Professor Jonathan Aitchison

Head of School

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Science
jona@uq.edu.au
+61 7 334 67010

Overview

Professor Jonathan Aitchison is Head of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES) at The University of Queensland. Originally from New Zealand, he grew up on a plate boundary where the rocks and types of landscapes he studies are generated. After graduating with a BSc Hons and MSc at the University of Otago, Professor Aitchison took up an appointment in Japan as a Monbusho Scholar On completion of his PhD, which focussed on convergent plate margin rocks in the New England Region of northern NSW he returned to Japan to undertake a JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) postdoctoral fellowship. After spending five years at the University of Sydney in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, he moved to the University of Hong Kong in 2003. As Head of the Department of Earth Sciences he also led the HKU Tibet Research Group. In 2011 he returned to Australia and the University of Sydney after accepting the Edgeworth David Chair of Geology. Professor Aitchison commenced with UQ as Head of the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management in February 2015 until the end of 2016 when this school was merged with Earth Sciences to become the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Research Interests

  • Evolution of convergent plate margins
    from subduction initiation to collision tectonics; reconstruction of ancient subducted ocean basins; ophiolite genesis; mountain building; timing of major tectonic events
  • Early Palaeozoic radiolarian evolution
    the origins and evolution of Radiolaria from the Cambrian through Carboniferous; using microCT as a tool for 3D imaging of radiolarian fossils
  • Island biogeography
    The influences of sea-level change on biological evolution on island like the Galapagos
  • Tectonic reconstructions
    the tectonic reconstruction of the evolutionary history of collages such as the Tibet-Himalayan system; western and southwestern China, SE Asia, the New England and Lachlan Fold Belts of eastern Australia, New Caledonia

Research Impacts

Professor Aitchison's research interests include: evolution of the the India-Asia collision system. This inncludes the Himalaya and Tibet-Qinghai Plateau and surrounding regions on a variety of time scales; tectonics, collision zones especially those involving intra-oceanic island arcs and ophiolites, subduction initiation, continental collision; the Yarlung Tsangpo, Indus, Bangong-Nujiang and Shyok suture zones, climatic evolution of Tibet. Recent fildwork has concentrated in NW India in Ladakh as well as NE India in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland and Manipur. He has also been working on the northern margin of the tibetan Plateau in the Qinling and Qilian regions. He also investigates the evolution of life on Earth, biogeography and extremophile organisms, radiolarian paleoecology and biostratigraphy, the tectonic evolution of East Asia and the tectonic evolution of eastern Australia through the Phanerozoic and island biogeography and the complex interplay between Darwinian biological evolution, and eustatic and subsidence driven sea-level change especially in the Galapagos.

The main projects he is working on at present are:

ARC DP funded investigation of "Early Paleozoic radiolarian evolution" This involves examination of incredibly well preserved radiolarian fauns using microCt technology

AISRF funded investigation of "Inter-dependencies of deep crustal and surficial geological processes during continental collision

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of New England

Publications

View all Publications

Grants

View all Grants

Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

View all Supervision

Available Projects

  • Several possible research projects are available working on amzaingly well preserved Paleozoic radiolarians. We are using 3D imaging technology to further understand the evolution of this fossil group. The over-arching project will apply a new transformative technology; X-ray micro computed tomography (3D micro-CT) to the study of Early Palaeozoic (530-300 million year old) radiolarian microfossils. This will for the first time allow non-destructive examination to elucidate the internal skeletal architecture of these fossils that is critical to understanding their evolution. Computer reconstruction of 3D images will reveal details upon which an understanding of early phylogenetic relationships within this phylum can be developed. This in turn will allow realization of the full biostratigraphic potential of this important long-ranging group of marine protozoans that commonly occur in great abundance in deep marine sedimentary rocks.

    The aim of this project is to unlock the biostratigraphic potential of Early Palaeozoic (530-300 m.yr. old) radiolarians using 3D micro-CT technology to elucidate skeletal architecture evolution.

