Future Directions

AuScope AEOS Strategic Overview – September 2015

Earth and geospatial science challenges of the next decade
Pressing social issues and critical economic drivers over the next decade will see unprecedented demands placed on the Earth and geospatial science communities in Australia and on the research infrastructure that supports their endeavor. We will see a heightened need for new mineral discoveries in more difficult exploration environments and the development of nascent clean energy and geological waste storage technologies. Food, water and environmental security will become a more pressing issue as we place more demands on the geological services provided to us by the shallow crust and particularly in the context of accelerating climate and environmental changes.

Key Science Questions that must be addressed in order to overcome these challenges will include:

1 Changing architecture through deep time

  • How has Australia evolved in every dimension through deep time?
  • How have fluxes of mass and energy affected the Australian region through time, and in particular how did this impact the formation of significant mineral and energy deposits?
  • What is the past and present architecture of the Australian continent and territories at all scales?
  • What controls the physical state of the Australian plate through time?
  • What is the present state of the Australian continent and how has it changed? What is causing these changes?

2 Changes and impacts on the Earth and its environment

  • How and why is the Australian continent moving and deforming, in 3D?
  • How are the continents and climate changing, and what are the implications for society?
  • What are the past, present and future effects of climate variability?
  • How has human activity impacted our interface with the Earth?

3 Technological enablers of science

  • What novel detection and analysis techniques are needed to enable science excellence?
  • What new tools will be required to support resource discovery in the future, particularly in the context of exploration under cover or in traditionally challenging environments?
  • How do we manage and work with vast data sets in relation to integration and interpretation methodologies and analytical tools to solve problems?

The Australian Earth Observing System

The preferred option for addressing these critical issues and delivering the next phase of infrastructure investment across the Australian Earth and Geospatial research communities will be through the development of the Australian Earth Observing System (AEOS).

The Australian Earth Observing System will look to develop an integrated research infrastructure capability that will deliver a new generation of accurate spatial and time-constrained data relevant to investigation of the evolution of our continent. Together with existing geoscience information infrastructure it will support our capacity to model, analyse and simulate past, present and future processes within the Australian continent and its surrounding region.

Through the provision of widely available access to this new Earth science infrastructure (equipment, data and analytics) AuScope seeks to underpin and enable front edge Australian scientific research and support scientific investigations and discovery for government and industry.

Success of the AEOS program will be seen by the wide adoption of the AuScope Infrastructure System as the chosen research platform for revealing new understandings and unravelling the complexities of the Australian Continent and its neighbouring regions.

The AEOS will provide the research infrastructure platform on which significant national collaborative research programs including the UNCOVER[1] Initiative will be built. It will also align closely with the strategy defined by the Australian Academy of Science Decadal Plan for Earth Science, which is currently under development.

Strategic approach for the funding and development of the AEOS

The Commonwealth introduced a strategic capability basis for funding major investments in Earth and Spatial science research infrastructure. AuScope has successfully managed this investment program since inception. The primary programs have been the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme – NCRIS, and the Education Investment Fund – EIF. Whist AuScope is actively reviewing all possible future funding options the most likely source, of the scale and time frame required to build the AEOS, will be the next Australian Government, NCRIS style, funding scheme.

Within this context AuScope is in the process of positioning itself to build the next generation of research infrastructure for the Australian Earth and Spatial Science communities. This next phase of AuScope investment will be informed by our 2011 Road-mapping exercise as well as input from our Strategic Advisory Panel and will build on, extend and step-out from the existing AuScope infrastructure projects. The new programs will address our identified Key Science Questions and will strongly align with the priorities of other concurrent planning activities relevant to our communities including UNCOVER and the NCES Decadal Plan.

[1]The UNCOVER Initiative is an industry lead research network that was developed as a result of the recommendations of the Australian Academy of Science 2010 Theo Murphy Think-tank. The program is seeking to improve our understanding of the nature of cover (the sand, soil and other material that covers much of the resource bearing crystalline rock of Australia) and to provide the tools that will enable successful exploration in areas in which cover reduces the effectiveness of traditional exploration techniques.


AuScope and its Strategic Advisory Panel are actively engaging with all stakeholders and are currently reviewing and analysing the broad research community requirements for priority infrastructure across relevant research fields in the decade ahead.

Priorities developed to date are outlined below but AuScope welcomes further input from the Earth and Geospatial research communities.

National Geochemistry Data Discovery

Designed to maximize the discoverability of analytical data generated by Australias world-class centres of geochemistry research, this project would support geochemistry laboratories to register sample metadata and upload analytical data into a national ICT architecture to ensure that Australian data is discoverable and citable by academic, government and industry researchers.

Multi-GNSS environment analysis capability

Development and deployment of a software toolset that analyses data from each of the current and emerging satellite positioning constellations including Galileo (Europe), GPS/GPS III (USA), GLONASS (Russia), Beidou (China), QZSS (Japan) and IRNSS (India). This will enable the full exploitation of the AuScope GNSS array established as part of the NCRIS program and will align with the national geospatial science infrastructure plan. Importantly, the capability will enable the analysis of GNSS data in real-time for research and industrial applications that require precise positioning. The capability would underpin the science of the solid earth, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere.

National Broadband Seismic & Magnetotelluric (MT) grid

Construction of a continental seismic and MT array capable of mapping lithospheric architecture (crust and upper mantle) from continental-scale down to a scale relevant for resource exploration area selection. This will facilitate a breakthrough in exploration for major high quality resources via recognition of new parameter space and capacity to provide focus for exploration of covered terranes.

