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Geography Summer Scholarships

School of Geography – Summer Scholarships for November 2019 – February 2020.

The Summer Scholarships scheme provides an opportunity for students to gain experience by working on research projects over the summer for a period of up to 10 weeks. The scholarship starts in November/December of the current year and finishes in February the following year. Each full 10 week summer scholarship is worth NZ$4,000.00 (NZ$400.00 per week which is non-taxable).

For further information about a scholarship topic, please contact the supervisor of that topic.

Applications close at 5:00pm on Thursday, 10 October 2019.

Applications, including a cover letter and a copy of your Curriculum Vitae, should be emailed to:
Liz McMecking, Administrator – Client Services
School of Geography
University of Otago
PO Box 56
Dunedin 9054

Topic Title: Smart Councils, Smart Citizenship: new planning frontiers in the Smart City era?
Supervisor: Dr Ash Alam
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: In recent years, the concept of smart city as a means to enhance the quality of life for its citizens has been gaining momentum. Diverse smart technologies are disrupting the ways citizens and urban institutions participate in making the city. In New Zealand, technologies, such as online social media platforms are increasingly being adopted by local governments to communicate with the citizens.

The project aims to understand the role of local Councils' social media platforms in meaningful citizen participation which, to date, is little understood. Two interrelated questions are asked: how local Councils use the online social media platform to communicate different planning issues to citizens, and how and to what extent citizens can participate on that platform. The Facebook pages of Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council will be taken as case studies. Facebook posts and citizen's reactions and replies to the posts from January 2019 to December 2019 will be tracked, followed by content analysis to understand the nature of communications over a range of issues (e.g. e-scooter, coastal erosion, heritage conservation, water etc.) developed over the online platform. Council-used online media platforms like Facebook are an emerging form of citizen participation tool though yet a little-understood frontier for New Zealand's local planning context. The findings of the project may provide suggestions for developing Smart Councils, potentially creating space for Smart Citizenship in New Zealand’s cities.

The summer research scholarship will provide an excellent opportunity for a student to gain valuable research experience. The awardee will get a chance to learn some hands-on research tools that are used to analyse online media content. There is an opportunity for the awardee to extend a part of the work to an MPlan thesis in 2020.

Topic Title: Changing geographies of violence and young people’s experiences of place
Supervisor: Dr Christina Ergler
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: Our city landscapes have been for ever altered by recent episodes of mass violence, including events in Christchurch (New Zealand), Manchester (UK), and elsewhere. However, we know little about how these traumatic events affect young people’s sense of wellbeing in the places where they live. This project seeks to explore how such mass tragedies shape young people’s relationships with place, using Christchurch as a case focus. The student will conduct a literature review on geographies of violence (including wider multidisciplinary literature on events of mass violence) and undertake a qualitative discourse analysis of media related to Christchurch. The ideal student would have an interest in geographies of health and wellbeing and have experience with qualitative research techniques and analysis.

Topic Title: Working with Water in South Asia – Harnessing local information, institutions and knowledge
Supervisor: Associate Professor Doug Hill
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: The effective management of water resources in South Asia has historically been problematic because data about these resources are kept in highly centralised bureaucracies that are inaccessible to groups outside of government. Further, this approach to water resource management means that local knowledge about water in specific locations has typically not been adequately acknowledged or utilised. The bureaucratic monopoly on knowledge reflects a top-down approach to water governance that has little participation from local people. In contrast, there is a growing recognition amongst civil society organizations and research institutions within countries like India, Nepal and Bangladesh that successful water governance is best achieved with people’s participation in the governance mechanisms, including in the generation of knowledge. As such, many groups are looking to build decentralized databases that incorporate local knowledge about water, which can then be used as a mechanism to enhance effective governance.

