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2 October 2015
by David

Aussie volcano chain

A steep, rocky mountain.

This lonely mountain now has a family.
Credit: Mike Griinke

The longest chain of continental volcanoes in the world was recently discovered in Australia. It stretches from near Mackay in Queensland down to Cosgrove in Victoria.

Don’t be alarmed. These volcanoes aren’t going to erupt anytime soon. It has been millions of years since any of the volcanoes in the chain have erupted. We’ve known about each individual volcano for a long time, but didn’t realise they were related.

A team of scientists had a hunch that these volcanoes were linked, so they decided to investigate. The first clue was that all the volcanoes lay very close to a straight line. The volcanoes were also lined up in order of age – older volcanoes in the north, and younger ones in the south.

Since they erupted one after the other, the team thought that they might all have the same cause. Say there was one volcano that moved slowly down Australia, erupting as it went. The team calculated the speed and direction that such a volcano would move and found it matched Australia’s continental drift. Australia is moving towards Indonesia at about seven centimetres a year. It was like the volcano was staying still, while Australia moved over the top!

This explained a lot, but there was still one mystery. In some areas there were lots of volcanoes, but in other areas there were none. Why? The scientists used seismic data to measure the thickness of the Earth’s crust, the hard outer layer that sits on top the mantle. Areas with lots of volcanoes had a thin crust, less than 100 kilometres thick. In areas with no volcanoes, the crust was much thicker – over 150 kilometres thick.

The volcano chain has been named the Cosgrove hotspot track.


More information

World’s longest volcano chain found in Australia

This article first appeared in Science by Email. Sign up to Science by Email to receive science news, activities and quizzes. It’s free!

22 September 2015
by David
1 Comment

Phasmid competition winners!

The cover of a book: Phasmid Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick InsectCongratulations to all of the winners of our Phasmid poetry competition. The following people have won a family pass to the Melbourne zoo.

Justin de Lacy, Julie Shapland, Emma Spires and Anna Piko.

A special congratulations to Ashleigh Fogarty who has also won a behind-the-scenes tour of the stick insect breeding project at the zoo.


Here is Ashleigh’s winning poem:

Continue Reading →

21 September 2015
by David

Robot assassin protects the reef

A coral reef. tHere is a spiky starfish with targets drawn on it.

Image: COTSbot finds a target
Credit: Feras Dayoub, QUT

The crown-of-thorns is a venomous starfish that lives in the Great Barrier Reef. Growing up to massive lengths of 80 centimetres and having a body entirely covered in toxic spikes, the starfish is almost indestructible and is a vicious predator. They eat coral, the building blocks of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s said that one adult starfish can eat up to ten square metres of coral every year. Continue Reading →

4 September 2015
by David
1 Comment

Stick insect comeback

A large insect on a person's hand

The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect.
Image: Rohan Cleave / Melbourne Zoo

For millions of years, stick insects roamed the beautiful Lord Howe Island. Then one fateful day in 1918, a ship ran aground and fleeing rats decided to make the island home – and stick insects their dinner. Within a few years, people believed the insects were extinct.

Eighty years later, an expedition was sent to a nearby island. Ball’s Pyramid is a harsh and remote rock, 562 metres high and only 300 metres across. In a protected area on the rock, the expedition found a few stick insects living under a melaleuca tree. The Lord Howe Island stick insect was not extinct after all! Continue Reading →

31 August 2015
by David

New tessellation discovered

Image: Wikimedia commons/Tomruen, by permission from www.jaapsch.net

Image: Wikimedia commons/Tomruen, by permission from www.jaapsch.net

If you wanted a really cool bathroom, what shape would you use for the tiles? Squares will work, or rectangles, or even hexagons. But can we use five-sided tiles? You may not know them, but there are a whole range of pentagonal tiling shapes. And a few weeks ago, mathematicians found a new one to join them. Continue Reading →

21 August 2015
by David

Ebola end in sight

A green squiggle.

This green squiggle is an image of the Reston subtype of the Ebola virus.
Credit: CSIRO

It looks like the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for over a year may soon be under control. Last week, there were only a handful of new cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, scientists are getting closer to a vaccine to prevent these outbreaks from occurring again. Continue Reading →