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Available postgraduate research projects in the Department of Geology

You can you can always talk to the staff about other possible projects. Projects are listed here with a suggested level, but feel free to talk to staff about taking on a project at a different level (e.g. PGDipSci instead of BSc(Hons)).

PhD projects

Topic: Strong motion seismology

Supervisor: Mark Stirling, Professor of Earthquake Science, mark.stirling[at]otago.ac.nz
Description: We are currently seeking a suitable individual to undertake a Ph.D. on ground motion simulations for Dunedin city from large local earthquakes. The project will comprise the following three stages over 2017-19: (1) geological/geophysical data gathering; (2) 3D shear wave velocity model development, and; (3) source modelling and ground motion simulations for the local major active faults. The project will be well suited to someone who is interested in multidisciplinary seismic hazard modelling. Applicants from a range of backgrounds (e.g. geophysics and geology majors), and the attributes of self-motivation, computer-literacy (preferably Python and Matlab) and excellent English writing skills will be considered. Scholarship and tuition funding is expected to be available for the three year duration of the research, commencing early 2017.
Level: PhD

MSc projects

Title: Gas hydrates - seismic processing and analysis

Supervisor: Andrew Gorman
Description: This project will build on ongoing work and data from the Pegasus Basin using existing datasets from industry and academic cruises to investigate focussed accumulations of gas hydrates.
Level: MSc

Title: Mechanism for active subsidence of the Dunedin volcano

Supervisor: Mark Stirling, Paul Denys, Pilar Villamor (GNS Science)
Description: The project will seek to determine the cause of the present c. 0.8mm/yr subsidence of the Dunedin volcano, as determined from the last 1-2 decades of geodetic data from rock sites across the volcano. Elastic and/or viscoelastic modelling of post seismic deformation from late Holocene Akatore Fault earthquakes (constrained in recent paleoseismic studies) will be a definite line of investigation in the project. The project will be suitable for a student with interests in deformation modelling and active tectonics, and with a willingness to learn with deformation modelling software (as yet unspecified).
Level: MSc.

Title: Provenance of siliclastic turbidites using detrital zircons and neodymium isotopes

Supervisor: Mike Palin and Candace Martin

Description: Turbidites are widespread sedimentary deposits of economic and scientific importance. They dominate New Zealand sedimentary rocks of the Eastern Province and younger Cenozoic basins. This project will examine provenance of coarse- and fine-grained portions of turbidites in basins of known provenance (western Southland) and those from the Rakia Terrane. The work will involve careful field documentation of samples, petrography, and Nd isotope analysis of mudrocks and U-Pb dating of detrital zircons in coarser grained lithologies by LA-ICP-MS.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62, x63 and x73
Level: MSc

Title: Otago Schist: tracing metamorphic fluids using hydrogen and carbon stable isotopes

Supervisor: Mike Palin

Description: Metamorphism of sedimentary rocks involves the loss of water-rich, carbon-chloride-sulfur-bearing fluids. These fluids play essential roles in the long-term carbon cycle, the rheology of the crust, and the formation of gold and other mineral deposits. This project will examine the stable isotopes of hydrogen and carbon – the two most abundant volatile elements – in the Otago Schist across metamorphic grade. If isotopic equilibrium was maintained during fluid generation, then the rocks should exhibit progressive heavy-isotope depletion with increasing metamorphic grade and extent of volatile loss. This would mean that fluids generated at the highest metamorphic grade would have isotopically-depleted compositions - values that are usually considered to be diagnostic of high-altitude precipitation. Such a finding could call into question interpretations of deep penetration of surface waters into active mountain belts. It would also predict the formation of carbon and hydrogen isotope alteration halos around pathways that accommodated metamorphic fluid loss – including structures that host gold mineralization.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x74
Level: MSc.

Unraveling the Murihiku - Brook Street terrane boundary in Southland

Supervisor: Mike Palin

Description: My thinking on this project is somewhat vague at present, but I’m willing to discuss options. It concerns an important boundary that may have been over-interpreted during the height of the circum-Pacific “exotic terrane” fad of the late 1970s. The Murihiku is less exotic than many might suspect.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62, x64, x72 and x73
Level: MSc

MSc or BSc(Hons) projects

Title: Magma ascent rates in the Auckland Volcanic Field

Supervisor: Marco Brenna
Description: How long will Aucklanders have to organize a volcanic emergency response after detection of deep unrest? Elemental diffusion profiles in xenocrysts in Auckland lavas can reveal timescales of crystal residence in the melt, and hence the rates of magma ascent. The project may involve a small component of fieldwork to collect samples, and a large component of laboratory work.
Level: Hons to MSc student.