    The aim will be achieved through the following four objectives:

    1. Collection of Early Palaeozoic radiolarian faunas from Australian localities where they are well preserved.

    2. Separation of fossil specimens from their enveloping rock matrix.

    3. Non-destructive 3D examination of internal structures using micro- and nano-computed X-Ray tomography.

    4. Computer-aided tomographic visualization of ‘virtual specimens’ to reconstruct evolutionary lineages.

    Explicit outcomes of the investigation will include:

    a. Taxonomic study and description of Australian Early Palaeozoic radiolarian faunas.

    b. Validation of Early Palaeozoic radiolarian systematics and refinement of biostratigraphic zonation.

    c. Resolution of phylogenetic relationships amongst Early Palaeozoic radiolarians.

    d. Development of a solid framework for investigations of relationships of early radiolarians to Parazoans.

  • How the subduction of lithospheric plates begins remains an unsolved but fundamental aspect of plate tectonics. The project will test geodynamic models for subduction initiation. Three competing hypotheses invoking scenarios in which this process might have begun within the ancient Neotethyan Ocean will be critically assessed. Paleomagnetic studies, together with high precision radiometric and microfossil dating, will be applied to Himalayan and Tibetan rocks to determine where, when and how oceanic lithosphere (ophiolite) was generated during the birth of an intra-oceanic subduction system 125 million years ago. Outcomes will advance knowledge and inform understanding of a key process that distinguishes our planet from its neighbours.

    Several projects are available ranging from those that involve paleomagnetism to microfossils to detrital zircon geochronology to structural geology and geochemistry. Projects will involve arduous fieldwork in remote locations in the Himalaya and surrounding regions and require physically fit and resourceful students capable of working in areas not reached by the internet

  • Understanding of the tectonic evolution of eastern Australia and other parts of the Terra Australis Orogen (which stretches via Antarctica to South America) is less well understood than we like to think. Existing models require rigorous testing that can be achieved by using newly acquirable data.

    Several projects are available ranging from those that involve paleomagnetism to microfossils to detrital zircon geochronology to structural geology and geochemistry. Projects will involve arduous fieldwork in remote locations in the Himalaya and surrounding regions and require physically fit and resourceful students capable of working in areas not reached by the internet. A driving licence is essential.

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book

Book Chapter

  • Marquez, Edanjarlo J., Aitchison, Jonathan C. and Zamoras, Lawrence R. (2007). Upper Permian to Middle Jurassic radiolarian assemblages of Busuanga and surrounding islands, Palawan, Philippines. In Peter O. Baumgartner, Jonathan C. Aitchison, Patrick De Wever and Sarah-Jane Jackett (Ed.), Radiolaria: siliceous plankton through time (pp. 101-125) Basel, Germany: Birkhäuser Basel. doi:10.1007/978-3-7643-8344-2_8

  • Davis, Aileen M., Aitchison, Jonathan C., Badengzhu and Hui, Luo (2004). Conglomerates record the tectonic evolution of the Yarlung-Tsangpo suture zone in southern Tibet. In J. Malpas, C. J. N. Fletcher, J. R. Ali and J. C. Aitchison (Ed.), Aspects of the tectonic evolution of China (pp. 235-246) London, United Kingdom: Geological Society.

  • Aitchison, Jonathan C. and Davis, Aileen M. (2004). Evidence for the multiphase nature of the India-Asia collision from the Yarlung Tsangpo suture zone, Tibet. In J. Malpas, C. J. N. Fletcher, J. R. Ali and J. C. Aitchison (Ed.), Aspects of the tectonic evolution of China (pp. 217-233) London, United Kingdom: Geological Society.

  • Ali, Jason R. and Aitchison, Jonathan C. (2004). Problem of positioning Paleogene Eurasia: a review, efforts to resolve the issue, implications for the India-Asia collision. In P. Clift, W. Kuhnt, P. Wang and D. Hayes (Ed.), Continent–ocean interactions within the East Asia marginal seas (pp. 23-35) USA: American Geophysical Union Monograph Series. doi:10.1029/149GM02

  • Buckman, Solomon and Aitchison, Jonathan C. (2004). Tectonic evolution of Palaeozoic terranes in West Junggar, Xinjiang, NW China. In J. Malpas, C. J. N. Fletcher, J. R. Ali and J. C. Aitchison (Ed.), Aspects of the tectonic evolution of China (pp. 101-130) London, United Kingdom: Geological Society.

