The notion of Australia as an ancient continent belies a profound record of global change recorded in many of our Australian landscapes.
As part of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, Australia is the fastest moving continent, its northward motion over the last 50 million years driven by the vast tectonic forces and accompanied by increasing stress levels that have begun to break up the plate.
This northward journey has been accompanied by the drying and, somewhat paradoxically, cooling of our continent.
This record of climate change, particularly over the last 5 million years, is dramatically encoded in the landscapes of the Murray Basin.
Sutbtle changes in our landscapes reflect the increases in tectonic stress that are responsible for our earthquakes, and a prolonged north-side down tilting of the continent as it ploughs into south-east Asia.
Tectonics and climate are intiimately linked through changes in the ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns. The northward motion of the Indo- Australian plate has been a driving force for such change.
Human evolution has gone hand in hand with the dramatic climatic oscillations of the last million years. The framework for understanding many of our current environmental problems is to be found in the Quaternary geoloical record of our continent.
The earth sciences provide the "context" for understanding global change. The Australian continent has played a crucial role in global change and contains a special record of this change. The nature of the changes which have provided the opputunities for human evolution but now so endanger our future are prime concerns of the earth sciences.