Title: Characterisation of intrusive bodies in the Dunedin Volcano

Supervisor: Marco Brenna
Description: The Port Chalmers Breccia hosts several lithologies of intrusive xenoliths. Intrusive bodies are also exposed on the central portion of the Dunedin Volcano. This project will aim to characterize the petrography and possible extent of such bodies and their emplacement dynamics. The project may involve a component of fieldwork to map geological relationships and collect samples, and a large component of laboratory work.
Level: Hons to MSc student.

Title: Middle Cenozoic unconformities of Waihao Valley, South Canterbury

Supervisor: Ewan Fordyce
Description: The Eocene-Oligocene sedimentary sequence in Waihao Valley includes several unconformities of uncertain genesis. They may relate to local tectonism, otherwise rare in the Canterbury Basin Paleogene. The project will involve some days of fieldwork to log sections and collect samples, and a laboratory work on biostratigraphy and depositional settings.
Level: Hons.

Title: Quaternary Stratigraphy (and/or Structure?) of Otago Harbour

Supervisor: Andrew Gorman and Christina Riesselman
Description: This project will build on ongoing work that has has coarsely mapped about 150 m of infill sediments in Otago Harbour. Ideally, the student working on this project will integrate new multi-channel seismic boomer and CHIRP data collected from small boats early in the year with sediment samples or perhaps even shallow cores to constrain the the history of sediment infill of the harbour. It is also possible that the seismic imaging could identify the position of a fault that may control the orientation of Otago Harbour.
Level: Hons or MSc

Title: Ice deformation

Supervisor: Dave Prior
Description: A range of possible laboratory based projects involving understanding how ice deforms.
Level: Hons or perhaps MSc student.

Title: Geochemistry of mineralisation and historic mine waste at Alexander Mine

Supervisor: James Scott and Dave Craw
Description: The historic Alexander mine site near Reefton is one of the most toxic sites in New Zealand. Recent work has discovered a new mine processing plant. The project will involve characterization of the composition of the mine waste in the West Coast hills. Fieldwork will involve mapping and sampling the host rock and the processing plant wastes. Followed by lab work to characterize the alteration.
Level: Hons or MSc by thesis only.

Title: Ultra-high pressure mineralogy and deformation textures in shocked meteorites.

Supervisor: James Scott
Description: Shock-metamorphosed meteorites represent collision of bodies in space, with results being the transformation of minerals to high-P varieties (e.g., plagioclase to maskelynite; graphite to diamond, etc). This project will set about characterizing the mineralogy and transformations that have occurred in three moderately to extremely shocked meteorites. No fieldwork… but plenty of microscopic analysis.
Level: Hons.

Title: Submarine eruptive processes in the Brook Street Terrane.

Supervisor: James White +/- Michael Palin
Description: Good exposures along the Southland coast reveal a series of pillow lavas, dikes, hydroclastic breccias, tuffs and lapilli tuff. This project is designed to document the deposit stratigraphy, structure and lithofacies characteristics with detailed coastal mapping, characterize the rocks petrographically, acquire mineral-chemistry data from suitable samples, interpret magmatic conditions and develop a model for the volcanic eruptions that produced the assemblage.
Level: Hons or MSc (the MSc would have more petrology/geochem)

Title: Schist-rich basaltic sill and/or the dikes at Moeraki

Supervisor: James White +/- Christian Ohneiser
Description: The dikes have layered clastic deposits along them and extending from them in the plane of the basalt dike. Description, detailed mapping of features, microscopy, mineral chemistry, paleomag, AMS, textural analysis, etc.
Level: Hons/MSc. The peninsula with perhaps some physical experiments could probably support a pretty interesting volcanology PhD.

BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci projects

Title: Microstructural evolution of single, small-displacement faults in sandstone

Supervisor: Steven Smith
Small faults in sandstone – commonly called “deformation bands” (e.g. Fossen et al. 2007) – are extremely important in determining the fluid flow properties of petroleum reservoirs and aquifers. To understand how such faults initiate and evolve, the aim of this project is to sample single deformation bands along a displacement gradient from band tip (i.e. zero displacement) to band centre (i.e. maximum displacement). Displacement will then be correlated to the evolution of fault rock microstructure (e.g. grain size, grain shape, microfracture density and orientation, degree of strain localization) and petrophysical properties (porosity, permeability). This project will involve fieldwork, imaging and data collection on the SEM, possibly micro-CT, and both qualitative and quantitative analysis of fault rock microstructure. This project is suitable for students with good quantitative skills who did well in 275/375.
Level: BSc(Hons)