  • Talent, J. A., Mawson, R., Aitchison, J. C., Becker, R. T., Bell, K. N., Bradshaw, M. A., Burrow, C. J., Cook, A. G., Dargan, G. M., Douglas, J. G., Edgecombe, G. D., Feist, M., Jones, P. J., Long, J. A., Phillips-Ross, J. R., Pickett, J. W., Playford, G., Rickards, R. B., Webby, B. D., Winchester-Seeto, T., Wright, A. J., Young, G. C. and Zhen, Y. Y. (2000). Devonian palaeobiogeography of Australia and adjoining regions. In Palaeobiogeography of Australasian faunas and floras (pp. 167-257) Canberra: Association of Australasian Palaeontologists.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • Several possible research projects are available working on amzaingly well preserved Paleozoic radiolarians. We are using 3D imaging technology to further understand the evolution of this fossil group. The over-arching project will apply a new transformative technology; X-ray micro computed tomography (3D micro-CT) to the study of Early Palaeozoic (530-300 million year old) radiolarian microfossils. This will for the first time allow non-destructive examination to elucidate the internal skeletal architecture of these fossils that is critical to understanding their evolution. Computer reconstruction of 3D images will reveal details upon which an understanding of early phylogenetic relationships within this phylum can be developed. This in turn will allow realization of the full biostratigraphic potential of this important long-ranging group of marine protozoans that commonly occur in great abundance in deep marine sedimentary rocks.

    The aim of this project is to unlock the biostratigraphic potential of Early Palaeozoic (530-300 m.yr. old) radiolarians using 3D micro-CT technology to elucidate skeletal architecture evolution.

    The aim will be achieved through the following four objectives:

    1. Collection of Early Palaeozoic radiolarian faunas from Australian localities where they are well preserved.

    2. Separation of fossil specimens from their enveloping rock matrix.

    3. Non-destructive 3D examination of internal structures using micro- and nano-computed X-Ray tomography.

    4. Computer-aided tomographic visualization of ‘virtual specimens’ to reconstruct evolutionary lineages.

    Explicit outcomes of the investigation will include:

    a. Taxonomic study and description of Australian Early Palaeozoic radiolarian faunas.

    b. Validation of Early Palaeozoic radiolarian systematics and refinement of biostratigraphic zonation.

    c. Resolution of phylogenetic relationships amongst Early Palaeozoic radiolarians.

    d. Development of a solid framework for investigations of relationships of early radiolarians to Parazoans.

  • How the subduction of lithospheric plates begins remains an unsolved but fundamental aspect of plate tectonics. The project will test geodynamic models for subduction initiation. Three competing hypotheses invoking scenarios in which this process might have begun within the ancient Neotethyan Ocean will be critically assessed. Paleomagnetic studies, together with high precision radiometric and microfossil dating, will be applied to Himalayan and Tibetan rocks to determine where, when and how oceanic lithosphere (ophiolite) was generated during the birth of an intra-oceanic subduction system 125 million years ago. Outcomes will advance knowledge and inform understanding of a key process that distinguishes our planet from its neighbours.

    Several projects are available ranging from those that involve paleomagnetism to microfossils to detrital zircon geochronology to structural geology and geochemistry. Projects will involve arduous fieldwork in remote locations in the Himalaya and surrounding regions and require physically fit and resourceful students capable of working in areas not reached by the internet

  • Understanding of the tectonic evolution of eastern Australia and other parts of the Terra Australis Orogen (which stretches via Antarctica to South America) is less well understood than we like to think. Existing models require rigorous testing that can be achieved by using newly acquirable data.

    Several projects are available ranging from those that involve paleomagnetism to microfossils to detrital zircon geochronology to structural geology and geochemistry. Projects will involve arduous fieldwork in remote locations in the Himalaya and surrounding regions and require physically fit and resourceful students capable of working in areas not reached by the internet. A driving licence is essential.