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Marco Fiorentini

CET Deputy Director

School of Earth Sciences - Centre for Exploration Targeting

Contact details

Address
Robert Street Building, Rm 209
Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET)
School of Earth Sciences
The University of Western Australia (M006)
35 Stirling Highway
CRAWLEY WA 6009

Phone
+618 6488 3465

Email
marco.fiorentini@uwa.edu.au

Personal Profile

Research Output / Publications

Biography

PhD Research 

In 2001-2004, I conducted my PhD research between the University of Western Australia and Monash University, in an industry-funded project coordinated by AMIRA. The focus was on the platinum-group element signature of Archean komatiites from Western Australia.

 

Past research opportunities 

Since the end of my PhD, I have had a noteworthy record in terms of integrated research activity within and across groups in academia and industry, liaising and working efficiently with key national and international academic and governmental institutions. Since the beginning of my appointment as a Research Associate at the University of Western Australia in 2005, I have successfully led industry-funded research initiatives and leveraged industry funds through federal and state funding agencies. In October 2012, I got a permanent position as an Associate Professor at UWA.

 

Current role

At UWA, I have been employed in a research-intensive position. However, since 2009 I coordinate a third-year petrology class and a fifth-year economic geology unit. From an administrative point of view, I am involved in numerous service roles across the School of Earth Sciences (SES) and across the Faculty of Science at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Together with being a Senior Research Leader at the Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET) since its inception in 2006, in 2015-2018 I have been a Chief Investigator and Node Director in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (CCFS), and since 2016 I am the Deputy Head of the School of Earth Sciences at UWA. In addition, I am the chair of the Research and Engagement Committee in SES, as well as the school research representative in the Faculty.

The field of my research focuses on igneous petrology and isotopic geochemistry applied to magmatic mineral systems, which aims at unravelling the complex sulfur and metal cycle at the scale of the lithosphere. Recent work aims at unravelling the emplacement dynamics of pipe-like igneous systems - chonoliths, which contain sulfide mineralisation enriched in nickel, copper and the immensely valuable platinum group elements. From a practical point of view, I have experience on 1) trace element and isotopic geochemistry of magmatic and hydrothermal systems, 2) stable and radiogenic isotope analysis of sulfide and hydromagmatic phases, and 3) combined trace element mineral chemistry, EBSD and three-dimensional CT micro-tomography of sulfide and oxide mineral phases.

In my work, I promote the philosophy that fundamental science and applied research are two sides of the same coin.I have a noteworthy record in terms of integrated research activity within and across groups in academia and industry. The successful initiative that characterises my approach to scientific investigation is reflected by the wide-ranging nature of the research projects I am involved in, which stretches from pure fundamental science to more applied investigation. 

The quality of my research outputs is reflected in multiple ways. I have a noteworthy publication record despite the confidential nature of some of my research. Since the end of my PhD in 2005, I have been very successful in collaborating across a wide range of research initiatives, spanning from field-based studies to the application of extremely sophisticated cutting-edge analytical techniques with researchers from governmental institutions, both at the state and federal level. My knowledge of foreign languages has enabled me to communicate freely and maintain ongoing research collaborations with numerous institutions overseas. As a result, the success of my research initiative is also reflected by my capacity to liaise with the best researchers in selected fields of investigation. A snapshot of my research is available on Scopus and Google Scholar.

Future research

My key research objectives aim to unravel the cycle of metals and volatiles on Earth and Mars, the metal transport capacity of fluids and melts across a range of P-T conditions, and the relationship between magmatism, geodynamic processes and the genesis of mineral systems for a wide range of commodities. More recently, my research has also focused on the cryptic link between precious metals and life, developing the first holistic, integrated, multinational study to investigate the possibility of a terrestrial hot spring field as a setting for the origin of life. Outcomes from this work will inform on the search for life on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System.

