Under sweat and pressure: Rock dating in Thailand


Around the world geologists collect samples with a hammer and a chisel to learn more about how the System Earth works and evolves. Urs Klötzli swaps Alpine orogenesis for South-East Asian crustal studies once a year. Together with interested students he travels to Thailand, to explore, together with colleagues from the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the rock evolution in crustal-scale shear zones. The cooperation is made possible by an agreement for academic exchange and co-operation, and by the ASEA UNINET programme.

Urs Klötzli, professor at the Department of Lithospheric Research of the University of Vienna, organizes a trip to Thailand every year. Together with the Thai colleagues and students he explores geological formations at the other end of the world - near the Himalayas: „Some students love it, some would hate it, but it is a unique possibility do geology outside our European comfort zone. Together we travel to remote areas to find out more about the age and litho-tectonic development of the basement rocks in Thailand“.

Common problems in dating basement rocks

When Urs Klötzli was a PhD Student himself, he was already involved in research work on tin granites in Thailand and Malaysia. From 2008 to 2011 he worked with exchange student Pitsanupong Kanjanapayont from Thailand, who wrote his PhD thesis at the University of Vienna. Together with Bernhard Grasemann and Martin Thöni of the Faculty of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy they investigated the geochronology of rocks from a shear zone in Southern Thailand. „We talked about possibilities of dating basement rocks in the region. One year later professor Punya Charusiri from Bangkok visited us and we found common problems to solve. That sparked the set-up of a mutual agreement via ASEA UNINET programme in 2013.“ Some of the basement complexes in Thailand show strongly deformed rock sequences with different degrees of metamorphic imprint. As a scientist Klötzli is always interested in methodological aspects: „We do not have routine tools to date the high-temperature (>600°C) deformation of rocks“.

Indelible experience in the tropics

The mutual work on geochronology centers on two aspects. For the colleagues in Bangkok the knowledge of the absolute ages of regional basement formations is important. The Viennese partners can deliver this sought-after absolute age data and thereby learn more about the temporal evolution of crustal scale shear zones in general and, also of major importance, how to methodologically establish this. „We want to know what happened when in the shear zones and which geochronological parameters might help us to better understand their evolution“, explains Urs Klötzli. The joint research focuses on three major shear zones – thought to have been caused by the collision of the Indian with the Asian plate. They are all situated in national parks (Lan Sang, Hat Khanom/ Mu Ko Thale Tai and Amphoe Khanom/ Klaeng). Urs Klötzli promotes the yearly excursion half joking: „There is always fine weather, fantastic food and extraordinary geology, that you do not see in Europe. Mainly we march through river beds. It is hot, you get sweaty and there is no beach around, but snakes and spiders instead.“

The cooperation between Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and the University of Vienna is made possible via ASEA UNINET programme. It encompasses research, teaching, exchange students, supervision of thesis etc. but is small in scale: „There are not too many people involved. As a scientist I am interested in doing science with as little time investment into administrating the science as possible“, says Urs Klötzli. “In this respect, the ASEA UNINET programme is unique.”


Agreement for Academic Exchange and Co-operation

between the Faculty of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy of the University of Vienna and the Faculty of Science of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok; approved: 2007+2013; duration: 5 years, prolongation intended;

The ASEAN-European Academic University Network (ASEA-UNINET) aims to initiate and promote research cooperation South East Asian universities. It finances the exchange of scientists and partly PhD students. The Faculty of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy of the University of Vienna and the Department of Geology at Chulalongkorn University Bangkok train students during field trips to topically interesting sites in Thailand. The main field of research is the absolute dating of rocks and of the deformation processes therein.


Scientific Contacts

University of Vienna; Department of Lithospheric Research: Urs KLÖTZLI
University of Vienna; Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology, Bernhard GRASEMANN
Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Department of Geology: Pitsanupong KANJANAPAYONT, Punya CHARUSIRI

Highly deformed Lan Sang orthogneisses within the Mae Ping Fault Zone. Lan Sang National Park, N Thailand (16°46'55.3"N/ 99°01'0.8"E; photo: J. Österle, 23.02.2012)
Anatectic metapelites of the ‘Chao-Chao’ gneiss series within the ‘Klaeng tectonic line’. Quarry at Khao Map Yang, E Thailand (13°10'51.0"N/101°23'59.4"E; photo: U. Klötzli, 17.03.2008)
Khao Pret granite with intrusive contact to the Laem Thong Yang gneisses , Khanom Gneiss complex, Klong Phlao, Khanom, S Thailand (9°06'29.9"N/99°52'01.4"E; photo: M. Oester, 19.02.2016)
Laem Thong Yang anatectic muscovite-biotite gneisses, Khanom Gneiss complex, Klong Phlao, Khanom, S Thailand (9°06'29.9"N/99°52'01.4"E; photo: M. Oester, 19.02.2016)
Anatectic Laem Thong Yang gneisses, Khanom Gneiss complex, Laem Thong Yang, Khanom, S Thailand (9° 5'26.10"N /99°53'38.10"E; photo: M. Oester, 20.02.2016)
Wat Khao Tao temple built on anatectic gneisses of the Khao Tao complex, S Thailand (12°27'25.0"N/99°58'50.0"E; photo: U. Klötzli, 15.03.2008)