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Sean Fitzsimons imageProfessor
Senior Science Adviser


Richardson Building room 4C13
Office Hours: email to make an appointment
Tel +64 3 479 8786

Inaugural Professorial Lecture

Sean's Inaugural Professorial Lecture is available as a podcast:

Is the present the key to the past? Lessons from Antarctica and the Southern Alps


Research interests

  • Alpine landscape development
  • Reconstructing landscape change from lake sediments
  • Glacial geomorphology

Lake Sediments Provide a Natural Seismometer for Earthquakes on a Plate Boundary Fault

Nature's Seismometers blog post

View recent Research Grants

Potential postgraduate projects

Projects suitable for students include:

Landscape development in South Westland
This research programme is focused on understanding how landscape development is driven by high magnitude storm events and co-seismic landsliding. The main approaches used in this work are analysis of the impacts of landsliding from aerial photographs and satellite images, using lake sediments and proxy records of catchment disturbance and monitoring the impacts of landsliding on alluvial fans and rivers by conventional survey techniques.

Determining sediment yields associated with disturbance events
In the 1980s the Waitangi-Toana River experienced a major avulsion and developed a new course which resulted in the river draining into Lake Wahapo. As a result of this avulsion Lake Wahapo changed from an organic-dominated lake to a turbid water body as millions of tons of sediment accumulated in the basin. We propose to use this event as a way of under-standing how lakes record catchment disturbance events. The research will involve calculating a post-disturbance sediment budget for the lake using an echosounder to map the 3D geometry of the sediment and a Mackereth corer to retrieve samples of the lake sediment. This project would suit an MSc student interested in understanding landscape evolution processes.
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Recent research students

  • Jono Conway: Distributed energy balance modelling of New Zealand glaciers (PhD 2013: co-supervised by Dr Nicolas Cullen, Geography)
  • Jamie Howarth: Reconstructing the landscape response to high magnitude disturbance in active mountain belts (PhD 2012: co-supervised by Professor Richard Norris, Geology)
  • Alex Simms: Shallow fluid movement in the hanging wall of the Alpine Fault (MSc 2013: co-supervised by Simon Cox, GNS Science)
  • Sebastian Vivero Andrade: Recent ice wastage on the Tasman Glacier, Southern Alps, New Zealand obtained from geodetic elevation changes (MSc 2011: co-supervised by Dr Pascal Sirguey, Surveying)
  • Bronwyn van Valkengoed: Pollen evidence for Holocene climate change in the Eglinton Valley, western Southland (MSc 2011)
  • Rosanne Simes: Decision-making for living in flood-prone areas (MPlan 2011)
  • Todd Redpath: Utilising optical satellite imagery to derive multi-temporal flow fields for the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (MSc 2011: co-supervised by Dr Pascal Sirguey, Surveying)
  • Abigail Lovett: Origin, formation and deformation of mirabilite deposits: Hobbs Glacier region, Antarctica (MSc 2011)
  • Erin Harvie: An integrated approach to landform genesis: case study of the Mueller Glacier (MSc 2011)


Fitzsimons, S., Samyn, D., & Lorrain, R. (2024). Deformation, strength and tectonic evolution of basal ice in Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 129, e2023JF007456. doi: 10.1029/2023JF007456 Journal - Research Article

Thomson-Laing, G., Howarth, J. D., Atalah, J., Vandergoes, M. J., Li, X., Pearman, J. K., Fitzsimons, S., Moy, C., Moody, A., … Wood, S. A. (2024). Sedimentary ancient DNA reveals the impact of anthropogenic land use disturbance and ecological shifts on fish community structure in small lowland lake. Science of the Total Environment, 922, 171266. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.171266 Journal - Research Article

Schallenberg, L. A., Thomson-Laing, G., Kelly, D., Pearman, J. K., Howarth, J. D., Vandergoes, M. J., … Fitzsimons, S., … Wood, S. A. (2023). Insights into the ecological impact of trout introduction in an oligotrophic lake using sedimentary environmental DNA. Metabarcoding & Metagenomics, 7, 385-412. doi: 10.3897/mbmg.7.111467 Journal - Research Article

Howarth, J., Moody, A., Fitzsimons, S., Vandergoes, M., Van Dissen, R. J., Little, T. A., … Townend, J. (2023). Lacustrine paleoseismology may reveal the rupture direction of past great earthquakes on a plate boundary transform fault. Proceedings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting: Wide. Open. Science. S33G-0468. Retrieved from Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

Hughes, K. E., Howarth, J. D., & Fitzsimons, S. (2023). Lake tsunami hazards and lacustrine mass wasting in high seismicity regions of New Zealand's South Island. In G. E. Frontin-Rollett & S. D. Nodder (Eds.), Geoscience Society of New Zealand Miscellaneous Publication. 164A, (pp. 118). Wellington, New Zealand: Geoscience Society of New Zealand. [Abstract] Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

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