The analytical expertise that I have developed in my career to date has focused on trace element and isotopic geochemistry of magmatic and hydrothermal systems, stable and radiogenic isotope analysis of sulfide and hydromagmatic phases, and combined trace element mineral chemistry, electron backscatter diffraction and three- dimensional computed tomography of sulfide and oxide mineral phases. More recently, I have focused on high- precision geochronology by thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (CA-IDTIMS) to unravel the emplacement dynamics of mafic and ultramafic systems as well as on the characterisation of multiple sulfur isotopic signatures by in-situ and whole-rock analytical methods. Along with my expertise in these analytical procedures, the real strength of my approach lies in my ability to integrate and interpret different datasets at multiple scales.

My research objectives are clearly aligned with a vision for the key grand challenges that lie ahead, for which the geosciences can play a key role. In my estimation, the prosperity of future generations will have to be resourced in ways as yet unknown. This is mainly related to the fact that the development of new technologies will be based on a very diversified mix of commodities, including metals that have been mined for centuries and others yet to be identified for future strategic applications. Most importantly, I believe that current ore deposit models are not appropriate for the exploration challenges ahead. The scientific community needs to face this looming crisis by providing a step-change in the fundamental science that underpins mineral exploration.

The inventory of strategic metals required to support the development of new technological advances will evolve at unprecedented rates in the foreseeable future. The list of commodities that are essential to feed the progress of mankind will require exploitation of presently unknown types of ore deposits. However, current exploration strategies are largely based on analogue models, which are clearly not appropriate for finding ore deposit types that have not been encountered yet. This taxonomical approach to mineral exploration, which had moderate success in the past when most of the largest and richest ore deposits were still to be found, is bound to fail in the future. To face this challenge, I believe that models underpinning mineral exploration strategies should not be analogue-based, but rather founded on a sound understanding of the poorly constrained geological processes that control metal transport and concentration.

Ore deposits are loci on Earth where energy and mass flux are greatly enhanced and focussed. They act as magnifying lenses into the mechanisms of metal transport and fractionation across the continental lithosphere, providing new constraints on its poorly known metallogenic architecture. In my current and future research initiatives, I would like to develop a research strategy to test the hypothesis that ore deposits through the lithosphere are not isolated zones where serendipitous happenstance has produced mineralisation, but rather part of a continuum of magmatism and hydrothermal evolution from mantle to upper crust, where processes have continually built up to develop those ore deposits in a sequential and predictable manner. The research vision that I envisage aims to integrate the strengths of different disciplines to unravel the cycle of elements across the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere.

The integration of multiple physical and mathematical disciplines will pave the way for much-needed change in the way mineral exploration is designed and implemented. The research landscape at UWA will be the catalyst to harness this process, pushing the School of Earth Sciences to the forefront of innovation. This will allow for collaboration with a wide range of disciplines within the university, as well as industry and numerous key centres of excellence worldwide to open up the framework for the discovery of the ore deposits of the future. Great emphasis will be laid on engagement with funding research agencies across the globe including the European Union, which has recently identified shortages in strategic commodities as key challenges to be addressed. The research will focus on maximising exploration within ever-evolving environmental constraints and identifying resources for which no analogues are currently available.

New search space for commodities will be created through the process-based research that I intend to continue pioneering, which will focus on solving existing knowledge gaps in our understanding of the physical processes that control fluid flux at various pressure-temperature conditions. In this framework, targeted experimental work and numerical modelling is needed to constrain the role of intensive parameters in controlling mineralising processes at multiple scales. The embedded multi-disciplinary and integrated nature of this research approach is fertile ground to promote collaboration with other disciplines, especially in the fields of simulation and uncertainty of multiple exploration scenarios, as well as metallurgical treatment of ore. The available analytical infrastructure at UWA will enable the development of innovative and efficient techniques to detect mineralisation in a wide range of geological settings, thus enlarging the notably small footprint of ore deposits and reducing the environmental impact of exploration. My research will aim at unravelling new ways to track pathways of different element species across the lithosphere, detecting the presence of anomalous concentrations of metals in a range of mineral indicators, as well as in groundwater and in the biosphere. This approach will open up new research avenues, which will investigate how to harmonise the exploitation of finite and renewable mineral resources with the stringent environmental constraints that are necessary to ensure the long-term liveability of our planet.

