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OnCirculation

On Circulation is back in circulation

1 September 2020

Welcome to the revival of the On Circulation blog! This blog is run by PhD candidates currently undertaking research at The Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES). We have a team that includes an experimental petrologist, a rock physicist and mathematical geophysicist, two climatologists (modern and palaeo) and two geodesists, as well as a whole school of earth science researchers.

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Featured post

Science on television: The Head

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD candidate in the palaeoenvironments group at RSES. She loves everything Southern Ocean and Antarctic, and enjoys a good murder mystery novel…


If you like Antarctica, murder mysteries, and bingeable television shows then The Head might be right up your alley!

The series begins when the summer crew of a Danish Antarctic base arrive to find a quiet, empty station. The ten overwinterers (the team of people who conduct research and take care of the base during the dark Austral winter) have disappeared. Communications are down, vehicles are missing, and, at first, there is no sign of life. A series of flashbacks reveal the events in the weeks leading up to the summer crew’s arrival… but with conflicting accounts of what happened, who are we to believe?

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On the search for 21st century resources: critical metals in the Proterozoic Mount Isa Inlier

Ross Chandler is a PhD student in the Experimental Petrology and Geochemistry Group at RSES. His research is focussed on critical metal deposits where he studies the formation of, and exploration for peralkaline volcanic- and IOCG-hosted rare earth element deposits.


Critical metals are defined as metals considered vital to the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies. These metals are becoming increasingly important in the development of modern and green technologies in which they play a vital role due to their unique physical and chemical properties. The rare earth elements (lanthanides + Sc + Y) are an example of a critical metal, being ubiquitous with the technologies of modern life. In particular, the rare-earth elements neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium play a crucial role in the transition to a low carbon future. Their addition to magnets increases magnetic efficiency and maximum operating temperatures and as such they are indispensable to renewable power generation in wind turbines, and in motors for zero-emission electric vehicles. An interesting aspect of a large number of critical metals is that they have only recently become useful to modern day technology and were previously unsought, or even discarded when they occurred alongside traditional commodities. REE are an example of this, often ending up in the tailings or waste stockpiles of mines that were targeting other commodities.

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Tidy Tuesday for earth scientists: A treasure trove of datasets to practice coding and data visualisation

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD candidate in the Palaeoenvironments group and is one of the few people at RSES who prefers R to Python (if there are more of you out there, get in touch)!

What is Tidy Tuesday?

Each Tuesday, the R4DS Online Learning Community posts a raw dataset on their Github site, along with an article or chart relating to the data. The intention is that we (scientists, coding enthusiasts, data visualisation fans) can use the datasets to explore, wrangle, and create data visualisations using R software, or any other coding language that we like! So even if you prefer to use something like Python or Matlab, these datasets are an interesting way to practise your data wrangling and visualisation skills, especially if you don’t have any data of your own to work with yet.

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Adventure in the Andes

Yamila Cajal is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES, ANU. Her current research investigates the geochemistry of the Platinum Group Elements (PGE) applied to the prediction of copper-gold fertility in mountain belts.


About a year ago, I was sitting in my desk in Canberra, trying to plan a fieldwork to the Andes of Central Chile. The area I wanted to visit is located in the eastern part of the Maule Region, which is only suitable for performing fieldwork during summer due to the alpine climate and high altitudes. Planning this fieldtrip was quite challenging because the area of study is located in a not very accessible zone (actually, in the middle of nowhere). 

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#MinCup: The Olympics of Minerals

Bozana Pasic is a PhD candidate in Experimental Petrology at RSES. Her research investigates the behaviour of silica in low and high temperature environments, and how to better understand the processes affecting its existence… well, everywhere.


The roar of a stadium when your favourite athlete places first on that podium is something that needs to be experienced, or so they say, cannot be replicated. The heart-stopping last few seconds of the event until the winner is declared, the adrenaline rush that emanates once that line is crossed or that point scored is something we can all relate to in one form or another, but that’s if you like sport.

What if you don’t like sport? What if you like something else? What if that something else is minerals, and what if you like minerals competing against one another? Well…

The Mineral Cup is for you!

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Overcommitting during a PhD

Jess Hargreaves is a PhD candidate at RSES working with the Palaeoenvironments group.

“I’ve screwed up and I’ve overcommitted, and its typical of me” Robert Metcalfe.

Overcommitment. It is a word that is familiar to most people, but often ignored. The ‘busyness’ nature of academia means that often overcommitment is normal. Most academics are over-achievers, and have this idea that we can do everything, everywhere and all at the same time! If you are like me, you will have an ever expanding list of things to do, and normally no wiggle room to shorten this – and no time to complete it all! This list is not only PhD work, but also outreach, organisational, committee meetings, writing blogs etc. and finding time to complete all of this can be a challenge. Don’t mistake this for someone forcing me to do everything though, I am often just a bit too enthusiastic and bite off more than I can chew.

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Pieces of the Red Planet

Aditya Patkar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group at RSES. His research involves studying meteorites to unravel the mysteries of the early solar system as well as the formation and evolution of planets.

Interest in space exploration and habitation is at an all-time high, and our red neighbour, Mars, tops our list of most favourable destinations. There have been 14 different missions aimed at exploring and studying Mars through orbiters and rovers in the past two decades alone. While scientists are analysing the planet remotely using data from space probes that are worth billions of dollars, nature has delivered pieces of the red planet to us in the form of invaluable treasures – meteorites!

