The University of Western Australia has launched a new geochemical facility that includes two new multi-collector plasma mass spectrometers, the first of their kind in WA, which together provide unrivalled capabilities and innovative research opportunities across a wide spectrum of fields for WA scientists.


The instruments were purchased with an Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities grant in collaboration with the John De Laeter Centre for Isotope Research, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, and Charles Darwin University.


The new generation mass spectrometers are part of the UWA Advanced Geochemical Facility for Indian Ocean Research, led by Premier's Research Fellow Winthrop Professor Malcolm McCulloch.  They are complemented with a new laser system for direct analysis of solid samples, such as tiny microfossils, single mineral grains, and long-lived coral skeletons.


This new capability will help solve important environmental issues unique to Western Australia, such as the future of the Ningaloo Reef and coastal Kimberly region.  The facility will also provide opportunities for researchers in the resources industry to understand how some of the Earth's oldest rocks formed, and assist Indigenous studies such as dating Australia's unique Aboriginal rock art.


Part of the facility's work is to analyse corals as ‘archives of the sea'.  "Some coral species are hundreds of years old," Professor McCulloch said.  "It's now possible to use their skeletons as archives of past seawater pH to study changes over time.


"This is important because there are very few records of seawater pH and none before pre-industrial times when carbon dioxide levels were lower.  We can also measure in coral physiological adaptations of how it regulates internal pH as seawater pH changes, which is key to predicting its response to increasing CO2."


Professor McCulloch is a world leader in the development and application of innovative geochemical approaches to quantify long-term climate and environmental changes in coral reef systems.  Part of his research is based at the UWA Oceans Institute and at the UWA Centre for Coral Reef Studies and Marine Systems.