Team work, innovation and interdisciplinary approach are placed at the core of my current and future research strategy. The geoscience hub at UWA will attract enthusiastic research scientists from all over the world, creating a community of passionate thought leaders who will deliver the fundamental science to tackle and overcome the great challenges related to resourcing the future. Through this vision it will be possible to translate the advantages derived from smarter exploration targeting and ore deposit discovery into tangible benefits towards sustainability, the well-being of future generations, as well as the liveability of all cities globally. In my vision, my research objectives provide an exciting opportunity to consolidate the discipline of Earth Sciences, build on its robust foundations and design a bright and innovative future at UWA. As this institution has a global reputation for valuing multi-disciplinary collaboration to solve the great challenges facing humanity, such as eradicating poverty and finding innovative cures for cancer, my research goals aim to develop new ideas on how to resource the future of mankind. My research efforts are focussed to build a global research network to investigate how new mineral resources can be found and sustainably mined in an increasingly energy-constrained and environmentally aware world, thus ensuring the future liveability of our planet.

Funding overview

  • Research at the interface between academia, industry and government institutions;

  • Since 2006, >AUD$ 20M of funds secured from the ARC Linkage and ARC Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) schemes, leveraging industry funds to tackle fundamental research questions and secure vital analytical instruments;

  • Since 2006, >AUD$ 3.5M of funds secured through the competitive Western Australia-funded MERIWA/MRIWA schemes to leverage industry funds aiming at unlocking the mineral wealth of the state;

  • Manager of diversified research portfolio on a wide range of commodities and mineral systems, engaging with multiple national and international industry partners and governments agencies at both the state (e.g. Geological Survey of Western Australia) and federal (e.g. ARC, CSIRO) levels;

  • Continued success in engaging with mineral and exploration industry, with >AUD$ 500k funds for “high-risk high-reward” pilot studies;

  • Experience in research studies with single industry clients and multi-client large industry enterprises (e.g. AMIRA).

Current projects

  • Multi-scale four-dimensional genesis, transfer and focus of fluids and metals
    Projects in this research cluster test the hypothesis that the genesis of sizeable mineral deposits is the end product of self-organized critical systems operating from the scale of the planet all the way to the very focused environment where mineralisation is concentrated.

  • A Planetary Driver of Atmospheric, Environmental and Biological Evolution through Time
    Life and ore deposits hosted by the lithosphere are intimately linked together through the energy available from sharp chemical and thermal gradients that exist across this interface. Projects in this research cluster investigate how the evolution of life and ore deposits are linked to the changing whole-Earth System, focussing on planetary driving forces that affected all of the different shells of the planet, to develop a 4-dimensional conceptual framework of Earth evolution.

  • From Core to Ore: emplacement dynamics of deep-seated magmatic systems
    Projects in this research cluster constrain the genesis of ore deposits containing nickel, copper and the immensely valuable platinum group elements. These systems provide insights into fundamental questions regarding the evolution and dynamics of our planet as well as of Earth-like bodies in the Solar System.

  • Predictive and detective tools to enhance exploration targeting of magmatic and hydrothermal systems
    Projects in this research cluster leverage industry funding to develop the fundamental science that is required to enhance multi-scale predictive (greenfield exploration) and detective (brownfield exploration) targeting.

Teaching overview

I am genuinely passionate about sharing my knowledge and skills through teaching in undergraduate (Levels 2 and 3) and postgraduate (Level 5) units at UWA, as well as through the supervision of honours and masters students, for which I consistently generate high quality research projects. Over my career to date, I have successfully supervised more that 30 honours and masters students. Having a strong research background (ARC Future Fellow and UWA research-intensive position held until 2017), my philosophical and actual approach to teaching aims to seamlessly integrate the results of ongoing cutting-edge research with teaching, at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The goal is to challenge students, providing them with solid foundations on the basics of the disciplines that are at the core of the units that I teach (Earth Materials, Igneous Petrology, Metamorphic Petrology, Economic Geology, Geochemistry), but also constantly showcasing them how complex geological processes can be quantitatively investigated with an integrated approach that involves other Geoscience disciplines (e.g. Structural Geology, Sedimentology, Geophysics, etc.). In other words, my approach lies on equipping students to become aware of geological complexity, and have the appropriate tools to address it and dissect it into more manageable components, which can be easily investigated and quantified through a range of field- and laboratory-based observations and measurements.

