Colin Murray WallaceProfessor Colin V. Murray-Wallace

BSc(Hons), PhD, DSc (Adelaide)

Phone:   +61 2 4221 4419
Room:    B41.154A

Professional Profile
  • Qualifications: BSc(Hons), PhD, DSc (Adelaide)
  • Awards: FGS, FRGS
  • Editor-in-Chief, Quaternary Science Review
  • Editorial Advisory Boards: Quaternary Geochronology; Quaternary Research; Archaeology in Oceania

Key Research Interests
  • Quaternary sea-level changes, coastal evolution and human interactions
  • Amino acid racemisation geochronology and technique development
  • Applications of mollusca to Quaternary palaeoenvironmental investigations
  • Neotectonism

Quaternary sea-level changes, coastal evolution and human interactions

Quaternary sea-level changes have profoundly influenced long-term coastal development during the past 2.6 million years and directly impacted on human settlement patterns and the migration of biota in general.  My research has involved examining the evidence for the position of sea level during different time slices of the later Quaternary record relevant to the human colonization of the Australian continent.  Sea level investigations have been based on the analysis of coastal sedimentary successions in outcrop as well as from a range of marine cores.  The latter have been collected from the South Australian Gulfs, the Lacepede Shelf in southern Australia, Gulf of Carpentaria and the continental shelf of New South Wales.  The sedimentary successions have been dated using amino acid racemisation and radiocarbon.


In situ fossil molluscs of Last Glacial (22-20 ka) from a marine vibracore from the outer continental shelf of New South Wales

Representative publications
  • Hill, P.J., De Deckker, P., Von der Borch, C. &  Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2009).  Ancestral Murray River on the Lacepede Shelf, southern Australia: Late Quaternary migrations of a major river outlet and strandline development. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 56, 135-157.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2007). Eustatic sea-level changes, Glacial - Interglacial Cycles. In, Elias, S. (Ed). Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, Elsevier, Vol. 4, pp. 3024-3034.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2007). Eustatic sea-level changes since the Last Glaciation. In, Elias, S. (Ed). Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, Elsevier, Vol. 4, pp. 3034-3043.
  • Cann, J.H., Murray-Wallace, C.V., Riggs, N.J. & Belperio, A.P. (2006). Successive foraminiferal faunas and inferred palaeoenvironments associated with the postglacial (Holocene) marine transgression, Gulf St. Vincent, South Australia. The Holocene 16, 224-234.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V., Ferland, M.A. & Roy, P.S. (2005). Further amino acid racemisation evidence for multiple glacial age, lowstand deposition on the New South Wales outer continental shelf, southeastern Australia. Marine Geology 214, 235-250.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2002). Pleistocene coastal stratigraphy, sea-level highstands and neotectonism of the southern Australian passive continental margin - a review. Journal of Quaternary Science 17, 469-489.

Amino acid racemisation geochronology

Amino acid racemisation, a measure of age, based on the increasing ratio of D- to L-amino acids, has been increasingly used in Quaternary science as a framework for establishing relative and numerical ages of fossils.  With recent developments in reverse phase, high performance liquid chromatography, we are now measuring the degree of racemisation in single foraminifer such as Elphidium sp. The advantage of this analytical protocol is the ability to confidently assess the taphonomic integrity of sedimentary deposits. I am currently using this technique to assess the degree of reworking in coastal sedimentary successions, in midden and associated deposits from the Willandra Lakes region, as well as the Lake Eyre Basin.  With appropriate independent calibration, the degree of racemisation can be used to determine the numerical age of fossils.

