From 2009 onwards, a major research focus of this Department is on layered mafic intrusions globally, with emphasis on the Bushveld Complex. The approach is essentially holistic, taking account of the Transvaal Basin into which the Bushveld intruded as well as the Waterberg Basins which succeeded it, and looking particularly at the tectonic and structural setting of this great intrusion, its metamorphic effects on both roof and floor rocks, and encompassing also supporting exploration for its rich ore deposits. This focus forms part of a broader focus area in Geodynamics (Kumba-Exxaro Chair), related to a high level of competency in structural geology and metamorphic petrology.
A traditional research area remains mineralogy and applied mineralogy, tied also to the above theme through work on the platinum group mineralogy of the Bushveld and other analogous intrusive bodies worldwide. This research is underpinned by the excellent analytical facilities (XRF, XRD, electron microprobe, micro-XRF) and personnel the Department is lucky to have. A recent addition to this focus area is precious metal fingerprinting.
The present economic growth and reconstruction of Southern Africa has led to large infrastructure and resource development programmes. The research focus in Applied Geology provides opportunities to contribute to this development. Research in hydrogeology, including the characterization of pollution and groundwater flow into mines, the characterization and sustainable utilization of fractured aquifers in crystalline rocks as well as the vulnerability of karst aquifers, is contributing to the safeguarding of the precious groundwater resource. Engineering geological properties of soils and rocks, rock slope stability in open cast mines and the influence of geology on the Gautrain tunnels are aspects covered in engineering geological research. The long-standing association of the Engineering and Environmental Geology Section within the Department of Geology with dolomite stability has been maintained and extended to contribute towards the vulnerability mapping on karst aquifers; especially the surface stability issue if these aquifers are utilized as emergency water supply sources.
The fourth research focus area of the Department lies in the newly established Aon Benfield Natural Hazard Centre, Africa, which will concentrate on post-graduate, contract and pure research on natural hazards of major import for the country, and for the local and African/global re-insurance industry – these will primarily encompass research on seismic hazards and those posed by wind storms and floods. In time research will also move into areas such as climate change, biohazards and many others. Existing departmental expertise within dolomite karst areas and sinkhole development will also be strengthened, in cooperation with the national authorities in disaster management.