Planetary Geology, Australian’s involvement in Moon to Mars

Megan Clark1

1Australian Space Agency

The Australian Space Agency was established by the Australian Government in July 2018 to grow and transform the national civil space sector. As outlined in the Australian Civil Space Strategy, the Agency’s aim is to triple the size of the sector to $12 billion and add up to another 20,000 jobs by 2030. Key to achieving this goal is the $150 million Moon to Mars initiative – a partnership that will open the door for future space cooperation between the Australian Space Agency and NASA. The Moon to Mars initiative focuses on supporting Australian businesses and researchers to grow into national and international space supply chains, build space heritage, and join NASA’s inspirational plan to go forward to the Moon and onto Mars. Australia has many unique strengths including exploration foundation services like remote operations and in-situ resource utilisation, advanced communications and remote medicine which puts Australia in a position of strength to apply ingenuity to space exploration in collaboration with NASA and other international counterparts. Dr Clark’s presentation will explore Australia’s involvement in the future exploration of the Moon and Mars and the path to getting Australian capability into space


Dr Clark is currently Head of the Australian Space Agency and a director of Rio Tinto and CSL Limited. She is a member of the Australian advisory board of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Dr Clark recently chaired the Expert Working Group into the Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability. She was Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) from 2009 to 2014.  Prior to CSIRO, she was a Director at NM Rothschild and Sons (Australia) and was Vice President Technology and subsequently Vice President Health, Safety and Environment at BHP Billiton from 2003 to 2008.

Dr Clark holds a BSc from the University of Western Australia and a PhD from Queen’s University, Canada and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, a Fellow of the AusIMM and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  In 2014, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.

For event and media enquiries, contact or go to

@AusSpaceAgency    australian-space-agency

The Energy Transition: Implications for Geoscience- a View from the North.

Hitzman, Murray1

1Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG)

The plenary will examine the surprisingly rapid transition from fossil fuels in the North at the end of the first decade of the 21st century and its current and expected impact on geoscientists, geoscience education, and the public perception of geoscience. It will also discuss the potentially important implications of the energy transition for both technology development and raw materials production north and south. Finally, the role of geoscientists in the circular economy will be investigated.


Murray Hitzman holds an SFI Professorship in the School of Earth Sciences at University College Dublin and is also the Director of the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG).  He served as Associate Director for Energy and Minerals at the U.S. Geological Survey (2016-17) and was the Charles Fogarty Professor of Economic Geology at Colorado School of Mines from 1996-2016 where a primary research focus was the geology of the Central African Copperbelt (Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia).  Dr. Hitzman served in Washington, D.C. as a policy analyst in both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994-96) during the Clinton Administration and the U.S. Senate (1993-94) for Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT).  He worked in the petroleum and minerals industries from 1976 to 1993 primarily conducting mineral exploration worldwide and was largely responsible for Chevron Corporation’s Lisheen Zn-Pb-Ag deposit discovery in Ireland (1990).  Hitzman has B.A. degrees in geology and anthropology from Dartmouth College (1976), an M.S. in geology from University of Washington (1978), and a Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University (1983).  He has previously served on the boards of a number of mineral exploration and mining companies and currently serves as technical advisor for the private company KoBold, focused on utilizing machine learning for cobalt exploration. He has received a number of awards including the Chevron Chairman’s award for the Lisheen discovery (1992), the Society of Economic Geologists Silver Medal (1999), the Daniel C. Jackling Award by Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration and the Des Pretorius Award by the Geological Society of South Africa (both 2015), and the Haddon Forrester King Medal by the Australian Academy of Sciences (2016).

From Core to Cosmos in a Post-COVID Earth: Our Opportunities and Roles as Geoscientists

Hill1, Steve

1Geoscience Australia, Canberra, Australia

The importance of trusted, high-quality and relevant geoscience to inform and advise governments and our communities is greater now than it ever has been. This is particularly the case for guiding people’s connection to the Earth as the place where we live and obtain the resources we use to live our lives.

Our community’s recognition of the value of geoscience, ensures the future viability and evolution of geoscience and its ability to contribute to informed impact in our region and its nations. Here we consider some of the societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the key roles that geoscience plays, in particular how our society can use data, information and knowledge of the Earth to better connect us with the Earth-system and therefore best respond to the impacts of the pandemic. Ultimately, informed decisions utilising the best geoscience data and information provides a key part of our economic, environmental and cultural recovery from the pandemic. The connection to country that comes from personal experience has been especially challenged in 2020. Much of Australia’s population have been encouraged to stay in our homes, first because of major fires (the scale and intensity that we have not recorded before) and more recently in response to isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic. This has increased the importance of trusted data and information from across our nation.

