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Robotic scanner to map caves

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Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News

Research, 3D scanning, 3D printing, aerial mapping, special events and school holiday programs continue to boost the economic success of Naracoorte Caves National Park.

And soon a cave scanning robot will team up with staff and researchers at the World Heritage listed site.

The revelation came at Naracoorte Lucindale Council’s June 22 meeting when palaeontologist Liz Reed delivered a Powerpoint presentation of the Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage project.

The $2 million, four-year project is now in its final year; and Dr Reed thanked the council for its support as a funding partner.

At $74,000 a year, the council will have contributed around $300,000 to the project.

In turn the project has so far pumped an estimated $530,000 back into Naracoorte’s economy.

“I wanted to give you an update on the project and thank you for your ongoing support,” Dr Reed said.

“Last year some of the analytical labs were closed down and we had some delays. But we still managed to achieve a lot.”

She said 30-40 people were working on projects.

They involved quite a few caves in the region, both within the park and beneath private land. Currently four caves were being excavated for fossils.

One of Dr Reed’s pictures featured the skeleton of a 90,000-year-old kangaroo found in a cave under a vineyard.

“We are also doing lots of detailed dating work – trying to work out the age of the deposits,” she said.

“We are really piecing together a picture of the environment over the last half a million years at Naracoorte.

“One of the things we are really interested in is when did the big animals die out at Naracoorte?

“It seems to be between 42,000 and 45,000 years ago those animals were no longer in this region.”

Dr Reed said that as part of the project, “we are currently working on 3D printing of skulls of distinct animals and we hope to distribute those to local schools”.

“We are also doing 3D scanning of caves which is really very interesting work. We have done a lot of 3D scanning.”

Dr Reed highlighted a map of Bat Cave. Using a laser scanner, a 3D model had been created.

She said that currently an engineering student in Adelaide was developing a cave scanning robot. “Watch this space, we’ll be trialling that in October,” she said.

Aerial mapping had also been done on the Naracoorte East Range.

“We flew a plane along the ranges from Naracoorte to Struan and 3D scanned those at 10 points per metre,” she said.

Dr Reed highlighted the research value of the caves. Since 2018 nine honours students had completed projects and another two were presently working on projects.

“We’ve had three PHDs and one masters student finish,” she said.

“We currently have 10 PHDs working on a range of projects. Everything from fossils through to 3D modelling through to ancient DNA and working out ancient climate and stalagmites.”

Dr Reed said one of her aims was to increase research activity at the caves “and we have certainly done that”.

“Prior to our project start there were 24 student projects completed since 1970. Since 2018 we’ve had 25 projects, so you can see, already our productivity is huge.”

Dr Reed said increased research activity led to increased publications and outputs. That meant more public awareness, tourism opportunities and flow on benefits for the town.

“Where we really shine, I think, and certainly a benefit from your perspective for the town, is national, local and State media,” she said, highlighting various publications featuring the caves.

There were also many “outreach activities” including a raft of events as well as school holiday programs.

“They are all spending money here and staying here which is good for the town,” Dr Reed said.

Economic benefits included “direct spend from our research teams and students we’ve brought here in the last few years is around $80,000”.

She estimated a further $50,000 benefit by attracting additional tours in recent times.

Additionally, she estimated the value of media from all the promotion was “well in excess of $400,000”.

Cr Craig McGuire asked why she believed the big animals had died out.

Ms Reed said she thought it was either climate or humans, probably both.

Naracoorte Community News 30 June 2021

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 30 June 2021.


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