Earth Composition and Evolution

Geology lab with tabletop electric microscope

NCRIS investment into the AuScope Earth Composition & Evolution (ECE) component was designed to provide:

  • new geochemical research infrastructure of national importance,
  • improved access to existing research instrumentation nodes located around Australia,
  • a national data management and delivery network, and
  • contribute to a better understanding of the formation mechanisms and time context of the geological components that constitute the Australian continent.



An initial concept project to provide a national data management and delivery network was re-scoped for eventual incorporation in other AuScope projects in development with the capability of delivering geoscience data sets via the AuScope Discovery Portal.

Data obtained from the three core ECE facilities have contributed to a range of diverse new high-profile discoveries which have emerged from utilisation of the Infrastructure including:

  • the oldest age yet obtained on samples from the planet Mars and the first evidence of the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere,
  • the oldest age yet obtained on samples returned from the Apollo Moon missions with implications for understanding the bombardment history of the early Earth,
  • the determination of the formation age and processes of the Itokawa asteroid based on samples recovered by a Japanese spacecraft,
  • the determination of new, precise ages of meteor impact structures and flood basalt events in Australia and their role in understanding global mass extinction events,
  • the linking of the synchronous deposition of giant iron ore deposits in Western Australia and Canada to a 1.88 billion year superplume event,
  • the development of a new diamond exploration tool for Australian conditions based on the helium content of zircon,
  • geochronological determination of geological and mineralisation events in the Pilbara Craton (East Pilbara Terrane), the Yilgarn Craton (Eastern Goldfields Superterrane and YouanmiTerrane), the Capricorn Orogen (Gascoyne Complex), the Musgrave Complex, the Officer Basin, and the Canning Basin.

Establishment of Cameca 1280 Secondary Ion Microprobe Facility


The Cameca IMS 1280 Secondary Ion Microprobe is a $7 million microanalytical research facility established with co-funding from:

  • the Earth Composition and Evolution Component of the AuScope NCRIS Program ($1.5 million);
  • Characterisation Component of the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF) NCRIS Program ($1.5 million);
  • Western Australian Government ($2.5 million); and
  • University of Western Australia ($1.5 million).

The instrument was fully commissioned in 2010 at the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation & Analysis (CMCA) at the University of Western Australia and is unique in its ability to measure in situ stable isotopes at the microscale. The Facility is operated and maintained by CMCA. AuScope has no ongoing role in the management of this facility.

The University of Melbourne's Thermochronology Facility


AuScope support enabled the Thermochronology Research Group at the University of Melbourne to access technical support for the development of automated scanning technology for fission track analysis. This integrated software and hardware system combines innovations in digital microscopy and image analysis to bring about a step-change in data quality and quantity for low-temperature thermochronology applications. This instrumentation initiative culminated in the installation of 24 commercial systems in 14 different countries.

Further AuScope investment at The University of Melbourne included:

  • the purchase of a new Zeiss LSM700 Materials Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy unit and Laser Ablation ICP-Mass Spectrometer Laboratory
  • a major upgrade to the Control Computer and operating software for the system allowing the previously semi-automated control, requiring constant operator supervision, to bea fully automatic operation allowing for samples to be run much more efficiently and over more extensive periods including overnight autonomous operation.

Both the Automated Fission Track and (U-Th)/He Thermochronology, are fully operational and experience high levels of demand from researchers within the university’s research group as well as elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

Macquarie University's TerraneChron Facility - GEMOC

AuScope support enabled the Australian research community to obtain greater access to TerraneChron, Macquarie’s unique methodology for studying crustal evolution and evaluating the metallogenic potential of terranes. TerraneChron is a cost-effective tool for mapping crustal history on regional scales in difficult or poorly exposed terrains. It is based on U-Pb, Hf isotope and trace-element analysis of single zircon grains by laser ablation mass spectrometry. This information reveals the nature of crustal evolution by tracking the nature and timing for reworking episodes and new mantle input. Terrane-scale events provide a framework for the identification of tectonic signatures associated with different styles of mineralisation and a tool for explorers to prioritise targets.

Curtin University's Centre for Mass Spectrometry


The John De Laeter Centre for Mass Spectrometry (JDLC) is a collaborative research venture involving Curtin University, the University of Western Australia, CSIRO and the Geological Survey of Western Australia. The aim of the Centre is to facilitate and promote world-class Western Australia research and development of benefit to the minerals and petroleum industry and the environmental sector, using advanced methods and techniques in mass spectrometry.

At the Curtin Laboratory, Aucope investment included:

  • refurbishment of the ICP-MS (Agilent 7700X series) and installation of the Resolution Laser Ablation System, training, and system integration.
  • The Helium mass spectrometer (Alphachron) was delivered by Australian Scientific Instruments in June 2012.
  • The Laser Ablation ICP-MS is now fully operational.

Research breakthroughs with the new equipment included successful demonstration of in-situ U-Th-Pb-He dating and Pt-He dating capabilities. Other achievements include:

  • A multi-year collaborative agreement with Australian Scientific Instruments Pty Ltd providing funding (~$720K) for a dedicated Research Fellow to refine techniques.
  • Australian Research Council funding (~$800K) for new equipment to augment the existing GeoHistory capabilities.
Technical Appointments at Melbourne, Macquarie and Curtin Universities

The three geochemistry research nodes at The University of Melbourne, Macquarie University, and Curtin University, each operating integrated analytical and characterisation instruments, received support towards the appointment of technical officers to facilitate access to research infrastructure by the Earth Sciences community. Each of these nodes was provided with a salary to hire a technical officer to increase throughput and ensure quality control of the data generated in these facilities and to allow greater access at substantially reduced cost.

For more information on current and potential projects or accessing AuScope’s Earth Composition and Evolution infrastructure component contact the Program Director Professor Brent McInnes, Curtin University.



Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis – University of Western Australia

John De Laeter Centre for Isotope Research – Curtin University

TerraneChron GEMOC – Macquarie University

Geochronology and Isotope Geology Facilities – University of Melbourne