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Sean Fitzsimons




BSc(Hons)(Cant) PhD(Tas)

Office Hours:by email appointment



ENVI111 Environment and Society
ENVI211 Environmental History
ENVI311 Understanding Environmental Issues
GEOG283 Climate Change: The Past
GEOG289 Geomorphology
GEOG290 Field Research Methods (Science)
GEOG380 Field Research Studies (Science)
GEOG389 Climate Change: The Past
GEOG395 Geomorphology
GEOG454 Alpine Geomorphology

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Research Interests

  • Mt Aoraki scenic view from valley towards mountainAlpine landscape development
  • Reconstructing landscape change from lake sediments
  • Glacial geomorphology

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

Blog Post: Nature’s Seismometers

Click here to view recent Research Grants

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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.

see more

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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)

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Howarth, J. D., Cochran, U. A., Langridge, R. M., Clark, K., Fitzsimons, S. J., Berryman, K., … Strong, D. T. (2018). Past large earthquakes on the Alpine Fault: Paleoseismological progress and future directions. New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/00288306.2018.1464658

Fitzsimons, S., & Howarth, J. (2017). Glaciolacustrine processes. In J. Menzies & J. J. M. van der Meer (Eds.), Past glacial environments. (2nd ed.) (pp. 309-334). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-08-100524-8.00009-9

Filep, C. V., Turner, S., Eidse, N., Thompson-Fawcett, M., & Fitzsimons, S. (2017). Advancing rigour in solicited diary research. Qualitative Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1468794117728411

Dubnick, A., Wadham, J., Tranter, M., Sharp, M., Orwin, J., Barker, J., … Fitzsimons, S. (2017). Trickle or treat: The dynamics of nutrient export from polar glaciers. Hydrological Processes, 31(9), 1776-1789. doi: 10.1002/hyp.11149

Cullen, N. J., Anderson, B., Sirguey, P., Stumm, D., Mackintosh, A., Conway, J. P., … Fitzsimons, S. J., & Lorrey, A. (2017). An 11-year record of mass balance of Brewster Glacier, New Zealand, determined using a geostatistical approach. Journal of Glaciology, 63(238), 199-217. doi: 10.1017/jog.2016.128

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