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27 March 2018

University of Wollongong (UOW) has acquired a significant amount of CRN and luminescence data and has brought this together in a new open and global database of cosmogenic radionuclide and luminescence measurements in fluvial sediment (OCTOPUS). In collaboration with ANDS through the High Value Collection program the university has built a system to make this database openly available and the data discoverable, connected and re-usable.

CRN and luminescence dating are key areas of geochronological research at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES) of the University of Wollongong, and SEES researchers are responsible for producing a very large proportion of the CRN and luminescence data available for the Australian continent.

Cosmogenic radionuclide (CRN) exposure dating and luminescence dating are suites of geochronological techniques that have become important for the studying of Earth surface processes. Both permit quantifying the timing of geological events by dating individual landforms. In addition, CRNs can also be used to measure the rate at which landforms or landscapes are being denuded by physical and chemical erosion processes. Thus, the two suites of techniques have been extensively used among others to quantify landscape erosion rates, to reconstruct the extent of Quaternary glaciations, and to study how rivers have adapted to past climate change via incision and aggradation.

Both suites of techniques are costly (both in terms of time and money) and require specialised training, laboratories, and equipment. As such, CRN and luminescence studies are often very focused and involve a relatively small number of samples (n < 100). The research questions being addressed by these studies are very specific and study areas are often relatively small. Hence, CRN and luminescence studies will produce small datasets that are unmanaged and that may become forgotten once the study has been completed and results published.

This repository will become the default “go to” place for CRN and luminescence data for researchers interested in this rich collection of Australian and global data. The repository and web-portal will enable easy search and discovery of available data. This will provide opportunities for further research and will also be of value to industry or local government, by making possible advances in a range of important areas, including:

  • Sediment fluxes to the global ocean: River sediment is the main source of nutrients to the global ocean and quantifying the temporal dynamics of sediment transport, storage, and recycling in the world’s rivers is key to understanding the mass fluxes associated with the physical, biological and chemical processes acting across the globe, just as it is central to how we read and interpret the global record of Earth history. The latter has important implications for the global economy in terms of ongoing exploration for natural resources.
  • Analysing how landscapes respond to global climate change: The compilation of luminescence data will allow for broad-scale national, hemispheric or global assessment of how landscapes (rivers, dune-fields and lakes) have responded to global climate change. Centralising the data will allow for easy interrogation as to the role climate has in determining landscape response and identifying any spatial variability of such responses.
  • Natural hazard mitigation: Present-day processes cannot fully explain the world around us as most catastrophic events have not been experienced and recorded by human society. The availability of standardised regional and global CRN and luminescence datasets will permit the complex statistical and numerical analyses required to study the frequency-magnitude characteristics of episodic erosional and depositional processes, and thus improve natural hazard mitigation.
  • Placing human impacts on the environment into context: Soil erosion is a major issue for the sustainability of agriculture in Australia and elsewhere. The standardised CRN database will provide local- to regional-scale information on natural levels of erosion that can serve as a benchmark against which to compare observational and modelling data on land degradation. The luminescence database will also allow the identification of landscape response to human disturbance and climate change. A compilation of luminescence ages will allow the identification of accelerated deposition as a function of human disturbance. This can then be placed in context of longer-term deposition rates identifying where on the globe the greatest impact has been. At a national or regional level this will allow for resource management agencies to assess ‘at a glance’ what pre- and post-disturbance rates are.

OCTOPUS can be accessed at: https://earth.uow.edu.au

The authors of the database have also submitted a manuscript describing the database in detail to the open access journal Earth System Science Data. The paper is now accessible and open for interactive public discussion until 01 May 2018 at:

https://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/essd-2018-32/

You are invited to download the data and take part in the discussion.

OCTOPUS sceeenshot