Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Available postgraduate research projects in the Department of Geology

You can you can always talk to the staff about other possible projects.
Projects are listed here with a suggested level, but feel free to talk to staff about taking on a project at a different level (e.g. PGDipSci instead of BSc(Hons)).

All levels

Dunedin Volcano – from volcanic field to long-lived volcano, its death, and the new magma now below it

Description Mapping, paleomag, deposit analysis, geochemistry, microtextures, geochronology, volcanology, petrology
Lead supervisor James White, Marco Brenna, James Scott, Christian Ohneiser, Mike Palin, Mark Stirling, Andrew Gorman, Adam Martin (GNS)...
Level All levels

^ Top of page

Origin of volcanic necks, Chubut volcanic field, Patagonia

Description Analysis of coherent igneous rocks that filled vents – lava lake or intrusive? Jointing analysis, petrography, paleomag.
Lead supervisor James White, Christian Ohneiser
Level PhD, MSc, BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Ice mechanics and the dynamics of ice sheets

Description A variety of projects that can include various mixtures of the following activities. Laboratory ice deformation experiments in Otago, the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and the University of Tasmania (Hobart). Microstructural analysis of natural and laboratory ices using Cryo- electron backscattered diffraction. Acoustic properties of ice. Ice seismology to understand glacier and ice sheet dynamics. Modelling ice dynamics. Possibilities for Antarctic fieldwork.
Lead supervisor Dave Prior. Co-supervisors (Otago, elsewhere in NZ and overseas) depend on project
Level PhD, MSc, BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Subvolcanic features beneath an underwater volcanic complex: Moeraki Peninsula

Description The dikes have layered clastic deposits along them and extending from them in the plane of the basalt dike. Description, detailed mapping of features, microscopy, mineral chemistry, paleomag, AMS, textural analysis, etc. What processes cause subterranean fragmentation? Is the flow of clastic material along the dike indicative of connection with an explosive surface (seafloor) eruption?
Lead supervisor James White and/or Christian Ohneiser
Level BSc(Hons) or MSc. The peninsula with perhaps some physical experiments could probably support a pretty interesting volcanology PhD.

^ Top of page

Was magma-water interaction what caused Ambae's 2017 eruption to stop building a small cone and produce widespread damaging ashfall?

Description Textural analysis (deposit, particle 2D, particle 3D), satellite observations, other eruption observations
Lead supervisor James White
Level PhD, or possibly MSc, with fieldwork; BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci using GNS samples

^ Top of page

Ross Sea Paleoceanography and ice shelf retreat – 15 kyr to present

Description This project will involve paleomagnetic techniques and/or organic geochemical techniques. Rising ocean temperatures may soon destabilise the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will result in sea-level rise and changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that will have a profound impact on New Zealand. The Ross Ice Shelf protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from the warming ocean. Because little is known about past Ross Ice Shelf behaviour predictions of its future stability are challenging. The project will help reconstruct the Ross Ice Shelf history since the last ice age, and the oceanographic changes which forced the ice to retreat.
Lead supervisor Christian Ohneiser, Christina Riesselman, Catherine Beltran
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons), MSc or PhD

^ Top of page

Eocene-Oligocene paleoclimate of NZ constructed from drill cores

Description There is the potential for several projects ranging in complexity and length. Drill cores acquired from hydrocarbon exploration companies provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct the climate history of New Zealand. We are in a unique position to have two Eocene-Oligocene aged drill cores that provide an insight into New Zealand’s climate at this time. These projects will involve determining how old the cores are, what orbital Milankovich cycles are present and how they controlled the sedimentary system, physical properties logging and sedimentary logging. We expect high profile publications will result from this work.
Lead supervisor Christian Ohneiser, Daphne Lee, Chris Moy, Catherine Beltran
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons), MSc or PhD

^ Top of page

Chronology of offshore Antarctic Sediment cores

Description This project involves paleomagnetic studies from offshore sediment cores that may span from 1000’s to millions of years. In early 2016 paleomagnetic work was carried out on sediment cores from offshore Antarctica (southern Ocean Ross Sea region). The work discovered that sediment cores are unusually old, spanning between 0 to 2.5 million years. Soon we will receive additional samples for which there is no paleomagnetic age model. Work will be carried out in the Otago paleomagnetic laboratory and will surely result in some new, and unexpected results.
Lead supervisor Christian Ohneiser
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons), MSc or PhD

^ Top of page

Physical properties and paleomagnetic studies of new sediment cores from Windless Bight, Antarctica

Description In late 2016 sediment cores will be recovered from beneath the Southern McMurdo Ice shelf. These cores will likely contain a record of the transition from ice sheet to floating ice shelf at the end of the last ice age. Only three other Ross Ice Shelf core sites so this will produce new and exciting results. Work will involve physical properties logging on the Geotek core logger and paleomagnetic sampling and analysis in uchannels.
Lead supervisor Christian Ohneiser, Richard Levy (GNS)
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons), MSc or PhD

