Earth System Sciences, Soils and Resources (ESSSOR)


Sub-programme leader: Dr Eugene Bergh (


Strategic Aim and Mission

The aims of this subprogram are to study and advance our understanding of the composition and timing of internal and external processes determining our planet, the history and evolution of life, exploration and beneficiation of resources, the role of soils as the critical interface between geo- and biosphere as well as human interferences with natural environments and necessary mitigations.

Vision: To bring together scientists and research from various disciplines of geology, soil science and (palaeo)ecology present at NWU.

Mission: Promote research in Earth and Soil Sciences with an emphasis in multi-disciplinary research to strengthen the understanding of past and modern environmental change and the use of Earth resources. 

Specific Focus

  • Environmental geology 

Focuses on the integration and application of geosciences to the field of rehabilitation and the study of both natural and anthropogenic disturbances to the environment. This research field is of increasing importance due to the strong impacts of climate change, mining and other human activities. 

  • Petrology and mineral petrography 

Vital research within geology aims to particularly focus on key geological events, such as the Vredefort Dome, Bushveld Igneous Complex and Witwatersrand Supergroup, that form part of the history of our continent and contributes towards our economy.  

  • Soil Science

Focuses on soil classification, digital soil mapping, soil physics and -chemistry, soil amelioration

  • Environmental change studies

Focuses on the natural responses of Earth during the past geologic time. Also, modern environmental change brought on by anthropogenic influences. 

  • Marine and coastal sedimentology

Focuses on the study of depositional records primarily around southern Africa and the processes responsible for them.

  • Stratigraphy

The use of isotopes and biostratigraphy to date sediments and rocks for exploration, palaeoceanographic and palaeoenvironmental work. 

  • Economical geology 

The exploration and petrography of mineral ores, but in addition, a more specific focus will be placed on coal petrology, structural geology and the transition towards renewable resources from 2023 onwards.

  • Micropalaeontology

Focuses on Cenozoic palaeoecology, terrestrial and marine palaeoenvironments with expansion into Permian palaeoecology.

  • Geoarchaeology 

A transdisciplinary field investigating the geological and palaeontological context of archaeological sites with a current regional focus on southern Africa and the Near East. Our thin sectioning equipment allows for an extension into the field of microfacies analysis in 2023.

Skill Set of ESSSOR Members

  • Dr Eugene Bergh: Marine and coastal sedimentology, stratigraphy, micropalaeontology, palaeoenvironmental analyses, isotope and elemental geochemistry
  • Prof. Frank Neumann: Palynology, palaeoecology, stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Cenozoic and Permian, applied palynology (aerobiology, melissopalynology)
  • Dr Jaco Koch: Environmental geology, soil science and mine rehabilitation
  • Mr Ricart Boneschans: Igneous petrology and mineral petrography, applied environmental mineralogy (soils and rehabilitation) and geobotany (serpentine and ultramafic rock ecology).
  • Ms Moteng Moseri: Palaeontology, palynology, sedimentology
  • Ms Angelique Daniell: Soil science, soil geochemistry
  • Mr Jasper Dreyer: Soil science, soil classification, digital soil mapping, soil physics
  • Ms Thendo Netshidzivhe: Mantle geochemistry, igneous petrology, economic geology
  • Ms Amogelang Moila: Economic geology and structural geology

Desired Skills Set

  • Geo- and biostatistics and modelling, e.g. for quantitative climate reconstructions
  • Geochemical modelling
  • Mineral phase and composition analyses e.g. XRF, XRD, EMPA.
  • GIS applications
  • Sequence stratigraphy
  • Coal petrology
  • Remote sensing and the use of drones

Facilities, Infrastructure and Equipment

  • Geo Labs for core and sediment analyses, e.g., pXRF, grain size analysis, and core logging
  • Thin sectioning lab - cutting, grinding and polishing facilities for sectioning of solid materials for microscopy-based investigations. 
  • Nikon and Leica based petrographic microscopes with reflected and transmitted light functions, light microscopes (Olympus CX23, partly with cameras), Leica stereo binoculars
  • Geological Museum, rock archive, teaching collection
  • Palynological and micropalaeontological laboratories (under construction)
  • Soil analyses laboratories
  • Drilling equipment includes Russian peat sampler and soil augers
  • Access to XRF-XRD, laser diffractometry
  • Storage facilities for rock/soil/sediment core samples

Research Objectives

Research within the subprogram strives to enhance our understanding of Earth processes over time and in the modern context. The objectives of research in this subprogram are therefore to:

  • Understand how Earth is changing in the modern context
  • Understand how Earth has responded in the past to natural processes
  • Understand past environments and ecologies
  • Promote research into mineral ore geology
  • Understand processes, relationships and geochemistry between the different Earth spheres (biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere)
  • Promote soil science and related processes

Research Groups

  • Environmental Soil Science
  • Petrology and Economic Geology
  • Sedimentary Environments and Palaeoecology


Last updated: 26 April 2023