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An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part II

Thuany Costa de Lima is a third year PhD student in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. Her PhD focuses on investigating the physical properties of the deep Earth structure in the light of seismological tools, from the inner core to the mantle.

In my first post on ‘An adventure on the Southern Ocean’, I talked about the multiple reasons for us to come on this research voyage. Today, I would like to elaborate a bit more on why this is one of the toughest field works a seismologist could ever do, share with you some of the amazing photos of the wildlife we could spot from the boat, and describe the real fun I had while living on a vessel!

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An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part I

Thuany Costa de Lima is a third year PhD student in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. Her PhD focuses on investigating the physical properties of the deep Earth structure in the light of seismological tools, from the inner core to the mantle.

Below 40°S there is no law, and below 50°S there is no God.”

I recently heard this old sailors’ saying for the first time after stepping on-board the Marine National Facility (MNF) Research Vessel (RV) Investigator. I was far away from the Australian mainland, and close to accomplishing a ground-breaking milestone for scientists: using seismology to investigate the 3D structure of the Macquarie Ridge Complex!

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Chemistry of the Cosmos

22 October 2020

Rachel Kirby is a PhD candidate in the Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group at RSES.  Her current research focusses on the role of gases and high temperature processes in the formation of early solar system materials.

When people ask what my field of research is, the quick answer is cosmochemistry and planetary geology.  But what does that mean? 

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Let’s talk about sea level rise

21 October 2020

Guadalupe Alvarez is a first-year masters student in the Earth Dynamics group.  

Global sea level rise has been increasing over the past number of years. In the last 30 years alone, global sea level has risen by 9 cm! In some form, we can observe sea level rise when we go to the beach, and notice the coastline changing from year to year. On the news, we have seen people evicted from their beautiful beach side mansions, because the foundations have eroded away.  

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Delving into weather and climate resources around Australia

October 8 2020

Jess Hargreaves is a PhD candidate at RSES working with the Palaeoenvironments group.

Australians are acutely aware of their climate, the weather, and the changes that come with it. These changes have become so apparent that it has come to the point of affecting our daily routine. For instance, I will NOT leave the house without checking my weather app first, this ensures protection from an unexpected rainstorm on the way to work, or informs me if I will be burnt to a crisp (even when overcast) from the harsh UV rays, to which I aptly apply a healthy dose of sun-block (PSA – did you know there is a UV index on most weather apps? Or you can find it here). It’s even come to the point where my housemates have started calling me their “weather girl”! and expect instant updates on the prevailing conditions. That’s ok with me, because if you don’t know anything about me, I can guarantee you one thing, by the end of this blog you will know that I absolutely love weather and climate science!

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Conferences in the time of COVID-19

Part 2: The StuCon 2020 success story

6 October 2020

Rebecca McGirr is a PhD candidate in the Earth Dynamics group at RSES. Her research involves turning gravity measurements from space into maps of changing surface and groundwater masses on Earth.

My first post on Conferences in the time of Covid-19 covered topics related to the why, how, what and when of the annual RSES Student Conference (StuCon) and online conferencing. I discussed reasons behind why hosting a virtual conference is a worthwhile endeavour while the Covid-19 global pandemic makes the usual conference format undesirable. I also touched on the “how to” of shifting a conference onto an online platform and the organisation that was required for StuCon 2020.

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Simple image classification with neural networks

1 October 2020

Matthias Scheiter is a PhD candidate in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group.

In many fields of science, machine learning has become increasingly popular over the last decade. This is mainly due to the development of more powerful computers and the growing amount of scientific data. Neural networks are one of the most popular machine learning tools, and in this blog post I will give a short introduction of them, based on a simple example.

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Conferences in the time of COVID-19

Part 1: Organising a virtual conference

24 September 2020

Rebecca McGirr is a PhD candidate in the Earth Dynamics group at RSES. Her research involves turning gravity measurements from space into maps of changing surface and groundwater masses on Earth.

For a while now, debate has existed on the topic of virtual conferences. Until recently, the argument for moving large international conferences online was to cut down on their significant travel-related carbon emissions.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, not only is international travel out of the question, so too are gatherings or meetings with more than a few people.

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Marine microfossils – Earth’s microscopic climate recorders

17 September 2020

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a second-year PhD candidate in the Palaeoenvironments and Biogeochemistry groups at RSES. Her research focuses on Southern Ocean palaeoclimate reconstructions.

Popular science articles about Earth’s climate in the past, like this one about Hothouse Earth, or this one about past carbon dioxide levels, encourage us to take a mental trip back in time and imagine what Earth was like thousands, to millions, of years ago. However, if you are not a climate scientist you may wonder how we calculate environmental characteristics like the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or the ocean temperature, for times prior to the collection of instrumental data. The answer is that we use climate proxies.  

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Make friends with a Piston Cylinder

10 September 2020

Yajie Gao is a first-year PhD candidate in the experimental petrology group at RSES.

Experimental petrologists (like me) simulate conditions that occur deep within the Earth, like pressure, temperature and oxygen fugacity, right here in our laboratories. Because we cannot travel to the mantle or core ourselves to make direct observations about the properties of matter changing under high pressure and high temperature, these experiments help us to learn how rocks are affected by different conditions, to understand the behaviour of elements in phases, and figure out how natural rocks were formed. This is useful when researching earth processes such as magmatism and volcanism, plate tectonics and ore deposit formation.

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