Oceans & Climate

Silica School 2021

Kelly-Anne Lawler & Riteshma Devi are PhD Students at RSES and are attending this years online Silica School.

Silicon is the second most abundant element in the earths crust (after oxygen) and is found in rocks, soils and biota. We (Riteshma and Kelly) work with diatoms and radiolarians (microscopic siliceous plankton) in our PhD studies, and wanted to learn more about silica – so we are participating in a four-week online Silica School “Silica: from stardust to the living world”.

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Disappearance and resurgence of the Mediterranean

Udara Amarathunga is a 3rd year PhD student in the Climate and Ocean Geoscience group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include climate & ocean sciences, palaeoceanography, palaeoclimatology and physical oceanography.

The Mediterranean Sea has been an iconic landmark since the old days. Referred to as Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’) by the Romans, some of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations flourished around the shores of the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is a landlocked basin, connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. These reasons made the basin an important route of trade, food, colonization, and sometimes war, highly influencing the cultural development of the region. But wait! What do any of these have to do with science? Let me explain…

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From Soup to Slime – Evolution and Revolution

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.

Read Part 1 of Caleb’s contribution to On Circulation – Reminiscences of a soupy beginning.

When you look into your family photo album, alright Grandpa might look a little pudgy around the corners, but he can hardly be mistaken for an oversized amoeba. However, science tells us that is precisely what he is (several orders, and perhaps several membranes, removed)! So why the change? What caused the primordial soup to give up its bathtub? And how come my dear Grandma is currently serving me a slice of chocolate cake, and not an oversized Prochlorococcus? Early eukaryotes had quite a job reclaiming the oceans from the well-established bacterial world, but with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe they instated a new world order entirely. This is the story of their glory; a victory that augmented our history, and made you a possibility.

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Reminiscences of a soupy beginning

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.

Eukaryotic organisms have a deep evolutionary history, expressed, in part, through morphological and molecular fossils. Early eukaryotes faced a dichotomy of obstacles that challenged their survival, however with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe, they overcame these obstacles to present us with the world we recognise today full of incredible biodiversity in flora and fauna. We owe much to those tenacious early few microbes. This is a light-hearted overview of what we know of their opening chapters so far, the very beginnings of complex life.

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Antarctic mega icebergs

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD student at the Research School of Earth Science studying Southern Ocean palaeoclimate.

From the large iceberg that made the news as it neared South Georgia island, to the RV Polarstern sailing between iceberg A-74 and the Brunt Ice Shelf, large icebergs calved from the Antarctic ice shelf are of great interest to scientists and non-scientists alike.

The U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) monitors snow and ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. Since 1978 it has been  naming, tracking, and documenting large Antarctic icebergs. Icebergs with an area greater than 20 square nautical miles, or that are at least 10 nautical miles on their longest axis, are of interest to the USNIC and are named according to their origin and the order in which they calved from the ice shelf.

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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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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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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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Photos From Our RSES Adventures. Vol. 2.

This week we bring you the Highly Commended images from our inaugural Photography Competition. Well the first three images are, and the last image is an ‘authors pick’! Enjoy.


What We Study

Chert – Jeremy Mole (Undergrad Earth and Marine Science Student)


I took this photo at an outcrop on Melville Point, NSW during the EMSC1008 south coast field trip run by Dr. Andrew Berry in September 2016. It is a picture of a series of cherts, which are fine grained organic sedimentary rocks formed by a process called diagenesis, where siliceous skeletons of marine plankton are dissolved, and the silica re-precipitated from the resulting solution. The chert can be of many colours such as brown, grey, yellow, red and white as seen in the photo. Also featuring in the photo are some well-defined fold structures.

Although it was a cloudy, rainy, wet day, the colours were still so vibrant that I took a couple of photos. Nothing fancy, just low aperture

Continue reading “Photos From Our RSES Adventures. Vol. 2.”

Geology of Tasmania

Every two years a group of PhD students disappear into the geological wilderness for the RSES Student Field Trip. In 2014, students spent two weeks camping in the Australian outback investigating the regional geology of Central Australia. After many discussions and presentations about exotic and tropical locations, the student cohort settled on a geological road trip around Tasmania. Here is a  quick overview of the geological history of Tasmania and some of the cool sites we managed to visit.

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Part 2: The Measurements

This week’s blog post is coming from Jennifer Wurtzel, who is currently on a boat analyzing sediment cores from the ocean floor in the Western Pacific Warm Pool!
In my last post, I wrote about how we get our samples for moisture and density (MAD) measurements.  In this post, I’ll discuss the measurements themselves.  We measure three things for MAD: wet mass, dry mass, and dry volume.  From these three measurements, we calculate a number of other properties, including porosity, grain density, porewater, and about 10 more. This may sound straightforward, but measuring mass on a boat is not as simple as on land because the boat is rolling!

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Part 1: Taking Discrete Samples

This week’s blog post is coming from Jennifer Wurtzel, who is currently on a boat analyzing sediment cores from the ocean floor in the Western Pacific Warm Pool!
I am currently serving as a Physical Properties Specialist on Expedition 363 aboard the JOIDES Resolution. As part of the Phys Props team, I help run instruments that scan our sediment cores for physical characteristics (e.g. density) right as they come on board so that the “Stratigraphic Correlators” can identify patterns in the core, which will be used to guide the coring process.

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Turtles and tap-dancing birds: welcome to an ANU field trip

A field trip takes student blogger Jesse Zondervan to a classroom in paradise on the Great Barrier Reef. This was originally posted on the ANU Science student blog.

By Jesse Zondervan

In a silent group of people, I stand in the dark on a white beach. I listen to sea turtles digging their nests. Torches are not allowed because they may blind the turtles or scare them away to waste their eggs in the sea.

Heron Island is our one-night stopover to One Tree Island, a research island on the Great Barrier Reef, where we’ll be doing a field course for ten days.

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Ocean Acidification – good news for people who love bad news*

By Sarah Andrew

*yes that is a Modest Mouse reference.

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend the 4th International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World (AKA Ocean Acidification Conference) in Hobart, where over 300 scientists from around the world came together to discuss the implications of changing ocean chemistry and where our research needs to go next. A recurring theme in this conference was the realisation that scientists need to make a huge leap with experimental design (a bit more about this later) in order to start truly understanding the complicated aspects of such a dynamic environment.

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Scientists reviewing media: a way forward for climate science communication?

By Jess

Could there be anything more frustrating to a climate scientist than an educated, seemingly reasonable person declare they don’t believe in climate change?

To me it feels a bit like this:cartoon

The science is now overwhelmingly clear on climate change; it is happening and humans are responsible. Yet, in 2013 60% of Australians thought that ‘there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about climate change’ (The Climate Institute, 2013).

It seems like we are back to the good old science communication problem.

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How to write a scientific journal article

-by Louise Schoneveld

Last week I snuck into the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science’s scientific paper writing workshop, held here at the ANU. I thought I would share a few of the nuggets of wisdom I learnt during my 3 days at the workshop. I am not a climate scientist but was lucky enough to score a place in this workshop.

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