Geoscience Australia has been the nation's trusted advisor on the geological and geographical history of Australia since 1946. At that time, the Australian Government recognised the need to locate and assess the nation's natural resources, and undertake fundamental mapping work for national development and growth. Separate agencies undertook this work for more than 50 years before joining in 2001 to form Geoscience Australia, bringing together the nation's expertise in geology, geophysics, geodesy, satellite imagery, and topographic mapping.
Today, our work covers the Australian continent, its marine jurisdiction, and its territories in Antarctica. We access satellites orbiting the Earth, stations on the ground, and a network of infrastructure under the sea to monitor the changing environment. We apply our geoscientific capabilities to the opportunities and challenges that face the nation: maximising value from our abundant mineral and energy resources; providing the fundamental geographic information to develop the nation; sustainably managing a vast marine environment; securing water on a dry continent; and protecting communities from natural disasters.
Value to the Nation presents Geoscience Australia's long history of achievement: our contributions to industry, communities and the environment, our advice to all levels of government, and our collaborations with partners. These achievements have been fundamental to Australia's growth and development, yet our work is ongoing. Geoscience Australia will continue to play an important role in the future as the needs of the nation change and new opportunities arise.
Dr Chris Pigram
Chief Executive Officer, Geoscience Australia
Gas was discovered in the Browse Basin, on Australia's North West Shelf, in the late 1970s, but there was no commercial market for gas at the time. When the demand for gas–particularly for liquefied natural gas (LNG)–increased in the mid 1990s, much of the basin was not under exploration permit and its oil and gas prospectivity was poorly understood.
Following consultation with industry, Geoscience Australia commenced the $3 million Browse Basin High Resolution (BBHR) Project in 1996. In collaboration with a commercial geophysical company, Geoscience Australia collected new data to stimulate interest in the basin.
The BBHR Project was released in 1997 and Geoscience Australia heavily promoted the area to a targeted international audience. After assessing Geoscience Australia's data and reports, Japanese company INPEX Corporation acquired a permit in the Browse Basin in 1998, committing to invest $142 million into the Australian economy over 6 years.
In 2000–01, INPEX discovered the Ichthys Field, containing an estimated 12.8 trillion cubic feet of gas and 527 million barrels of liquids5. This is the largest single discovery of petroleum liquids in Australia since the 1960s, representing almost 20 per cent of the nation's current liquid reserves6.
The resulting $33 billion7 project is a joint venture between INPEX, major partner TOTAL and Australian subsidiaries of several Japanese companies. Production is scheduled to commence in 2016, and will generate approximately $72 billion of export revenue for Australia over the next 40 years8.
The Gawler Craton is a geological province covering 440 000 square kilometres of central South Australia. It is home to the world's second most valuable mineral deposit, Olympic Dam. Data from Geoscience Australia was integral to discovering the massive $1 trillion copper-uranium-gold deposit.
Despite efforts in the 1980–90s, only a few small deposits of the same type were discovered in the region, as thick sediments obscured the mineral-bearing rocks beneath. Geoscience Australia and the South Australian Government recognised the need to determine whether there were other deposits similar to Olympic Dam in the region.
Geoscience Australia commenced the Gawler Mineral Promotion Project in 2000. Over 6 years, the $4.7 million project acquired and interpreted new datasets, ultimately defining a 500-kilometre-long belt of the eastern Gawler Craton likely to contain deposits of a similar type to Olympic Dam. The area was promoted to industry as highly prospective.
Confident in the results, the South Australian Government prioritised the area in their drilling incentive program to encourage exploration in new areas. In 2006, a junior exploration company received funding to drill at Carrapateena, discovering a large mineral deposit estimated to contain 6.3 million tonnes of copper and 8.4 million ounces of gold. The Carrapateena project is currently under development by a major company which is expected to generate $22 billion in revenue over 24 years10.
Spurred by initiatives from the South Australian Government and underpinned by the Gawler Mineral Promotion Project results, expenditure in South Australian mineral exploration programs increased by more than 800 per cent from 2003 to 200811.
