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Wayne Stephenson imageProfessor


Richardson Building, room 4N4
Office Hours: email to make an appointment
Tel +64 3 479 8776


Research interests

My research is primarily in the area of coastal geomorphology, management and coastal responses to climate change. Understanding how contemporary processes operate to form rock coasts continues to be a key area of research. Recent work has focused on the impact of the Kaikōura 2016 earthquake on rock coast morphology and processes. This work is now supported with a Marsden Fund grant (2019-2021). Ongoing interests are in how geological setting influences morphology, erosion rates and processes on rock coasts. This has been a collaborative project with Dr Larissa Naylor (University of Glasgow), working on the Glamorgan coast of south Wales, UK. An extension of that work includes understanding the impact of storms on rock coasts and in particular the erosion and transport of boulders. More recent research in the area of coral reef geomorphology and response to climate change has included work in the Maldives and Mexico.

I have a broader interests in contemporary processes causing the development of coastlines. Other research has included rip currents, beach morphodynamics in fetch limited environments and rock weathering in coastal environments. I have worked collaboratively in China where I was involved in a project examining shoreline response to typhoon with Professor Zhongyuan Chen of East China Normal University. Further research and consultancy work has included the investigation of shoreline processes on lakes and lacustrine management. I acted as a scientific advisory to the then Murray-Darling Basin Commission and for 9 years monitored shoreline response to lake operations at Lake Victoria (NSW).

My interests in coastal management includes erosion and hazard mitigation and conservation of coastal environments. I regularly provide coastal management advice to communities, councils and government. Consulting usually takes the form of hazard assessment, expert witness in planning tribunals, technical reviews, and environmental impact assessments.

I am also a member of the Coastal People: Southern Skies collaboration that connects communities with world-leading, cross-discipline research to rebuild coastal ecosystems.

Coastal People: Southern Skies

Google Scholar: Wayne Stephenson

Potential student projects

I am happy to supervise any student with an interest in coastal geomorphology, coastal processes, management and hazards. Possible topics include (not exclusively):

  • Impact of Kaikoura earthquake on coastal morphology
  • The value of rock coasts, an ecosystem services approach
  • Relative role of waves and weathering on shore platforms
  • Assessing erosion rates on rock coasts with a multiple scale approach (from microns to metres)
  • Rock weathering in coastal and terrestrial environments using field and laboratory approaches
  • Beach morphodynamics particularly in fetch limited environments (lakes and estuaries)
  • Morphodynamics of mixed sediment beaches
  • Geological control of rock coast evolution
  • Boulder transport by storm waves and tsunami
  • Testing the vulnerability of rock coasts to climate change, challenging assumptions about low vulnerability

Recent research grants

Postgraduate supervision

Current supervision

  • Mitchel Dingwall, MSc: Holocene sea level variations on the Canterbury coast
  • Ashlyn Gallaher, MSc: Halemda sediment production and abrasion on a Maldivian coral reef
  • Sopie Horton, PhD: Changing process regimes on uplifted shore platforms
  • Raphael Krier, PhD: Wave transformation across shore platforms: the effects of storm and tides
  • Cesar Ramiraz, PhD: Wave attenuation and bed roughness over coral reefs
  • Mathew Smith, MSc: Marine terrace development following the Kaikōura earthquake
  • Jokotola Taiwo, PhD: Multi-scale erosion dynamics on shore platforms
  • Alisha Vivian, MSC: Depth disturbance on mixed sand and gravel beaches under varying wave intensities
  • Runjie Yuan, PhD (University of Melbourne): Micro-erosion of shore platforms

Previous supervision

  • Ryan Adam, 2019 MSC: Storm surge and beach response in southern New Zealand
  • Craig MacDonell, 2019 MSc (Surveying): A new eye on ecology:  4-Dimensional mapping with RPAS to characterise the spatio-temporal evolution of the Okia Reserve coastal restoration programme
  • Danielle Buchanan, 2018 MSC (University of Glasgow): Decadal to multi-decadal erosion of shore platforms
  • Cameron Hay, 2018 MAppSc Environmental Management: Sandy beach interactions with a seawall: A 9-year record of beach profile change, St Clair, Dunedin
  • Leigh McKenzie, 2017 MENVM: Farmers market food
  • Dong Shuyun, 2017 PhD: Modelling typhoon impacts on coastal Shanghai
  • Runjie Yuan, 2017 MSC: The drivers of hourly-scale surface change on shore platforms. University of Melbourne (co-supervisor)
  • Hannah Payne-Harker, 2016 MPLAN: Ecosystem services-based management: Evaluation of an approach to coastal management and decision making in New Zealand
  • Chen Bin, 2015 PhD: Abrasion in mixed sand and gravel beaches
  • Margaret Winter, 2013 MSc: Classification of mixed lacustrine beaches
  • Aaron Edwards, 2012 MPlan: Surf break management
  • Brigitte Allen, 2011 MPlan: Transport planning in the Wellington CBD
  • Caitlin Chew, 2011 BAppSc(Hons): Impacts on dredge spoil on paua
  • Greg Stevenson, 2010 BSc(Hons): Risk perception to tsunami hazards


Horton, S. L., Dickson, M. E., Stephenson, W. J., & Hall, B. S. (2024). Storm overtopping of a marine terrace at the penultimate stage of evolution. Earth Surface Processes & Landforms. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/esp.5852 Journal - Research Article

Matsumoto, H., Dickson, M. E., Stephenson, W. J., Thompson, C. F., & Young, A. P. (2024). Modeling future cliff-front waves during sea level rise and implications for coastal cliff retreat rates. Scientific Reports, 14, 7810. doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-57923-0 Journal - Research Article

Stephenson, W. (2024, March). Coastal erosion, sea level rise and an earthquake: Doing geomorphology between the rocks and a hard place. University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. [Inaugural Professorial Lecture]. Other Research Output

Warrick, J. A., Buscombe, D., Vos, K., Bryan, K. R., Castelle, B., Cooper, J. A. G., … Stephenson, W. J., … Young, A. P. (2024). Coastal shoreline change assessments at global scales. Nature Communications, 15, 2316. doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-46608-x Journal - Research Other

Couto, P., Suanda, S. H., Souza, J. M., & Stephenson, W. J. (2024). Pathways of cross-shelf exchange in a submarine canyon environment, Aotearoa New Zealand. Proceedings of the Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM). CP23A-07. Retrieved from Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

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