Representative publications
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V., Bourman, R.P., Prescott, J.R., Williams, F., Price, D.M. & Belperio, A.P. (2010). Aminostratigraphy and thermoluminescence dating of coastal aeolianites and the later Quaternary history of a failed delta: The Murray River Mouth region, South Australia. Quaternary Geochronology 5, 28-49.
  • Roberts, D.L., Bateman, M.D., Murray-Wallace, C.V., Carr, A.S., & Holmes, P.J. (2008). Last Interglacial fossil elephant trackways dated by OSL/AAR in coastal aeolianites, Still Bay, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology,  Palaeoecology 257, 261-279.
  • Clarke, S.J., Miller, G.H., Murray-Wallace, C.V., David, B. & Pasveer, J.M. (2007). The geochronological potential of isoleucine epimerisation in cassowary and megapode eggshells from archaeological sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 34, 1051-1063.
  • Clarke, S.J., & Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2006). Mathematical expressions used in amino acid racemization geochronology – A review. Quaternary Geochronology 1, 261-278.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V. (2000). Quaternary coastal aminostratigraphy - Australian data in a global context. In, G.A. Goodfriend, M.J. Collins, M.L. Fogel, S.A. Macko and J.F. Wehmiller (eds). Perspectives in Amino Acid and Protein Geochemistry. pp. 279-300, Oxford University Press, New York.

Applications of mollusca to Quaternary palaeoenvironmental investigations

Molluscs represent a fascinating class of organisms that provide a wealth of palaeoenvironmental information. My research on fossil mollusca has partly involved determining the ages of sedimentary successions based on amino acid racemisation and radiocarbon dating, as well as classical biostratigraphy.  My interest in mollusca also includes faunal analysis, palaeoecological and taphonomic analyses. These analytical approaches have been applied to natural shell beds from a range of geomorphological and stratigraphical contexts, as well as midden analysis. I have also had a long-standing interest in long-term environmental changes and examining the application of fossil mollusca for quantifying climate change.

Representative publications

Some of these references are older, but illustrate interesting applications of mollusca in palaeoenvironmental investigations)

  • Bateman, M.D., Carr, A.S., Murray-Wallace, C.V., Roberts, D.L. & Holmes, P.J. (2008). A dating intercomparison study on Late Stone age coastal midden deposits, South Africa. Geoarchaeology: An international journal 23, 715-741.
  • Murray-Wallace, C.V., Beu, A., Kendrick, G.W., Brown, L.J., Belperio, A.P., & Sherwood, J.E. (2000). Palaeoclimatic implications of the occurrence of the arcoid bivalve Anadara trapezia (Deshayes) in the Quaternary of Australasia. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, 559-590.
  • Hesp, P.A., Murray-Wallace, C.V. & Dortch, C.E. (1999). Aboriginal occupation on Rottnest Island, Western Australia, provisionally dated by aspartic acid racemisation assay of land snails to greater than 50 ka. Australian Archaeology 49, 7-12.
  • Sherwood, J., Barbetti, M., Ditchburn, R., Kimber, R.W.L., McCabe, W., Murray-Wallace, C.V., Prescott, J.R., & Whitehead, N. (1994). A comparative study of Quaternary dating techniques applied to sedimentary deposits in southwest Victoria, Australia. Quaternary Geochronology (Quaternary Science Reviews) 13, 95-110.

Searchable Publication List: from 1995

Research Projects

My research interests cover a diverse range of subject areas in Quaternary science.  The projects listed below all include the application of amino acid racemisation to dating, stratigraphical analysis and palaeoenvironmental investigations.

Current major projects
  • Human responses to long-term landscape and climate change in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area (ARC Discovery Project, 2010-2012)
  • How green were our deserts? Evidence for late Quaternary climate change and the source of water in the Lake Eyre Basin (ARC Discovery Project, 2010-2012)

Potential Honours and PhD topics
  • Midden analysis, Holocene sea-level changes and coastal landscape change
  • Aminostratigraphy of the Willandra Lakes in the context of global climate change
  • Amino acid racemisation geochronological frameworks for late Pleistocene extinctions
  • Methodological advances in amino acid racemisation dating

More at the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences (SEES) website 

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Last reviewed: 20 December, 2013