The Bight Basin lies in the Southern Ocean, extending from the southern tip of Western Australia across the Great Australian Bight to the western tip of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. After a period of unsuccessful commercial exploration during the 1970–90s, many explorers considered the area too high risk for further exploration.
Historically, one of the main challenges to exploration in the Bight Basin is 2000 metre-deep water in prospective areas. Advances in drilling technology and a better understanding of extreme sea conditions have allowed industry to drill to the depths required to explore in the area. However, to increase industry confidence in the Bight Basin's potential, suitable rocks containing organic matter–known as petroleum source rocks–needed to be found.
In 1998, Geoscience Australia commenced a $5.5 million program to understand the basin's geology and promote the area. Industry expressed interest in the Bight Basin in 2003, however their drilling program was unsuccessful.
In 2007, Geoscience Australia undertook a $1.1 million program in the Bight Basin and found potential petroleum source rocks. This information was provided to industry and the area was promoted to exploration companies in 2012. In late 2013, industry publicly praised the work conducted by Geoscience Australia as highly valuable information that made the basin attractive for exploration12.
International companies have now undertaken exploration work programs in the Bight Basin, with a guaranteed work program commitment of $1.2 billion to acquire additional geophysical data and carry out drilling programs13. This is the essential next step in the process to discover a major petroleum resource and continue investment in the resource pipeline.
Australia is an established and stable destination for global mineral exploration investment. With a long history of successful mining projects, Australia has traditionally attracted a large percentage of global exploration investment. At its peak in 2002, Australia attracted 21 per cent of global investment for commodities such as gold, copper and other metals. However, by 2013, this fell to 12 per cent14.
One of the main impediments to successful mineral exploration in Australia is the thick layer of sediment, or cover, concealing potential mineral resources beneath. Most mineral deposits to date have been discovered at or near the surface. However, these deposits extend deep under cover, suggesting there is potential for vast mineral resources yet to be found.
To address this challenge, the Federal Government launched the UNCOVER initiative in 2012. This is a partnership between state and federal governments, industry and academia with the aim of returning global competitive advantage to Australian mineral exploration.
Geoscience Australia and its partners are developing new tools and technologies to acquire new data. This will build industry confidence to explore further and deeper under cover for Australia's next generation of mineral deposits. The first phase has started with a collaborative drilling program, exploring the geology under western Victoria with promising results.
Through UNCOVER, Geoscience Australia and its partners are positioning Australia as a world leader in dealing with the challenge of exploring under cover. Today's UNCOVER work is contributing to the mineral resources pipeline, and supporting Australia's future economic prosperity.
The United Nations declared 1990–2000 the International Decade for Disaster Reduction2, urging action to reduce the loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters. In response to a growing need for natural disaster risk information, Geoscience Australia established the Cities Project in 1995 to improve how cities around Australia prepare for and respond to natural hazards.
Over 10 years, Geoscience Australia worked with seven cities to examine the elements at risk–such as buildings and people–and their vulnerability to cyclone, tsunami, earthquake, flood, bushfire and landslide. The Cities Project discovered that while cities had risk assessments for some individual hazards, these were undertaken in isolation. The Cities Project developed a consistent method of assessing a city's risk of multiple hazards and modelling their potential impacts. By identifying frequent and rare natural disasters, the Cities Project enabled local governments to compare their relative risk of multiple hazards for the first time, and make informed emergency management planning decisions.
Using sophisticated modelling tools, the Cities Project identified that Perth's risk of earthquake with potentially significant impacts was higher than previously understood. In 2005, the project highlighted a need to improve emergency management planning and risk reduction activities. Previously, these activities were based on prior experience and living memory, and naturally focused on the bushfires that occur regularly in the area.
Geoscience Australia's information is used by governments and emergency managers around Australia to improve our communities' ability to prepare for, mitigate against and respond to natural disasters.
On 26 December 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia causing the death of over 220 000 people3. At the time, there was limited regional earthquake monitoring and tsunami warning capability, and no response strategies in place. Consequently, existing systems could not provide warnings or a planned response for the tsunami waves which followed.