Title: Deformation and rheology of granite clasts in a calcite-dominated shear zone

Supervisors: Steven Smith, James Scott, Marianne Negrini
Spectacular calcite-mylonites are exposed in the Mt. Irene shear zone, Murchison Mountains, Fiordland (Scott & Cooper, 2006). Inside the shear zone are abundant deformed clasts of granite. This project will investigate deformation processes and conditions within the granite clasts, and the extent to which the granite clasts were coupled to the surrounding calcite-mylonites during shear. Samples are already available. This project will involve extensive microstructural work using the SEM (including detailed EBSD), and both qualitative and quantitative analysis of mylonite microstructure. This project is suitable for students with good quantitative skills who did well in 274/374 and 275/375.
Level: BSc(Hons)

Title: Geochemistry of sulfides in the vicinity of lode gold deposits in the Otago Schist with applications to exploration and environment

Supervisor: Mike Palin and Candace Martin

Description: Lode (also called mesothermal or orogenic) gold deposits hosted in metamorphic terranes are difficult to find because of their small geographic footprint and complex structural control. This project will examine ore-related trace element concentrations (Au, Ag, As, Sb, etc.) and isotope ratios (Pb) in accessory sulfides (pyrite, pyrrhotite, and arsenopyrite) in metasedimentary bedrock around known lode gold deposits of the South Island of New Zealand. The data will be used to test whether sulfide geochemistry provides an expanded exploration target for such deposits. An important aspect of the study will be to assess pathways of selected trace elements (As, Hg, Se) from bedrock sulfides to soil and groundwater during weathering.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x74
Level: BScHons

Title: Dip Hill Road Sill: contact metamorphism, vesicle structures, and hydrous alteration

Supervisor: Mike Palin

Description: The Dip Hill Road Sill will be familiar to former GEOL 252 students. Possible questions to be addressed in this project are: 1) what were the conditions of contact metamorphism in the host calcareous sandstones (and can these constrain the magma flux through the sill), 2) what do the various vesicle structures (pipes and segregation cylinders) represent, and 3) does the fracture-related hydrous alteration in the sill have a hydrothermal or weathering origin? The work will involve careful field documentation of samples, petrography, textural and mineral analysis by SEM, and trace element and possible Sr isotope analysis by LA-ICP-MS.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62, x64 and x74
Level: BScHons or PGDipSci

Title: Microgranular enclaves at Kawakaputa Point, Southland: petrology, geochemistry ± geochronology

Supervisor: Mike Palin

Description: Dioritic intrusions along the South Coast often contain microgranular enclaves. These are spectacularly exposed at Kawakaputa Point. The goal of this project is to determine whether the enclaves represent disrupted chilled margins, mingled mafic magma, or unrelated xenoliths. The work will involve careful field documentation of samples, petrography, textural and mineral analysis by SEM, and trace element, Sr isotope analysis and possible zircon U-Pb dating by LA-ICP-MS.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x64 and x74
Level: BScHons

Title: A new look at the Greenhills Complex, Southland

Supervisor: Mike Palin
Description: The Greenhills Complex is a small layered mafic intrusion exposed on the Bluff Peninsula. The complex is a cumulate sequence of dunite-clinopyroxene-gabbro and contains the only in situ occurrence of platinum-group minerals in New Zealand. Previous mapping, petrography, and mineral compositions indicate that the cumulate sequence was produced by fractional crystallization of hydrous basalt in an open-system magma chamber. The question of how much magma recharge and/or eruption occurred during crystallization of the complex can be addressed by tracking changes in magma composition and crystallization temperature using trace elements in cumulate minerals. This project will involve field work to collect new samples, preparation and petrographic examination of new and archived samples, and in situ analysis of major and trace elements in cumulate minerals of selected samples by SEM-EDS and LA-ICP-MS.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x64
Level: BScHons

Title: Otago Schist: tectonostratigraphy using detrital zircons

Supervisor: Mike Palin

Description: The metamorphic core of the Otago Schist has recently yielded detrital zircons as young as 108 Ma (Mortimer at al., 2015) whereas unconformably overlying sediments along the flanks contain volcanics as old as 112 Ma (Tulloch et al. 2009). These results add to the growing detrital zircon evidence from the Alpine Schist (Copper et al., 2013; 2015) that the accretionary history of the Eastern Province extends to younger ages and is more complex than previously thought. The goal of this project will be to extend the database into eastern Otago. The work will involve careful field mapping and sampling, petrography, textural and mineral analysis by SEM, and zircon U-Pb dating by LA-ICP-MS.
Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x74
Level: BScHons

