Building a world-class capability to see deep into the Earth

Australia has emerged as a world leader in a rapidly developing technology that helps researchers understand the structure of the Earth more than 50 kilometres below the surface, thanks in large part to funding from AuScope.

The technology known as magnetotelluric (MT) uses the Earths natural electrical currents to measure the resistance of rocks. Major rock units have different resistance levels, making it possible to construct 2D and even 3D pictures of the subsurface.

The natural currents are created by solar winds and lightning strikes and penetrate deep into the Earth. MT therefore is a powerful tool for researching the deepest parts of the Australian continent.

The leader of AuScopes Earth Imaging project, ANUs Professor Brian Kennett, said AuScope funding had made it possible to establish a world-class capability in MT.

Prior to AuScope, we had a small nucleus of about 15 sets of field instruments. A significant part of that was home made equipment put together by Professor Graham Heinson and his MT team at The University of Adelaide.

We now have 40 sets of instruments and can carry out field surveys that are equal to those produced by institutions anywhere in the world. The investment has also brought MT capability up to the level of the rest of Australias seismological infrastructure. We often use both alongside each other to get the best insights.

Professor Kennett said the new infrastructure had been used in a number of major surveys by government agencies around Australia, and had yielded a number of breakthroughs in understanding our continent and its mineral potential.

One of the great outcomes is a new program led by Geoscience Australia to create a national network of 2,800 MT sites across Australia, known as the Australian Lithospheric Architecture Magnetotelluric Project (AusLAMP).

We would not be planning AusLAMP without AuScope, which put MT on the map in Australia.

Professor Kennett also said the way in which AuScope funded the MT project was critical. We had the funds to commission and maintain this new infrastructure so it was ready to be used and that is the vital difference to getting on with building our national MT capability.


Caption: The portability of the AuScope infrastructure has created a unique opportunity for researchers across the country with the potential for international collaborations.

Case Study : Research, Earth, Structure

Category: Earth Imaging & Earth Sounding