleoclimate, biogeochemisty or Earth history data scientists in SGEAS.

Find an expert: Dr Harry McClelland


A/Prof. Sandra McLaren

Tectonic and geochemical significance of granites from the Mount Isa Inlier

Granites of the Mount Isa inlier are unusually enriched in heat producing elements and also come critical rare earth elements. This project would look at the isotopic composition of some of these to try and understand their source and the processes involved in their formation and how these processes are linked to the tectonic evolution of the inlier.

Landscape evolution and geomorphology of the PNG Highlands

The extremely remote highlands of Papua New Guinea are part of Australia's active continental  margin. This project would involve looking at new generation LiDAR data as well as other remotely sensed data and connecting those datasets to the geology and landform evolution. May involve co-supervision with physical geography academics (TBA)

Thermal structure of the Australian lithosphere

Heat flow studies that may involve petrophysical measurements (thermal conductivity) geochemistry and/or involvement with other groups (Geoscience Australia or state geological surveys)

Upcoming and potential projects

Projects involving structural modelling and larger scale tectonic processes and in collaboration with Kevin Hill.

Find an expert: A/Prof. Sandra McLaren


Prof. David Phillips, Dr Erin Matchan and Mr Hayden Dalton

40Ar/39Ar dating and geochemistry of felsic volcanism in the Omo-Turkana Basin, northern Kenya

This project involves petrography, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar dating.

The petrogenesis of kimberlites and related rocks

The project involves petrography, mineral chemistry, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar, Rb-Sr and/or U-Pb dating.

Origin of volcanism in SE Australia: older volcanics (VIC) and newer volcanics (VIC, SA)

The project involves fieldwork, petrography, mineral chemistry, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar dating.

Find an expert: Prof. David Phillips

Find an expert: Dr Erin Matchan

Find an expert: Mr Hayden Dalton


Dr Amy Prendergast

Was the spread of plant and animal domestication in the Mediterranean influenced by climate change?

The domestication of plants and animals and the shift from hunter-forager to pastoral-agricultural lifeways in the Neolithic was one of the biggest changes in the history of humankind. In the Mediterranean, this began at different times and occurred in different ways across the region. This project seeks to characterise the potential influence of rapid climate change events in the Neolithic transition. It will involve generating high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records from archaeological sites across the Mediterranean using carbonate geochemistry.

Exploring how prehistoric tropical communities adapted to Late Pleistocene to Holocene environmental change in Vietnam

This project combines archaeological, geological and ecological history of the TrĂ ng An massif World Heritage site, Ninh Binh, Vietnam. We will use geochemical records from land snail shells preserved in several archaeological sites to reconstruct local environmental conditions experienced by the region’s past inhabitants. This project will involve aspects of modern proxy validation as well as palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.

Calibration of new high-resolution sea surface temperature proxies for southeastern Australia using mollusc shell chemistry

Mollusc shells have periodic growth increments which allow the reconstruction of chronologically constrained records of palaeoenvironmental variability at unparalleled high temporal resolution. Studying the growth and chemistry of these periodic growth increments is known as sclerochronology. There are few high-resolution marine palaeoenvironmental proxies available for southeastern Australia. Mollusc shell sclerochronology holds great promise for reconstructing quantitative, sub-seasonally resolved sea surface temperature and salinity records from this region via the analysis of shells from Late Pleistocene to Holocene archaeological sites.

However, before these archives can be used for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, it is necessary to undertake modern calibration studies to understand how geochemical variations are influenced by local environmental conditions, kinetic and vital effects. This allows the generation of quantitative and reliable proxy records of environmental change. This project will use field and lab-based sclerochronological methods on intertidal mollusc species to calibrate new high-resolution palaeoenvironmental proxies for southeastern Australia.

Using giant clam shells to reconstruct past environments and cyclone activity in the tropical Pacific

Giant clams (Tridacna spp.) are one of the major carbonate components of tropical reef systems. Their shells have annual growth increments. By analyzing the growth and chemistry of these increments it is possible to reconstruct past environmental conditions as well as short term events such as cyclones. This project will employ these techniques on modern and fossil clams to provide a palaeoenvironmental and palaeostorm reconstructions from the Late Holocene using samples from the Great Barrier Reef and Polynesia.

Understanding paleoenvironments and human interactions around a mid-Holocene shell midden in South America’s largest inundation savannah(jointly supervised with Dr Jan-Hendrik May)

Early to mid-Holocene archaeological sites are extremely rare in the Amazon basin. Anthropogenic shell middens provide valuable windows into past human-environmental interactions in the northern Bolivian inundation savannah, and hold clues on the type of existing resources, their seasonal to longer-term variability in the landscape, and their link to the natural and paleoenvironmental dynamics in a tropical riverine environment. This project addresses these questions via developing high-resolution records of paleoenvironmental change and seasonal resource use by applying microscopic, geochemical and sclerochronological techniques to freshwater apple snail shells (Pomacea spp.) from a midden in the Bolivian Amazon.

Find an expert: Dr Amy Prendergast


A/Prof. Malcolm Wallace and Dr Ashleigh Hood

Earth's history through sedimentary geology

A microscopic image of sedimentary rock showing patterned red, orange and yellow coloured lines.

Sedimentary rocks record almost four billion years of Earth’s environmental evolution and the evolution of life. Research in sedimentary geology can be used to identify the timing of tectonism, past climate and vegetation history, environmental change and the evolution of the oceans and atmosphere. Sediment hosted ore deposits and the diagenesis of sediments are also aspects of this research which can be related to industry projects.

Ashleigh Hood and Malcolm Wallace can supervise or co-supervise a variety of projects related to sedimentary geology in any of these areas depending on what prospective Masters and Honours students are interested in. Any project would likely be a combination of fieldwork, petrography and sedimentary geochemistry (laser/isotopes).

Some examples of active areas of research include:

  • Precambrian sediments of the Flinders Ranges including those related to “Snowball Earth”.
  • Neoproterozoic reefs and the evolution of reefs on the early Earth (Flinders Ranges).
  • The oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere.
  • Phanerozoic iron stromatolites and link to environmental conditions (Flinders Ranges, Victoria).
  • Unusual microbialites from Victorian lakes (analogue for Mars?).
  • Palaeozoic marine redox and link to animal-plant evolution (Victoria, NSW, Tasmania)
  • Archean carbonates and seawater conditions (Western Australia).
  • Rare earth elements in paleo-oceanography
  • McArthur basin, marine evolution and mineralisation (NT)

Find an expert: A/Prof Malcolm Wallace

Find an expert: Dr Ashleigh Hood

Next steps

Once you've found a researcher you'd like to work with, we encourage you to get in touch with them and talk about potential projects. Then, download and fill out the Honours, Masters and PhD supervisor form (PDF 199.1 KB) and include it in your application.

Apply for Bachelor of Science (Honours)

Apply for Master of Geocience

Apply for Master of Science (Earth Sciences)