Sunday, October 12, 2014

The AL du Toit Memorial Lecture Tour ( Sept -Oct 2014)

33rd  AL du Toit Memorial Lecture

After a couple of years of nonexistence, the GSSA Polokwane branch took it upon their sleeves to also be among the hosts of the 33rd AL du Toit memorial lecture, hosted at the University of Limpopo.

Dr Alexander Logie Du Toit (1878-1948) is an eminent South African field geologist, famous for being one of the supporters of the Alfred Wegner’s theory of continental drift. His work added a great knowledge on various aspects of geology in South Africa. Travelling on foot or riding on his bicycle he was able to map most geological boundaries in South Africa and detailed his geological work in scientific papers and books. After his death the GSSA instituted a series of memorial lectures across southern Africa, these are delivered every two years by an admired scientist in honour of his great work.
This year, the 33rd AL du Toit memorial lecture was presented by another esteemed South African geologist, Prof Nic Beukes.  His research career focuses on sedimentary basin analyses with emphasis on manganese(Mn) and iron(Fe) ore deposit formation.  The lecture titled “genesis and paleoenvironmental significance of Precambrian sedimentary Feand Mn deposits with special reference to the history of free oxygen in the ocean and atmosphere” is being delivered across 12 places throughout southern Africa.
My highlights of the talk were how he addressed the schools of thought which support banded iron formation (BIF), their environments of formation (anaerobic and aerobic conditions) and their timing in Precambrian.  He showed evidence of free O2 in the oceans and atmosphere in Neoproterozoic before the Great Oxidation Event (~ 2.35 Ga), noticeable by the relative abundance of BIF in the Precambrian record,  Isua, W Greenland (~ 3.8Ga) as an excellent example.
BIFs occur as combinations of cherts, haematite/ magnetite with carbonates andare usually interbedded with manganese (MnO2 formed by carbon degradation) as seen in the Hotazel Formation of the Transvaal SG.
Prof Beukes presented his findings on the striking similarities between the Transvaal and Hamersley basin (on the Kaapvaal and Pilbara cratons). He used a basin analysis approach: showing contrasts or lack thereof sedimentary facies, palaeomagnetics, geochemistry of these interlayered BIF and manganese (Mn) successions. How these resemble restricted back –arc basins and possibilities of a single basin, Vaalbara???
The audience: the young scientists and  professionals
There is a noteworthy disappearance/appearance of these deposits throughout geological record. He attributed the episodic disappearance/appearance to be relatively dependant on volcanism and tectono-eustatic sea-level. Tectono-eustatic sea level changes due to glaciations are plausible hence the stratigraphic occurrence of these deposits with glaciomarine deposits.
The lecture presented gave the audience more than what was expected, the use of  micro and macro scale examples suggesting  the presence of free O2 in the atmosphere and oceans in the Archaean and on formation and structure of these interbedded Mn and Fe deposits.

I was personally bewildered by an outsized number of young scientists amongst the audience both from the industry (Anglo Platinum, Bokoni Platinum, and the Council for Geosciences) and the academic end of the geological spectrum (professional scientists and students from the University of Venda and the host institution). The lecture really appealed to both ends of the spectrum.  

 As a young scientist I am inspired to follow in the steps of these two greatest geologists to go out and discover and capture the greatest geological phenomenon and add value in the research community and I hope I share the same sentiments with each and every young scientist who attended the 33rd AL du Toit memorial lecture.

Prof Nic Beukes sandwhiched by the two ladies in the front row with the organising team

A special thanks to the official sponsors GSSA,  Assmang and  ofcourse the host institution - University of Limpopo.


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