  • Commendation for Excellence in Teaching at The University of Western Australia in 2010;
  • Excellent student evaluation appraisals for undergraduate and postgraduate units;

  • Supervision of PhD research theses (10 completions as principal supervisor and 4 completions as co-supervisor);

  • Supervision of >30 Honours and Masters students since 2006;

  • Mentoring of >10 UWA Early Career Researchers;

  • Most graduated students continued on to prestigious careers in academia, industry, and government.

Research

To date, I have had an exceptional record of integrated research activity within groups in academia and industry. The successful initiative that characterises my approach to scientific investigation is reflected in the multi- disciplinary nature of my research, which stretches from pure fundamental science to more applied investigation, as well as in the varied source and exceptional amount of funding (>25M AUD) that I have contributed to secure since the end of my PhD in 2005.

Evidence of my established international reputation and of my status as a scholar among peers and colleagues in the field of Mineral System Science is reflected in numerous Invited and Keynote presentations at exclusive international conferences, such as for example the Geological Society of America (GSA 2015), Goldschmidt (2016), the European Geophysical Union (EGU 2017), the Society for Economic Geologists (SEG 2015, 2016) and the Society for Geology applied to Mineral Deposits (SGA 2012, 2016, 2020). The fundamental science that I pioneered in my research has also resulted in a series of practical tools that have benefitted the mineral and exploration industry. Outcomes from my research on the role of oxide minerals in the concentration of platinum group elements are routinely utilised in the exploration industry to screen resistate minerals for fertility indicators of orthomagmatic mineralisation. Similarly, ongoing work in collaboration with industry partners is focusing on development of zircon- and apatite-based tools to assess the fertility of porphyry copper mineral systems. On a broader scale, the approach to isotopic mapping of lithospheric blocks that I have developed together with PhD students, colleagues and early career researchers on my team, is now used by industry in conceptual exploration targeting at the regional scale. The maps reveal the localisation of boundaries and paleo-margins where mineralised camps may preferentially cluster, along specific tectonic lineaments – information that is cryptic to other datasets.

More recently, I have investigated the nature and magnitude of mass-independent sulfur isotope (MIF-S) anomalies in the geological record. Outcomes from this work have not only provided key insights into the evolving nature of tectonic processes on our planet, but have also resulted in the development of an indelible marker to fingerprint pathways of mineralising fluids in magmatic and hydrothermal systems. These MIF-S anomalies are now widely used in exploration to map the cryptic architecture of orogenic gold camps. Supporting information on these achievements can be found in the publication list available on Google Scholar and Scopus. Additional information can be found in publically available reports of projects that were carried out with the mineral industry in conjunction with the Western Australian (Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia) and federal (Australian Research Council) governments in Australia.

Throughout my career, I have developed the skill to balance high-calibre pure science with applied research, as evidenced by my multiple industry-sponsored projects and the wide range of publications (Google Scholar/Scopus). The quality of my research outputs is reflected in multiple ways. I have a noteworthy publication record in highly prestigious journals despite the confidential nature of some of my research. Since the end of my PhD, I have been very successful in collaborating across a wide range of research initiatives, spanning from field-based studies to the application of extremely sophisticated cutting-edge analytical techniques with researchers from state and federal governmental institutions. The success of my research initiative is also in part due to my capacity to liaise with the best researchers in selected fields of investigation. My knowledge of foreign languages has enabled me to communicate freely and maintain ongoing research collaborations with numerous institutions overseas on all continents, where I am invited on a regular basis to spend time with local postgraduate students (e.g. Milan in Italy, Toulouse and Nancy in France, Novosibirsk in Russia) deliver workshops and keynote presentations at conferences (see above), and engage with the R&D teams of industry partners in the field (e.g. BHP, Rio Tinto, First Quantum, AngloAmerican). As a scholar in my field of study, I am also routinely asked to review PhD theses and grant proposals from national and international funding agencies (Nederlands, Russia, USA, Italy, Switzerland, UK, Australia, etc.).