My primary research focuses on reconstructing the geologic histories of important vertebrate fossil-bearing continental deposits. My research involves sedimentary facies and provenance analysis (heavy mineral geochronology), coupled with taphonomy, ichnology and geochronology. A key aspect of my research is to provide geologic context to the vertebrate and hominin faunas preserved within these basins and karst settings. This holistic approach to sedimentology is critical to testing a variety of hypotheses related to past environments and climates, uplift and drainage histories, palaeobiogeography, and extinction and evolution of vertebrate and plant communities.

My three primary research themes include:

1) geological characterisation & dating of early anthropoid primate and hominin records from karst systems of South Africa (e.g. Rising Star Cave) and rift deposits of the East African Rift System.

2) palaeontological exploration, stratigraphy and dating of Jurassic & Cretaceous strata throughout Gondwana (esp., Australia; Africa; Antarctica).

3) stratigraphy, palaeontology & high-precision geochronology of the Western Interior Basin, North America.


****I am always seeking students interested in conducting PhD research that integrate tectonic, sedimentologic (detrital geochronology) and palaeontologic data for reconstructing Mesozoic-Cenozoic sedimentary basins in Australia, China, North America, and Africa. James Cook University offers competitive PhD scholarships to well-qualified applicants. Please email me for details (eric.roberts@jcu.edu.au).****

Go to my research group website for more information.  http://www.gravelmonkeys.org

  • EA2110: Introduction to Sedimentology (Level 2; TSV)
  • EA3650: Sedimentary Environments and Energy Resources (Level 3; TSV)
  • EA5650: Sedimentary Environments and Energy Resources (Level 5; TSV)
  • SC1101: Science: Nature, Knowledge and Understanding (Level 1; TSV)
  • 2001 to 2005 - PhD, University of Utah
  • 1997 to 1999 - MSc, University of Montana
  • 1992 to 1996 - BA, Cornell College
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2017 - James Cook University Excellence Award for Research (awarded to the entire Geosciences Group at JCU)
  • 2015 - James Cook University Excellence Award for Research
  • Associate Editor, Frontiers in Earth Sciences
  • Associate Editor, Palaios
  • Editorial Board Member, Scientific Data (Nature)

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 83+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Eric Roberts from 2004 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Jurassic Arc? Reconstructing the Lost World of Eastern Australia

Indicative Funding
$284,390 over 3 years
This project aims to resolve a long-standing enigma about the geological formation of the Great Artesian Basin ? Australia?s most important onshore reservoir for groundwater and hydrocarbon resources. Specifically, the project will integrate sedimentological and geochemical studies to investigate the geodynamic configuration of Eastern Australia during the Jurassic Period of basin formation. The intended outcomes are an improved understanding of the evolution of the Australian continent and better knowledge of the formation of intercontinental sedimentary basins, which includes better assessment of their potential to contain hydrocarbon resources.
Carl Spandler, Eric Roberts, Anthony Kemp and Bob Henderson (College of Science & Engineering and The University of Western Australia)
Jurassic; Great Artesian Basin; Zircon; Tectonics

De Beers Group Services Pty Ltd - Contract Research

Understanding the Stratigraphy, age, and provenance of the diamondiferous Calonda Formation in North-Eastern Angola: Implications for regional magmatism and paleo fluvial drainage evolution

Indicative Funding
The pilot research, based on four Calonda Formation Core Samples, has identified a suite of unexpected Permian-Late Cretaceous magmatic detrital zircon populations, which have the potential to improve our understanding of the age and provenance of the Calonda Formation, as well as the tectonic history of this region. The pilot research identified a suite of Cretaceous detrital zircons that form three discrete age clusters, which we hypothesis may have been produced during kimberlite or other alkaline volcanism; perhaps synchronously with deposition of the Calonda Formation or other Cretaceous cover sequences. However, due to the small number of grains discovered in the pilot study and lack of systematic sampling, robust conclusions cannot be drawn at present. However, the results demonstrate that it should be possible to significantly refine the age of these sedimentary sequences, including the Calonda Formation, through detrital zircon geochronology, as well as to study the geochemistry of these grains to better understand the regional tectonics of this area during the Cretaceous, possibly including better dating of the timing of kimberlite volcanism.
Eric Roberts and Prince Owusu Agyemang (College of Science & Engineering)
Angola; Detrital Zircon; Sedimentology; Diamond

Leakey Foundation - Research Grant

Dating hominin fossils in the East African Rift, Malawi

Indicative Funding
This project will use detrital zircon geochronology to date the Paranthropus boisei and Homo rudolfenisis hominin fossils from the northern Malawi Rift. These fossils are remarkable, as they represent a co-occurrence of these two species in southwestern Africa, the meeting point for endemic faunas of both southern and eastern Africa. The location of the fossils in the volcanic East African Rift System is a perfect depositional setting in which to apply detrital zircon geochronology to precisely date P. boisei and H. rudolfensis, to test hypotheses about faunal exchange between the two 'cradles' of humankind, in south and east Africa.
Hannah Hilbert-Wolf, Eric Roberts, Timothy Bromage and Friedmann Schrenk (College of Science & Engineering, New York University and Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitat)
Hominin; Sedimentology; Geochronology; Geology; Malawi; Palaeoanthropology

