Australia Excursion: Days 1-3 (25-27/2/2015)

Hi everyone,

Yue Chin here. We've been back in Japan for a few days now but I suspect my memories of Australia will stay fresh in my mind for a long while to come, it was such an amazing time. I'm splitting up my account into 3 parts for ease so do stay tuned for the next 2 parts of our trip!

Our journey began with us taking a night flight from Narita Airport on the 24th and arriving in Sydney's Kingsford Smith the next morning. There we met our friendly bus driver Ricardo who would be with us throughout our trip (who I sadly have no pictures of) and he spirited us away. Before our tired bodies knew it we had arrived at our first stop for lunch in Goulburn! Who would have guessed this mundane place was home to a gigantic concrete sheep? A quick search on the interwebs revealed his name to be Rambo, built as a monument to the area and its fine wool industry.

Onward we went, stopping at last at Lake George and meeting Prof. Yokoyama for our first insight into the geology of Australia. Ever since the Lake George escarpment's rise along a fault blocked the drainage into the Yass River and formed the eponymous lake, the amount of water in the lake has been controlled purely by precipitation and evaporation. Pollen and geomagnetic records have indicated that the oldest sediments in the lake date back to around 3-4 Ma.

First outcrop of the trip

Members (and a guest star) of the excursion at Lake George

We then drove up to Mt. Ainslie where we got a spectacular view of Canberra and the Great Dividing Range at its rear. As the capital city Canberra was built to order as a compromise to settle the dispute between Sydney and Melbourne, one can observe its well-planned geometric design, actualised in accordance with the Griffin Plan by the American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin (with the lake dominating the middle of the city being named Lake Burley Griffin in his honour).

Beautiful view of Canberra and its surrounds

The main centre of the city is delineated by three axes; namely, the water axis cutting through the lake, the municipal axis parallel to that along which Constitution Avenue runs, and the land axis perpendicular to those two marking a line from the Australia War Memorial through Anzac Park all the way up to Parliament on Capital Hill. Which, in fact, our next stop was.

As geologists we were there not to think about politics but about the beautiful exposed geology.

Silurian sandstone beds unconformably overlying shales

The next day was jam-packed with illuminating lectures in the ANU Research School of Earth Science (RSES). We were first addressed by the Director of RSES, Prof. Ian Jackson, welcoming us to the school.

Prof. Jackson giving a welcome speech

Prof. Jörg Herman then took over and gave us a geologic problem of a crustal rock containing coesite, a high pressure polymorph of quartz which is not normally present in crustal rocks, and took us through the experimental steps and laboratories required to solve this problem.

Prof. Herman showing us a P-T field simulator

Several Ph.D. students gave us insight into their superbly interesting projects on isotope geochemistry which ranged from lunar impact melts to fish otolith oxygen isotope geochemistry. We were shown by Prof. Daniela Rubatto the equipment that makes their research possible, including the Sensitive High-Resolution Ion Microprobe (Reverse Geometry), or SHRIMP RG for short.

Prof. Rubatto explaining the mechanism behind SHRIMP RG

We met Prof. Patrick De Deckker, who would be exploring coastal geology with us on the Kioloa leg. He spoke to us about William "Strata" Smith, also known as the Father of English Geology, and his painstakingly hand-drawn and coloured geological map of the British Isles, one of the very few that are still in near-mint condition and exist in the world today.

Prof. De Deckker looking at the original stratigraphy column

Lunch was a lovely relaxed affair, with the student union kindly organising a barbecue for us! Had a really good time chatting with the students and professors out in the sun. 

Hotdog assembly line

We were then shown the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) supercomputer, imported all the way from..Japan! Raijin, which means God of Lightning, has astonishing data processing capabilities and a great deal of its systems focus on earth science and climate models.

On the 27th, we met up with Prof. Duanne White for our hike through the Snowy Mountains (where we saw no snow, it was brilliantly hot that day). Part of the Australian Alps, it is the only place on the Australian continent to exhibit direct evidence of Quaternary glacial activity. Guided by Professors White and Yokoyama, we learnt about the Last Glacial Maximum and other cold periods creating cirques and glacial moraines in the landscape.

Prof. White

Group photo in the middle of huge granite outcrops and moraines

Hadley Tern in the background
Chilling amongst the wildflowers and moraines

Our place of accommodation for all 3 nights was the ANU University House. Located on the expansive ANU campus itself with beautiful surrounds and comfortable rooms, with the city centre just a short walk away, we couldn't have asked for more.

Clouds illuminated by the setting sun, seen on the way back to ANU from the city centre