In this project, the Summer Scholar will be involved in collating and analysing datasets drawn from civil society groups and local researchers involved in water-related issues in India. The Summer Scholar will need to create a database that catalogues the kind of water-related information held by some local groups and researchers, including spatial data about the current state of water resources in specific local areas. The information to be collated will be made available to the Summer Scholar because of a collaboration between several Indian ecological NGOs, researchers at Shiv Nadar University in India, and the project supervisor. An interest in water resources, including in developing countries, is important for this project. Existing skills in mapping, ArcGIS or similar would also be useful for this project.

Topic Title: Big data for small towns: Exploring spatial data information to support 380 Arts field trips
Supervisor: Professor Etienne Nel and Dr Sean Connelly
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: The information age is upon us. The wealth of information about people and places is enormous and constantly growing. It is being collected from a variety of publicly available sources, including Stats NZ, business transactions / EFTPOS data, social media posts, marketing surveys, traffic data, GST payments, business registrations, building permits, energy use, health records, etc. The challenge is not so much accessing data, but understanding what is out there, how that can be used to inform research questions and how to aggregate and display that information spatially.

The purpose of this summer scholarship is to explore big data repositories in New Zealand to illustrate how the purpose and function of small towns in the South Island have changed over time. Fortunately, there are programmes that are able to link up with databases to map variables across time and space. The summer scholar will work with these programmes, play around with different variables, and document and categorize different options that may be useful in explaining change over time. It is expected that the summer scholar will contribute to a manual that will be used in 380 arts teaching so these research tools and skills are more accessible for 380 arts. Applicants should have a basic understanding of excel.

Topic Title: The implications of foredune destabilization on dune system development in Mason Bay, Stewart Island
Supervisor: Associate Professor Mike Hilton
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: For the past 20 years work has been carried out on one of the largest dune restoration projects in the world in Mason Bay, Stewart Island. At this site work has focused on removing the invasive plant species Ammophila arenaria (marram grass) from the foredune to return the dune system to its natural, dynamic state. The aim of this project is to understand how the dune system has developed since the implementation of the dune restoration project. This project will involve analysing a record of UAV images which dates back to 2015 to model how the foredune has evolved to understand the implications of fore dune destabilization on the geomorphology of the dune system. This will involve the use of ArcGIS and Pix4D mapper software to model and quantify the development of the fore dune over time and the implications this has had on the downwind dune environment.

The dune system at Mason Bay provides an important habitat for a range of native flora and fauna and therefore it is essential to understand how this environment will evolve in the future. Developing an understanding of the rates at which erosion of the foredune has occurred and where released sediment is being deposited in the dune system is integral to understanding the future of the dune environment. This research project will focus on analysing UAV imagery to model changes in the morphology of the dune system over time.

The proposed summer scholarship research will involve:

  1. fieldwork to complete UAV surveys of the dune system in Mason Bay
  2. analysis of the data from UAV surveys which have been completed since 2015 to create a series of DSMs
  3. quantifying the amount of sediment which has eroded from the fore dune and how much has been deposited in the downwind environment

Topic Title: XBeach Modelling
Supervisor: Associate Professor Wayne Stephenson
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: This project requires a programming competent student to compile and test run the open source model XBeach.

XBeach is a 2-D model that can be used to simulate nearshore wave hydrodynamics and currents. Test runs will initially be in the hydrostatic mode, but if time allows then the more complete form of the model will be run in non-hydrostatic mode. Computer resources within the School of Geography can be used and once up and running the project can explore the value of this model for modelling nearshore hydrodynamics. We are particularly interested in seeing how well the model works when applied to mixed sand and gravel beaches. A specific version of the model XBeach-G, will be implemented for this application. The project can develop into a Master level project exploring in detail how waves of different frequencies (swell and infragravity) drive swash zone processes on mixed sediment beaches. This focus can be related to the role of swash driven abrasion of sediment and ultimately an understanding of the role of abrasion in determining the sediment budget of mixed beaches. These beaches are common in New Zealand but less well studied compared to sandy beaches and so climate change impacts (sea level rise and increased wave energy) are poorly understood.