Mobile Petrophysical Laboratory and data acquisition

Development of a robust, mobile, laboratory that contains a high-resolution, semi-automated core logger capable of measuring coincident petrophysical, geochemical and mineralogical parameters on drill core in a non-destructive manner. Designed to work in tandem with NVCL HyLogger infrastructure in geological surveys, or as a stand-alone facility based at core yards in built up areas or in the bush.

3D Geological/ geophysical virtual laboratory

A new Virtual Laboratory that provides an easy access, flexible, scalable and repeatable method for geophysics based research using data and software contributed from a variety of science organisations. This will extend the VGL system to include 3D geological modelling capabilities with specific focus on uncertainty analysis of the resulting models.

High-resolution hyper-spectral satellites

A new Virtual Laboratory for satellite acquired hyperspectral data to empower researchers and explorers with detailed mineralogy information. The system will provide access, process and web-deliver, accurate, scalable, seamless, integrated, traceable, geoscience products of mineral mapping data across Australia. This includes development of National standards for exploration-critical, hyperspectrally derived 3D/4D mineral mapping products.

National Integrated Earth Science Data Framework

Development of an integrated Earth Science Data Framework will facilitate online access to major repositories of Australian Earth science data and information. The framework would not store data, but would enable users to discover, access and mash-up data online via multiple geoscience-focussed lenses including mineral exploration, geohazards, groundwater, petroleum and natural gas.

Trusted Software Framework for Australian Earth Science

Build a framework that will enable reliable software to be easily discovered, accessed and then deployed on multiple hardware environments. This will enable those who generate the software, and those who fund the development of software to gain credit for the effort, IP, time and dollars spent and facilitate quantifying the impact of individual codes. New software infrastructures are highly parallelised and to fully utilise these, as well as access the large amounts of earth science data now accessible to researchers, new software platforms need to be developed.

Numerical framework to simulate the geodynamics of continental landscapes, coastal regions and polar ice caps

Develop a numerical framework that includes a realistic treatment of the Earth surface, in a context in which mantle flow, lithospheric tectonic processes, and climatic forcing modulate surface loading and unloading through erosion and redistribution of sediments, glacial isostatic adjustment, and sea level changes in a range of time scale from 100 yr to 100 myr. This will facilitate integrated modelling of observation of migrating palaeoshore lines following glacier build-up or meltdown, anomalous uplift or subsidence due to mantle flow, and tectonically driven topography shows that the Earth surface responds to a range of geodynamic, tectonic and climatic processes on a time scale between 100 yr to 100 myr.

HyLogger scanning capability

Improve the range of capabilities of the HyLogger instruments thereby increasing the impact and application of work that is currently being undertaken on a routine basis. This will include measurement of additional spectral wavelengths (covering the 2500 to 6000 nm mid infrared range which can be applied to identifying hydrocarbons), additional development of algorithms to improve accuracy of automated mineral identification, and enhance image and spectral resolution to meet current demonstrated interest from end users.

Continuous geodetic/seismic observations

Extension of existing observation programs to increase the VLBI operations in time, enhance the VLBI network to allow significantly increased precision, expansion of the geodetic and seismic network into East Antarctica and new geodetic monitoring (GNSS and radar) of all ~30 climate-related tide gauges in Australia. Additionally enlargement of the program to include broadband seismometers to improve spatial coverage and observation density, notably a new permanent seismic array in East Australia and 2-4 new Global Seismic Network style stations.

Synchrotron Beam, Integrated analytical platform

Establish a dedicated Earth Science beam-line at the Australian Synchrotron facilitating cutting edge research across a range of applications from mantle melting and oxidation state to metal chemistry in hydrothermal systems and tomographic imaging of natural and experimentally produced rocks. It will also enable research to develop more efficient ore processing techniques and mitigation against environmental pollution.

Development of a Synchrotron User, Preparation and Analytical Platform which will be a dedicated space for researchers to process and analyze synchrotron data. The facility will include technical expertise in processing and handling of data as well a computation capability to assist in the rapid production of outputs.

Deep crustal seismic reflection acquisition

Expand the existing AuScope transects programs with acquisition of new data in key areas resulting in better understanding of the nature of the Australian Crust, its architecture at depth, evolution through time and the nature and location of its mineral and energy resource systems.

Program Development

The exact nature of the final program cannot be developed until the Australian Government has considered the Clarke Review and announced a new NCRIS style funding . Based on this the AuScope Strategic Advisory Panel has developed a set of criteria by which specific proposed investment opportunities will be assessed at a point when more certainty of funding levels and rules are known. These will be used to ensure that all future investments have broad support and are assessed consistently. These criteria are:

Gateway criteria: Infrastructure, not research

Criteria 1: National Benefit and Accessibility:

  • broad coverage and/or flows on to resource discovery & governance, and/or, benefit within 5 years and/or, improves the national outlook
  • policy and strategy alignment


Criteria 2: Value Multiplier:

– Supports integration and/or connectivity


Criteria 3: Innovation/ Transformation Enabler


Criteria 4: Broad research community impact


AuScope will now build on the progress to date to ensure that the value from the members of the Strategic Advisory Panel and researchers who have contributed to date is maximized. The intention is to continue to engage with research groups and individuals to refine the suite of critical infrastructure investment opportunities in alignment with the Key Science Questions and therefore continue to earn strong support from the wider Geoscience and Geospatial communities.