While Australia was fortunate not to be in the direct path of the 2004 event, it is still vulnerable to tsunami threat, with waves able to arrive on the mainland in as little as two hours4.
In 2005, the Australian Government pledged $68.8 million5 to build a tsunami warning system to mitigate against the threat of tsunami to Australia and the Indian Ocean region. Geoscience Australia built on existing scientific expertise and infrastructure to improve our capability to detect tsunami-generating earthquakes that could impact Australia's coastline. This infrastructure and capability forms the backbone of the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre, jointly operated with the Bureau of Meteorology.
Completed in 2008, the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre provides monitoring, analysis and warning operations for Australia and its territories, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Within 10 minutes, it can notify of an earthquake with the potential to generate a tsunami and issue a tsunami warning within 15 minutes. This provides emergency managers and the public with essential time to prepare and respond. In addition, models developed by Geoscience Australia show the likely impact to Australia's coastline to inform better planning in the event of an approaching tsunami.
In February 2011, Tropical Cyclone Yasi devastated Far North Queensland. As the situation unfolded, the Prime Minister received operational briefings from the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC), which centralises government response during a crisis. These briefings included paper maps that took 5 hours to produce and only showed a basic overview of the infrastructure contained within the cyclone's footprint. Following the cyclone, it took many days for the CCC to establish the detailed nature of damage and the full extent of the impact.
In late 2011, the CCC collaborated with Geoscience Australia to improve the timeliness and quality of maps produced. Geoscience Australia partnered with the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation to introduce an innovative digital production process specifically tailored to the CCC's needs, reducing map generation time to two minutes.
In January 2015, the Adelaide Hills experienced devastating bushfires. Using the new processes developed by Geoscience Australia, the CCC was able to create up-to-date digital maps to brief the Prime Minister on the extent and severity of the crisis as it unfolded. These automatically refreshed as new data was received, and included details of what was contained within the footprint and could potentially be impacted by the disaster. This information included buildings such as residences, schools and hospitals, as well as infrastructure such as roads and utilities, thereby informing decisions about physical and financial assistance.
By improving the timeliness and accuracy of information used by the CCC, Geoscience Australia has enhanced the government's ability to respond to disaster and activate consistent and targeted financial assistance.
Farming in the Ord Valley in Western Australia's Kimberley region began in the 1960s, with long-term water security provided with the construction of the Ord River dam in 1972 to create Lake Argyle. Lake Argyle is Australia's second largest inland reservoir, supplying water to 14 000 hectares of farmland in the Ord River Irrigation Area3. Since the completion of the dam, state and federal governments have developed plans to expand the scheme significantly with further irrigation development4.
In the 1990s, the WA Government recognised that salinity, or build-up of salt in the soil, posed a risk to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture in the Ord. In 2005–10, Geoscience Australia led collaborative geophysical and hydrogeological investigations to identify areas suitable for irrigation and those at risk of salinity. The $6 million program provided crucial data to inform the expansion areas' development strategy, including infrastructure design, and irrigation and cropping strategies. This was the first time in Australia salinity investigations were conducted before land development began.
Confident that irrigation expansion was economically and environmentally sustainable, federal and state governments invested over $500 million to build key infrastructure for the region. Based on these investigations, in 2012 the WA Government released 13 400 hectares of land, attracting a $700 million investment over six years to develop irrigated agriculture in the expansion areas5.
By identifying areas suitable for irrigation in the Ord Valley, Geoscience Australia has underpinned responsible and sustainable agricultural investment in Western Australia.
Australia's Great Artesian Basin (GAB) extends beneath 1.7 million square kilometres of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory, making it one of the largest groundwater systems in the world7. This nationally important water resource sustains communities, agriculture, industry and endangered ecosystems.
Since the 1870s, thousands of uncapped, free-flowing bores were drilled into the GAB to distribute water to livestock via open drains. This method lost up to 90 per cent of water extracted to evaporation8. Over time, uncontrolled flow reduced water pressure, causing bores to cease flowing and degrading natural springs. These springs sustain threatened animal and plant species and rely entirely on groundwater from the GAB to survive.