Title: Experimental Pseudotachylyte Chemistry

Supervisor: Virginia Toy
Description: Friction melts were generated during high-velocity rotary shear experiments on SHIVA, Rome. In these experiments, two quartzite rocks - some with secondary phases such as calcite - were sheared very rapidly against one another in fairly violent experiments. The products provide opportunity to examine two fundamental questions about whether or not pseudotachylytes or other fault rocks are unequivocal seismic fossils. In this project you will address the question: Can we tell the temperature these melts obtained from the reactions that occurred in their generation, or the composition of new phases that crystallised? You will need to gather precise mineral copmositional data using electron dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), determine temperatures at which key reactions occur, or minerals crystallise, and carry out some thermal modeling of diffusion of heat into the melted materials. This is suited to someone with a bit of chemistry background, who is interested in petrology.
Level:
BScHons

Title: Grain Shapes in Experimental Pseudotachylytes

Supervisor: Virginia Toy
Description: Friction melts were generated during high-velocity rotary shear experiments on SHIVA, Rome. In these experiments, two quartzite rocks - some with secondary phases such as calcite - were sheared very rapidly against one another in fairly violent experiments. The products provide opportunity to examine two fundamental questions about whether or not pseudotachylytes or other fault rocks are unequivocal seismic fossils. In this project you will address the question: Is there a quantitative measure of grain shape that dierentiates a melted clast from a fractured one? This will require image analysis in ImageJ, as well as using a Matlab script. You will calculate shape descriptors and fractal properties of the shapes. Most of the work is computer-based, and it is most suitable for someone with a bit of maths and computing background or interest.
Level: BScHons

All level  projects

Title: Antarctic seismic data processing and analysis

Supervisor: Andrew Gorman and Christian Ohneiser
Description: This project will build on two seasons (2015 and 2016) of seismic data acquisition on the Ross Ice Shelf where the seafloor geology of the Ross Sea continental shelf has been imaged by thumper and explosive data.
Level: PGDipSc, Hons or MSc

Title: Ross Sea Paleoceanography and ice shelf retreat - 15 kyr to present

Supervisor: Christian Ohneiser, Christina Riesselman, Catherine Beltran
Description: This project will involve paleomagnetic techniques and/or organic geochemical techniques. Rising ocean temperatures may soon destabilise the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will result in sea-level rise and changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that will have a profound impact on New Zealand. The Ross Ice Shelf protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from the warming ocean. Because little is known about past Ross Ice Shelf behaviour predictions of its future stability are challenging. The project will help reconstruct the Ross Ice Shelf history since the last ice age, and the oceanographic changes which forced the ice to retreat.
Level: PGDipSc, Hons, MSc or PhD

Title: Eocene-Oligocene paleoclimate of NZ constructed from drill cores

Supervisor: Christian Ohneiser, Daphne Lee, Chris Moy, Catherine Beltran
Description: There is the potential for several projects ranging in complexity and length. Drill cores acquired from hydrocarbon exploration companies provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct the climate history of New Zealand. We are in a unique position to have two Eocene-Oligocene aged drill cores that provide an insight into New Zealand’s climate at this time. These projects will involve determining how old the cores are, what orbital Milankovich cycles are present and how they controlled the sedimentary system, physical properties logging and sedimentary logging. We expect high profile publications will result from this work.

Title: Chronology of offshore Antarctic Sediment cores

Supervisor: Christian Ohneiser
Description: This project involves paleomagnetic studies from offshore sediment cores that may span from 1000’s to millions of years. In early 2016 paleomagnetic work was carried out on sediment cores from offshore Antarctica (southern Ocean Ross Sea region). The work discovered that sediment cores are unusually old, spanning between 0 to 2.5 million years. Soon we will receive additional samples for which there is no paleomagnetic age model. Work will be carried out in the Otago paleomagnetic laboratory and will surely result in some new, and unexpected results.

Title: Physical properties and paleomagnetic studies of new sediment cores from Windless Bight, Antarctica

Supervisor: Christian Ohneiser, Richard Levy (GNS)
Description: In late 2016 sediment cores will be recovered from beneath the Southern McMurdo Ice shelf. These cores will likely contain a record of the transition from ice sheet to floating ice shelf at the end of the last ice age. Only three other Ross Ice Shelf core sites so this will produce new and exciting results. Work will involve physical properties logging on the Geotek core logger and paleomagnetic sampling and analysis in uchannels.