Topic Title: Big seasons, little seasons – how have ski seasons in the Southern Alps changed?
Supervisor: Associate Professor Nicolas Cullen
Estimated start date: 4 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: Global warming has really arrived and it is changing the world around us at a startling rate. Despite this, for most of us living in New Zealand the environmental changes occurring here at home are going largely unnoticed. But some are starting to feel it, especially the ski field operators in the Southern Alps who are dependent on natural and in some cases man-made snow to function. The duration of ski seasons for many ski areas in the South Island are becoming much more variable, with many operators struggling to remain open even during the heart of winter. Are we starting to reach a tipping point for some ski areas, especially those that don’t have snow making? This project is about sourcing historical data from a number of ski fields in an attempt to assess how snow cover has changed over time, and to see if we can use those observational records to establish what controls the success of a ski season. It is hoped that by putting together some of the disparate data sets that exist regarding snow cover at a number of ski areas in the Southern Alps we will be able to produce an informed comment about the differences in the big seasons versus the little seasons. Just how bad are things getting and do we need to worry about the ski industry? This summer scholarship is about providing some answers to these questions.

Topic Title: Developing a DEM for Potters Creek in South Westland
Supervisor: Professor Sean Fitzsimons
Estimated start date: 28 October 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: Potters Creek is an alluvial fan in South Westland for which the School of Geography is developing a long-term monitoring programme. The work will involve developing a model of landscape connectivity – particularly how slope processes are connected to channel processes, and how sediment transport in the channel is connected to accumulation of fine sediment in Lake Mapourika. The foundation for this work will be the development of a 5m resolution Digital Elevation Model (DEM) based on stereoscopic aerial photographs and mapping the development of the fan using historical aerial photographs and satellite images. The site will be used by field schools for GEOG 380 and GEOG 454 over the next few years. The ideal student would have an interest in geomorphology and a willingness to develop skills in image processing and analysis of spatial data. The work could lead to a BSc (Hons) or MSc project.

Topic Title: Measuring change in the Waitangi-Taona River using remotely sensed imagery
SupervisorsProfessor Sean Fitzsimons
Estimated start date: 28 October 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: A large landslide in the deformed rocks of the Alpine Fault zone in South Westland resulted in a massive pulse of gravel that moved down the Waitangi-Taona River. The result was rapid aggradation of the river bed, avulsion of the river and the establishment of a new course into Lake Wahapo where it built a new delta. The purpose of this project is to use remotely sensed imagery to map the sediment pulse and attempt to quantify the volume of sediment that was produced by the landslide, deposited on the floodplain and in Lake Wahapo. The work will involve assembling the imagery, georeferencing, possibly orthorectification followed by mapping and measuring geomorphological change using ARC. The work may involve the collection of ground control points in the field. The ideal student would have experience in working with remotely sensed imagery and GIS or a willingness to learn such techniques. The work could lead to a BSc (Hons) or MSc project.

Topic Title: The interaction of tidal stage and aeolian sand transport in coral cay development, Maldives
Supervisors: Associate Professor Mike Hilton
Estimated start date: 11 November 2019
Duration: 10 weeks

Project description: Coral sand cays are dynamic landforms that result from the interactions between sand supply, marine and aeolian sedimentation, and plant colonisation (Hilton et al. 2019). The latter of these interactions appears to be an important step in island emergence and development in coral atoll lagoons. The project involves analysing water level recorder (tide gauge) data from the southern Maldives in conjunction with aeolian sedimentation data. Water level data has been collected from RBR and tide gauge instruments, including instruments deployed near certain islands of interest. The tide gauge record indicates a 12-month cycle of spring high tides, with a sequence of falling spring high tides over a six month period. During this period an increasing area of supratidal sand is exposed and we hypothesize that plants stranded during the highest spring tides have time to germinate and trap sand deposited as a result of aeolian processes. This project combines areas of oceanography, geomorphology and ecology.

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