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The dynamic geology of New Zealand is regarded with fascination by earth scientists the world over. Teaching and research carried out by our staff and students emphasises process-related research tied to the fast tempo of active earth science in the South Island and beyond. Our research strengths range from the tectonics of Zealandia to the Southern Ocean carbon cycle to the evolution of our unique New Zealand biota to Antarctic climate history.

Climate research

Our proximity to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica gives us a crucial advantage in understanding how planetary climate has varied over timescales that range from decades to millions of years.

Earthquake science

Our research covers the spectrum of seismic hazard work, from field-based characterisations of active faults, through development of seismic source models, seismic hazard modelling, and ground motion simulations from local earthquake sources.

A major goal of our work will also be to apply the lessons learned from these efforts to low seismicity regions elsewhere in New Zealand, and beyond.

Environmental geology

The key areas of research undertaken in the Department of Geology in the field of Environmental Geology are Metals in the New Zealand Environment, Mine site rehabilitation and Geomorphology. We partner with other sectors of science – ecology, chemistry, botany, zoology, genetics – to explore past and current links between geology and the biological world.

A major goal of our projects is to problem-solve issues related to environmental condition so we also work alongside industry and stakeholders.

Environmental Geology links in with other active research in the Department, such as Gold, Earthquake Science, Geochemistry.


If it involves geochemistry – and all important Earth processes do, then we're interested. Geochemistry allows us to go beyond what a geologic feature looks like and answer the “origins” questions: what is it made of, where did it come from, when did it form, how long did it take, and why is it here?


The Department of Geology has an active geophysics research programme. The main area of research is in controlled source seismology, and in particular offshore geophysical surveys.


Historically, the Department of Geology grew out of the Otago School of Mines, which was an important part of the University of Otago during the gold rushes and subsequent gold mining industry. Today, we have an active research programme studying many aspects of Otago gold, still in close contact with the mining industry.


Paleomagnetic research at Otago is facilitated by the Otago Paleomagnetic Research Facility, a nationally available state of the art palaeomagnetic research facility.


Paleontology is an area of active research at Otago. The department hosts an extensive collection of, amongst other things, marine mammals and reptiles that enable this research.


New Zealand is an outstanding place to study igneous and metamorphic petrological processes with an extremely wide array of different rock-types and crustal levels exposed as a result of New Zealand's geological history.

Structural geology

Areas of structural geology research at the Department of Geology include the Alpine Fault, Otago Faults and geodynamics amongst other things.


Products of magmatic systems feature in work by members of the department with interests in New Zealand's crustal evolution (xenoliths in volcanic ejecta), in evolution of plutonic rocks, and in physical volcanology.

Other active research areas

The Department of Geology is also very active in other key research areas such as:

  • Antarctica
  • Geochemistry
  • Paleobotany
  • Experimental deformation e.g. using microcrystalline ice
  • Microstructure
  • Sedimentology
  • Paleoclimatology

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