In the early 1900s, governments began to recognise the need to recover water pressures in the GAB. Geoscience Australia undertook an eight-year project to develop a groundwater flow model of the GAB in 1992. Drawing on longstanding groundwater knowledge and extensive datasets collected over 20 years, this model helped target areas for bore rehabilitation and predict pressure recovery.
Geoscience Australia's work has since informed 15 years of state and federal government investments of more than $112 million to repair uncontrolled bores and replace open drains with piped reticulation systems9. These restorative actions have allowed aquifer pressures to recover, and save 200 billion litres of water that would have been lost to evaporation each year10. This investment has safeguarded ongoing water supplies, thereby maintaining water resources for agriculture and preserving the natural springs that rely on the GAB to survive.
Australia's ancient landscape naturally contains salt in our soil and groundwater. Natural groundwater movement releases it into our rivers; too much salt affects the taste and threatens the quality of drinking water extracted downstream. The World Health Organisation guidelines state the acceptable amount of salt in drinking water is 800 EC units, a measure of salt concentration13.
Increasing amounts of salt were recorded in the Murray River from the 1960s; this was projected to exceed 800 EC at Morgan, South Australia for 27 per cent of the time by 200014. As the river at Morgan is an important water source for Adelaide, urgent action was required to reduce the amount of salt entering the river to preserve the city's drinking water quality. In response, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) set a target in 1988 to keep the salinity at Morgan below 800 EC at least 95 per cent of the time.
Throughout the 1990s, Geoscience Australia worked in collaboration with the CSIRO and state agencies to address the issue. Geoscience Australia's hydrogeological mapping and models were fundamental in identifying areas of high salinity hazard, and measuring the salt load across the basin.
The MDBA used these studies to develop a basin-wide strategy to reduce salt in the Murray River, including salt interception schemes to remove salt before it enters the river15. To maximise the amount of salt extracted, Geoscience Australia's data helped to determine where to locate salt interception stations. Each year, these stations remove 450 kilotonnes, or 450 000 tonnes, of salt from the Murray River16. This ensures the water at Morgan meets the MDBA target17, thereby protecting Adelaide's drinking water.
Australia's marine jurisdiction is the third largest in the world2. It holds energy, fisheries and environmental assets of great economic, social and ecological significance. In order to manage these important marine assets responsibly and effectively, the Australian Government relies on information about the sea floor. This information is obtained through mapping the shape and depth of the sea floor, and acquiring biological and geological data. This helps identify potential oil and gas resources, informs sustainable management of fisheries, and identifies patterns of biodiversity to support conservation.
Due to the great extent and depth of Australia's marine environment, very little was known about our sea floor until the 1960s. In the last 50 years, Geoscience Australia has undertaken ongoing sea floor mapping programs to better understand and build a national view of our marine estate. Early work focused on areas with potential oil and gas resources under the sea floor, providing fundamental geological information to Australia's exploration industry. By the 1990s, technological advances allowed for more extensive studies, leading to the redefinition and expansion of Australia's maritime boundaries. In the 2000s, Geoscience Australia mapped important ecosystems around Australia, which supported the declaration of marine protected areas. More recently, Geoscience Australia's sea floor mapping expertise has been used in support of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Geoscience Australia's sea floor mapping work has underpinned an exponential growth in the understanding of Australia's marine environment and will continue to play an important role in Australia's efforts to manage its extensive and highly diverse marine jurisdiction.
Australia's marine jurisdiction contains billions of dollars of fishery, mineral and petroleum resources4 and is home to some of the world's most iconic environmental features. Effective management of our maritime boundaries underpins all economic activity in Australia's marine space and ensures security of our borders.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines a nation's rights over its surrounding ocean. This includes, amongst other rights, the rights to resources on the continental shelf up to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the coast. A country can secure additional rights to continental shelf beyond this limit, where it can prove the seabed is a natural extension of its land territory. Additional rights are confirmed by making a submission to an expert Commission at the United Nations5.
