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Geology students get down to earth in Broken Hill

Sydney University students travelled to Broken Hill to study the complex geology of Broken Hill and the surrounding area.

Lecturers Dr Patrice Rey, Dr Vasilis Chatzaras, the unit’s coordinator, and Dr Sara Polanco organised the study trip for about twenty third-year geology and geophysics students.

“We pre-identify areas of interest around Broken Hill for teaching students specific aspects of geology and geophysics,” Dr Chatzaras said.

Geophysics uses specific techniques to look underneath the ground to see the structure below the surface, whereas geology examines the mineral resources in rock.

“The students are learning skills they will use in their careers as practising geologists,” Dr Chatzaras said.

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“While we are in Broken Hill, we will be looking at surface geology where we take measurements of the rocks and how you project them onto the subsurface, core logging, and we will map some specific sites around Broken Hill,” PhD student Jo Ibrahim said.

Part of the field trip included the students visiting the E C Andrews Drill Core Facility in Pinnacle Place, Broken Hill, on Monday.

The facility is the second largest drillcore library in New South Wales.

Brian Casey, the Site Supervisor at the E C Andrews Facility, explained that it is difficult to go to the mines directly to view core samples, so this facility gives Industry, Geoscience, Universities, mining companies and junior mining explorers safe access to over 80,000 metres of core samples that have been drilled in the region.

The E C Andrews facility is currently working with the Perilya and Consolidated Broken Hill Resources to obtain historical core samples, some of which could have been drilled about a hundred years ago, said Mr Casey.

“Along with students from the University of Sydney, we have students who travel from Queensland, Melbourne and Tasmania to examine the core samples,” Mr Casey said.

Dr Rey, a professor at the University of Sydney, said it is important to expose students to the complexity of drilling core processes and then teach them how to explain their data with a level of certainty.

The students examined two separate drills of core taken from the Broken Hill region. The first one was from almost the surface down to 250 metres, and the other one was from almost the surface down to 350 metres, explained Dr Chartzaras and Mr Ibrahim.

“Some of the core rock is 1.5 billion years old, so students see changes in the Earth’s core over time,” Dr Chatzaras said.

The core samples are like a library and the minerals in the rock are like an open notebook where someone can learn the history of the rocks, explained Dr Polanco.

First, the students look for the main characteristics of the rock and what colours are present.

The changing colours within the rock explain what other minerals are present and what chemicals the rock was exposed to.

“A different history is recorded by each of the changes and the students can see how different events happened,” Dr Polanco said.

The students are learning to identify the specific minerals for themselves.

“It’s like learning the Earth’s history through time,” she said.

Third year student Archie Woodhouse explained that the students have been going into the field to practice geology in the same way a fully trained geologist would.

“Today, I’m identifying and logging the different minerals I discover. Then I will analyse the data I’ve recorded later this week, which will inform my research into real world applications for those minerals,” Mr Woodhouse said.

Mr Ibrahim explained that the University has been bringing students to Broken Hill for ten years.

Some of the past students they brought on these field trips were given jobs in Broken Hill after they graduated.

The students are in Broken Hill for two weeks.

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