This presentation highlights the value of understanding the depths of our planet and ways that geoscience governs our discovery and use of minerals, energy and groundwater resources, as well as builds resilience and adaptation to environmental and cultural change. The broad definition of geoscience here also includes the involvement of geoscience that extends to Australia’s space program, including delivery of Earth observations, positioning and location data and information, such as through integrated digital mapping, satellite data and real-time precise positioning. Important here is sharing, with two-way exchange of data, information and knowledge about the Earth, through outreach in geoscience education programs and interactions with communities across Australia. An aspiration here is for geoscience to inform social licence through evidence-based decisions, such as for land and marine access, for a strong economy, resilient society and sustainable environment.

At Geoscience Australia, we have developed a ten year strategic plan (Strategy 2028) and Science Strategy that guides us to be a trusted source of information on Australia’s geology and geography for government, industry and community decision making. This will contribute to a safer, more prosperous and well-informed Australia.


Dr Steve Hill is the Chief Scientist at Geoscience Australia. He is responsible for strategic science leadership, influence, and external engagement. He completed a BSc (Hons) at the University of Melbourne and a PhD at the Australian National University, spending nearly 20 years as a lecturer before joining government geoscience.

Searching for life on Mars in our own backyard; the quest for a second genesis

Van Kranendonk, Martin J.1

1Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW, Australia

Ancient life thrived on an early Earth that was a very different planet to the one we inhabit today, with green seas filled with dissolved iron, an orange sky rich in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, and small black volcanic protocontinents. Yet by 3.5 billion years ago – “only” 500 million years after the end of the heavy meteorite bombardment and in the oldest rocks that preserve widespread primary features at low metamorphic grade – life had diversified into a variety of niches and employed a variety of metabolisms.

This evidence is preserved in the 3.5 billion-year-old (Ga), shallow water North Pole Chert Member of the Dresser Formation (Pilbara Craton, Western Australia), where putative biosignatures in the form of macroscopic fossil stromatolites, fractionated stable isotopes, and organic matter occurrences are widespread. These have been described from environments that include the shoreline of a shallow water caldera lake, subterranean hydrothermal veins, evaporative barite crystals, and terrestrial hot spring sinter deposits. The discovery of trapped organic matter remnants in columnar Dresser stromatolites that have a similar appearance to extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) of microbial biofilms provide compelling evidence of life. The Dresser stromatolites are unusual in being dominantly composed of nanoporous pyrite, with subordinate sphalerite and dolomite. This assemblage most likely formed via anoxygenic photosynthesis and sulfate reduction, and perhaps also microbes that cycled elemental sulfur and/or sulfide. Putative biosignatures in hot spring deposits on land at this time indicate a microbial community that may have utilised a range of different metabolisms.

The discovery of life on land in the Pilbara 3.5 Ga ago, and in the Barberton Greenstone Belt by 3.2 Ga, changes the way we think about the evolution of life over the course of Earth history and supports recent studies that suggest life may have originated in hot springs on land. Indeed, the Dresser Formation provides a deep-time analogue for better understanding an origin of life on land model.

Additionally, the Dresser Formation provides an important guide in the search for ancient life on Mars. Specifically, the discovery of ancient life signatures preserved in siliceous hot spring deposits from the Dresser Formation, combined with the increasing evidence that life may have originated in hot springs, suggests that these deposits may represent the best chance for success in the search for life on Mars, not only because of the likelihood that hot springs would have been inhabited if life ever got started on Mars, but also because of the proven excellent preservation potential of these rocks over billions of years. Stratiform deposits of nodular opaline silica with digitate protrusions that were observed by the Spirit Rover in the Columbia Hills of Gusev Crater, Mars, are of probable hot spring origin and represent a tantalising astrobiological target. A sample return mission to collect these, and other nearby materials, is being developed.


Professor Van Kranendonk is the Director of the NASA-affiliated Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW. His team investigates the formation mechanisms of ancient crust and the earliest signs of life on Earth, and uses this to guide the search for life on Mars, and to understand the origin of life.

Engagement, diversity and interdisciplinarity to tackle future challenges

Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas1

1CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere

The future of the Earth and its global population holds significant challenges, particularly with respect to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Indeed, in 2020 we experienced a taste of many of the impacts to come, such as large-scale bushfire events and disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Engaging people with science and tackling misinformation will be a key part of findings solutions to the challenges ahead. In this presentation I will discuss approaches to engagement with policy-makers, industry and the general public, including increasing needs for co-design, translation, communication and interpretation of science to tackle complex problems. I will give examples of how inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches can support robust decision-making and will discuss the importance of increased diversity and equity in STEMM to bring novel solutions for addressing future challenges.


Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas is a Transdisciplinary Researcher and Knowledge Broker with CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere. Her research background is in mathematical modelling and Antarctic climate change science and she was a Lead Author for the recent IPCC Special Report on the Oceans & Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Jess co-founded the Homeward Bound project, which took the largest ever all female expedition on a leadership journey to Antarctica in 2016. She was one of Australia’s first 30 Superstars of STEM and was named Tasmania’s Young Tall Poppy of the Year in 2015 for her excellence in research, science communication and policy engagement. Jess was the 2020 Tasmanian Australian of the Year.

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.