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Life and death of Australopithicus sediba: how a potential ancestor ended up dead in a cave in world heritage site in South Africa

Indicative Funding
$256,000 over 2 years
In August 2008 the remarkable Malapa fossil site was discovered with remains of the first and only fossils of Australopithecus sediba - a potential direct human ancestor. The fossils are in an exceptional state of preservation, and excavations will start in late 2013, creating a unique opportunity to develop a detailed understanding of the chemical, physical and biological factors that led to burial and fossilisation. This research will focus on the complex interplay between termites, sediment chemistry, landscape conditions and palaeo-climate as contributing factors to fossil preservation. Results will document the environment in which sediba lived and died, and assist future exploration for hominid fossils.
Paul Dirks, Eric Roberts, Carl Spandler and Tom Blenkinsop in collaboration with Lee Berger and Zubair Jinnah (College of Science & Engineering and University of the Witwatersrand - Johannesburg)
Australopithicus sediba; Taphonomy; Geochemistry

Australia-New Zealand International Ocean Discovery Program Consortium - Research Grant

Combined U-Pb zircon geochronology & Lu-Hf analysis of Jurassic-Cretaceous volcanics and sandstones from the Lord Howe Rise and Queensland Plateau, Australia

Indicative Funding
We prosed to combine zircon geochronology on putative Cretaceous volcanics reported in the DSDP Leg 21-207 and combine this with more ambitious dual Lu-Hf isotope and U-Pb isotope analysis on detrital zircons collected from a suite of Cretaceous and Paleogene sedimentary rock samples in cores from DSDP Leg 21-206, 207, 208 and 209. This approach is designed to identify the distribution of ages and geochemical signatures associated with earlies Cretaceous-Jurassic age detrital zircons (and volcanics) in order to better understand the timing of Cretaceous-Jurassic volcanism, the possible provenance of Cretaceous-Jurassic volcanic sources and to glean a better understanding of the nature of the magmatism during the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous along eastern Australia.
Eric Roberts, Carl Spandler and Robert Holm (College of Science & Engineering)
IODP; geochemistry; Detrital Zircon; Sedimentology

Heritage Oil Rukwa (TZ) Ltd - Research Grant

Heritage Oil Rukwa (TZ) PhD Scholarship for Cassy Mtelela

Indicative Funding
$220,848 over 4 years
Heritage Oil Rukwa (TZ) to fully support a PhD scholarship and project expenses for Tanzanian Student, Cassy Mtelala. The PhD research Project will focus on investigating the relationship between sedimentation and tectonics in the deposition of the Pilocene to Recent Lake Beds strata in the Rukwa Rift Basin, Tanzania. Heritage will support all tuition; fees; living expenses; and a small research stipend for Cassy to conduct this PhD project through the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, under the direction of Dr Eric Roberts. Heritage Oil Rukwa (TZ) will also directly pay for all field expenses, visas and travel costs.
Eric Roberts in collaboration with Cassy Mtelela (College of Science & Engineering)
scholarship; Sedimentology; Rukwa; Tanzania

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Cenozoic Seismic Stratigraphy of the Great Barrier Reef (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Structure and stratigraphy of the Oobagooma Sub-Basin, Northwest Shelf, Western Australia (PhD , Secondary Advisor/AM)
  • Establishing a Tectonic Framework for the Cretaceous break-up of Eastern Gondwana: Insights from Papua New Guinea and Offshore Geology of the Coral and Tasman Seas. (PhD , Advisor Mentor)
  • Paleoenvironmental and Paleoclimatic Analysis of Selected Cretaceous, Oligocene and Miocene Palesols from the Rukwa Rift Basin, Tanzania (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Cave sedimentation processes, geochronology, and the distribution of hominins at Rising Star Cave, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)
  • Bentonite Tephrostratigraphy and High-Precision Geochronology of Richly Fossiliferous Upper Cretaceous Continental Strata in the Western Interior Basin, North America (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)
  • Revealing the Enigmatic Alkaline Volcanism of the Rukwa Rift through Weather Resistant Minerals and their Inclusions (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Understanding the Genesis and Patterns of Cave Fill across the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Jurassic Arc - Recontructing the Lost World of Eastern Australia (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)
  • Mesozoic Detrital Zircon Provenance of Central Africa: Implications for Jurassic-Cretaceous Tectonics, Paleogeography and Landscape Evolution. (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)
  • Stratigraphy and Sedimentary Basin Analysis of Queensland's Jurassic to Cretaceous Basins, and the application of U-Pb Detrital Zircon Geochronology to Reconstruct Tectonic History and Palaeodrainage Evolution. (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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