In 1994, Geoscience Australia collaborated with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General's Department to identify areas of Australia's extended continental shelf. The following decade saw intensive scientific, legal and diplomatic work result in the largest and most complex submission ever made to the Commission6. In April 2008, Australia's entitlement to 2.56 million square kilometres of extended continental shelf was endorsed7, increasing Australia's confirmed marine jurisdiction by 25 per cent, from 11.26 to 13.86 million square kilometres.
Identifying and proclaiming Australia's extended continental shelf is just one part of Geoscience Australia's ongoing efforts to define and maintain Australia's maritime boundaries. This work provides certainty over Australia's entire marine jurisdiction—supporting the nation's economic advancement and maritime security while ensuring responsible management of our oceans.
The last great wilderness on Earth, Antarctica, is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System9. This is a unique agreement among invested nations to protect the environment, prioritise scientific research and promote peace and co-operation in the region. Australia has been a leader in Antarctica for over 100 years10, contributing to the world's understanding of the region and its processes.
As a party to the Antarctic Treaty, Australia adheres to its responsibilities in the region. Protecting the marine environment within the East Antarctic region is a high priority under the treaty and, as such, a key science objective for the Australian Government.
In 2007, Geoscience Australia collaborated with the Australian Antarctic Division to map the sea floor in support of an international census of Antarctic marine life11. This followed Geoscience Australia's success in using these techniques to identify links between sea floor characteristics and biological communities around Australia's coastline.
This survey was the first opportunity for scientists to use sea floor habitat mapping in the Antarctic region, providing a complete picture of the distribution of distinct biological communities within the survey area. Analysis uncovered the existence of previously unknown deep sea coral communities, which form important habitats for a range of species dependent on it for their survival.
Findings from Geoscience Australia's surveys have significantly contributed towards the Australian Antarctic Division's successful bid to declare two Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in 2008. This declaration prohibits fishing within areas covering 2100 square kilometres12, protecting these fragile and slow-to-recover coral communities from damage.
Australia is the flattest continent on Earth, although it is far from flat. It extends from 15 metres below sea level at Lake Eyre to 2228 metres at Mount Kosciuszko2. Topography, which charts the shape and height of our land, is the fundamental information that underpins mapping and surveying work. National infrastructure, defence, environmental management, water security, urban planning and navigation safety rely on the accuracy of this information, which Geoscience Australia has been providing since 1947.
Until 2000, Geoscience Australia measured the height and shape of Australia using human observations, either from lengthy field surveys or aerial photography. Due to the size of Australia, national data from these methods is limited to a resolution of 250 metres, which only depicts features larger than a football field.
The first time topographic information was collected using objective observations was in 2000, when NASA used the space shuttle Endeavour to map 80 per cent of land around the globe. In 2009, Geoscience Australia used these data to improve the resolution of national topography maps by more than 8 times, to a resolution of 30 metres.
In 2009, Geoscience Australia began using aeroplane-mounted laser ranging to map topography at a resolution of 1 metre or better depicting features as small as a tree or car. A range of new applications take advantage of this improved level of detail, such as improved national communications infrastructure and more accurate flood predictions. Geoscience Australia now has coverage of 95 per cent of urban areas at 1 metre or better, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of Australia's fundamental mapping information.
Australia is a vast continent with highly varied landscapes, from deserts to tropical rainforests, from pastoral grasslands to coastal urban environments. Each landscape plays an important role and faces different challenges. The Australian Government needs to know how our land is being used in order to sustainably manage and develop it. This is essential to understanding and addressing a range of national challenges such as drought, salinity, and ecosystem health.
Surveying land cover–or the features that cover the continent, such as trees, waterbodies, buildings or crops–helps build a picture of how our land is used over time. In 2009, the Australian Government asked Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) to compile a comprehensive national picture of Australian land cover. This had not previously been possible as states and territories used different data collection methods and vegetation classification schemes.
Geoscience Australia drew on its extensive archive of images of Australia taken from satellites. Applying specialist data processing skills, Geoscience Australia analysed eight years of national satellite imagery and categorised the types of vegetation that covered the continent. Released in 2011, the first national census of land cover provided the baseline for monitoring changes to our environment.
