Rock Tour: Geology field trip exchange with Peking University
22 August 2013
It was a rock tour with no guitars but plenty of geology, when Professor Geoff Clarke and Professor Jonathan Aitchison took a group of University of Sydney students on a joint field trip with staff and students from Peking University in China.
The two-part geology field trip, run jointly by the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney and Peking University, started with a 12-day excursion to the Qinghai Plateau in western China in July, and will continue with a trip in late August to the New England area of NSW.
"We took six undergraduate students and one first year PhD student from the University of Sydney to China in July to the North Qilian Mountains, which are located on the northern margin of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau," said Professor Geoff Clarke, from the School of Geosciences.
"It was a rich scientific and cultural experience, as the Sydney students worked with students from Peking University to identify and interpret a series of rock associations in Permian eclogites, blueschists, ophiolites and sedimentary molasse that once formed along an ancient convergent plate margin," explained Professor Clarke.
"As we were up in the mountains, we were working at altitudes of between 2500 and 4000 metres above sea level - a spectacular location to study how these mountains formed from tectonic movements in the Early Paleozoic, around 500 to 400 million years ago."
Growing out of research collaborations that Professor Clarke has with staff at Peking University, the joint field trip was developed and taught by Professor Clarke and Professor Aitchison, Head of the School of Geosciences, and Peking University staff Professor Shuguang Song and Associate Professor Gui-Bin Zhang.
"We designed this joint field trip to bring together high achieving geology students from the University of Sydney and Peking University to examine various lithologies of this area - the physical characteristics of the rocks that you can see directly with your eyes or with very low magnification, such as colour, texture, grain size or composition," said Professor Clarke.
"The North Qilian Mountains are such an excellent example of mountain formation from tectonic movement in an oceanic suture zone - where two tectonic plates are joined together. The students examined high-pressure, low-temperature metamorphic rocks, as well as ophiolite suites (ancient ocean floor rocks), arc volcanic rocks and granite, Silurian flysch, Devonian molasse and post-Devonian cover successions in their tectonic context, to gain further understanding of the evolutionary history of the mountain-making movement in the Early Paleozoic in northwestern China."
Like taking a trip back in time, the students were able to see how the mountain range formed through history, as they examined rock formations from different geologic periods - such as the Ordovician to Devonian periods - within the Paleozoic era.
The Australian component of the program takes the same group of students from the two Universities to the New England tablelands of northern NSW in the Lake Keepit area, the Siding Spring Observatory for some astrogeology, and Port Macquarie to examine more high-pressure rocks.
"The Australian site we've chosen in the New England area of NSW allows us to look at rocks formed in a similar setting to those we'd looked at in China. These rocks have also formed along plate boundaries at a convergent plate margin, but they are very much more deeply eroded here in Australia," said Professor Aitchison, Head of the School of Geosciences.
"Students will look at volcanic rocks from long gone volcanoes, the continental arc, opholites, and the I- and S-type granites in the area, which were the first described in the world," said Professor Aitchison.
"The two field trips offer all the students involved enhanced scientific opportunities and the chance to learn from distinct perspectives. The two sites chosen - in China and Australia - also provide the students with excellent examples of rocks in their field setting.
"Many of the Chinese examples are not available in Australia, so from our students' perspective, it's an amazing opportunity to see these formations first hand."
Professor Clarke said, "The field trip offers students training in research style problems in a supportive environment. For the University of Sydney students, we're also meeting the federal government's Asia Bound objectives of immersing Australian students in an Asian culture.
"This program was a trial this year, but we expect to run something similar for several years, depending on demand. Other Chinese universities have also expressed interest in the combined field trip method, but whether we take on other universities depends on a joint decision between us and Peking University. It's certainly a new approach that is proving to be popular," said Professor Clarke.
Contact: Katynna Gill
Phone: 02 9351 6997