In 2015, Geoscience Australia released an updated land cover census containing a series of biannual snapshots from 2002 to 2013. This provides an annual picture of changes to our environment over time, observing the effects of drought, flood, urban expansion, and agricultural development on our continent.
It is only in the last 50 years that we have been able to view our planet from space. Images taken from satellites orbiting the Earth are now an important tool for monitoring our landscape. When the United States Government launched the first Earth monitoring satellite in 1972, data had to be transmitted to stations on the ground twice a day. Alice Springs was identified as the ideal location to download data from the satellite as it passed over Australia. With the assistance of the United States Geological Survey, Geoscience Australia built the Alice Springs Ground Station in 1979 and it has been supporting international satellite programs ever since.
By hosting a ground station, Australia has had the opportunity to influence and benefit from international developments in satellite technologies without the expense of launching a satellite of its own.
Since opening, the Alice Springs Ground Station has collected data from 27 satellites, from the United States, European Union, Japan, China, India and Canada. Currently, Geoscience Australia collects, processes, stores and distributes satellite imagery from seven different satellites. This information is used to monitor land use, develop agriculture, help discover new mineral and energy resources, ensure our water security, and respond to natural disasters such as bushfires, cyclones and floods.
Australia now has a 40-year record of imagery documenting changes to our continent and our landscape. As new satellites and technologies emerge, the Alice Springs Ground Station will continue to add to Australia¿s growing archive of satellite imagery, and applications for its use will continue to grow.
Assets such as cars decrease in value over time; others, like real estate, increase in value. However, the value of data and information is enduring. Geoscience Australia has been collecting assets of national geological significance since 1946, growing from physical samples and maps to digital data and reports. Collected with purpose and meaning over time, Geoscience Australia's geological archive builds a cumulative picture of our nation's geological history and significant natural resources.
Since commercial production of oil and gas began in the 1960s, Australia's exploration industry has relied on the geological data and information in Geoscience Australia's collection. Each year, the Australian Government releases selected offshore regions to industry for petroleum exploration. This is supported by information from Geoscience Australia, including geological and geophysical data, and assessments of each region's geology and petroleum systems. This prospectus is made available to industry free of charge to ensure a low cost of entry into the Australian market, and to allow companies to make informed exploration investment decisions.
In turn, companies conduct further surveys or collect additional physical samples. Under Australian offshore petroleum legislation, these are stored at Geoscience Australia on behalf of the Australian Government to support future exploration. This cumulative process of data acquisition, storage and release reduces duplication in exploration effort, ensuring Australia remains competitive in the global resources market.
Over the last 30 years, the Australian Government has released 991 offshore areas to industry1 with over $35 billion spent on exploration2. This has resulted in critical foreign investment, job creation and new national infrastructure. The enduring value of Geoscience Australia's national collection fuels Australia's exploration industry and supports our future prosperity.
Mobile phones, flat screens and long-life batteries are essential to our everyday life. The rapid uptake of these and other emerging technologies in the early 2000s led to a sharp increase in the usage of particular metal and mineral commodities that were not previously in high demand. Global production and supply limitations put the high-tech industries of some countries at risk. Potential shortages prompted major industrial economies to document the commodities that were critical for their industries.
As a resource-rich nation, Australia has the potential to supply many of these critical commodities. In 2010 the Australian Government asked Geoscience Australia to report on the country's inventory of a group of metals called rare-earth elements, which were considered critical by all major trade partners. As the Australian Government's advisor on the nation's mineral resources since 1946, Geoscience Australia was able to draw on 70 years of data, reports and expertise to quickly provide advice on the nation's supply of rare-earth elements.
In 2013–14, Geoscience Australia conducted additional analyses and recognised Australia's potential to supply a wide range of other critical commodities. Of the 55 elements assessed, Geoscience Australia advised that the country has known resources of 36 critical commodities, and identified potential new areas for industry to explore for undiscovered resources3.
Geoscience Australia's advice has given Australia a clear picture of its potential to supply trade partners with critical commodities. In addition, Geoscience Australia's resource assessments have provided a basis for industry to find, extract, and supply these commodities that are essential to our social and economic development.