^ Top of page

Surtsey volcano's diatreme

Description In late 2017 Surtsey volcano, the type example of an island-forming explosive eruption, was cored by ICDP. One core targets the internal structure of the volcano. It was drilled at an angle and terminates at a depth well below the pre-eruption seafloor, but contains only primary volcaniclastic deposits, hence indicating that the vent structure below Surtsey extends at least 100 m below the original seafloor. This project will investigate the core, including microtextures, particle shapes, thermal indicators, etc., with the aim of understanding the processes that excavated the vent, the timing of excavation, and the effects of excavation on the eruption. The work will be linked with other projects being undertaken by an international group with bases in Iceland, the US, and Europe, and is likely to involve travel to international labs and the core repository in Reykjavik.
Lead supervisor James White
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons), MSc or PhD

Hydrothermal reaction experiments involving serpentinite

Description Hydrothermal reaction experiments can be used to investigate reaction mechanisms and rates. Working in a newly developed laboratory in the Geology Department, these projects will involve analysing serpentinization reactions, carbonation reactions, and metasomatic reactions in ultramafic-mafic rocks, using simple experimental set-ups and varying a wide range of experimental parameters (e.g. grain size, fluid chemistry, starting materials, duration of reaction). Applications of these experiments include a better understanding of the potential for CO2 sequestration in ultramafic rocks, and an improved understanding of some of the chemical reactions that take place in tectonic fault zones. These projects will also involve studying the experimental projects using e.g. scanning-electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and micro-Raman spectroscopy.
Lead supervisor Steven Smith
Level All levels

^ Top of page

Greenhills image

BSc(Hons) or PGDipSc

Mafic Enclaves, Kawakaputa Point, Southland

Description Dioritic intrusions along the South Coast contain microgranular (aka mafic) enclaves. These are spectacularly exposed at Kawakaputa Point, west of Riverton. The goal of this project is to determine whether the enclaves represent disrupted chilled margins, mingled mafic magma, or unrelated xenoliths. The work will involve field documentation of samples, petrography, textural and mineral analysis by SEM, and trace element, Sr isotope analysis and possible zircon U-Pb dating by LA-ICP-MS. Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x64 and x74.
Lead supervisor Mike Palin
Level BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Amphibole megacrysts in Alpine Dyke Swarm

Description Microtextural and chemical investigation of amphibole in lamprophyre and peridotite xenoliths from the Alpine Dyke Swarm, and their role in magma genesis
Lead supervisor Marco Brenna
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

The structural and lithological characterization of the Port Chalmers Breccia

Description The Port Chalmers Breccia exposed around Port Chalmers has historically been interpreted as a massive vent filling deposit. This project aims to better characterize structures and grading of the overall deposits in the Port Chalmers area. The project will involve a significant component of detailed fieldwork to map geological relationships, measure structural and stratigraphic data, describe lithologies and collect samples, for detailed petrological characterization of the Port Chalmers Breccia and the rocks surrounding it. The goal is to produce a revised and improved map of the Port Chalmers Breccia outcrops and to interpret its mode of emplacement.
Lead supervisor Marco Brenna, James White, Christian Ohneiser
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Various mineralisation projects in South Island

Description Work with an exploration company to characterise the alluvial garnet provenance and distribution of a possible garnet mine in South Westland; Isotopic properties of the alteration halo in metasandstones to gold deposits in Westland. Projects designed to suit the student
Lead supervisor James Scott
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Various field-based metamorphic projects in the Otago Schist, Alpine Schist

Description Mapping, sampling; establishing P-T conditions, circulation of fluids; projects designed to suit students capable of fieldwork in challenging areas
Lead supervisor James Scott
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Mantle under New Zealand

Description Evolution of the mantle under New Zealand: sampling, petrology, geochemistry, isotopic evolution; samples sites in the Southern Alps or Westland
Lead supervisor James Scott
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Sulphate and Nitrogen in wetlands at Macraes gold mine

Description Waste rock stacks at the mine release water enriched with SO4 and N from water-rock interactions. Ecologically, wetlands play a role in 'sieving out the bad stuff’. Do wetlands at the mine help with SO4 and N attenuation and can they be used for future management of mine waters?
Lead supervisor James Scott, Cathy Rufaut
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Greenhills Igneous Complex, Bluff Peninsula, Southland

Description The Greenhills Complex is a small layered mafic intrusion exposed on the Bluff Peninsula. The cumulate sequence is dunite-clinopyroxene-gabbro and contains the only in situ occurrence of platinum-group minerals in New Zealand. Previous mapping, petrography, and mineral compositions indicate that the complex was produced by fractional crystallization of hydrous basalt in an open-system magma chamber. The question of how much magma recharge and/or eruption occurred during crystallization can be addressed by tracking changes in magma composition and temperature using major and trace elements in cumulate minerals. This project will involve field work to collect new samples, preparation and petrographic examination of new and archived samples, and in situ analysis of major and trace elements in cumulate minerals of selected samples by SEM-EDS and LA-ICP-MS. Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x64.
Lead supervisor Mike Palin
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci

^ Top of page

Ice deformation

Description A range of possible laboratory based projects involving understanding how ice deforms.
Lead supervisor Dave Prior
Level BSc(Hons) or MSc

^ Top of page

Antarctic seismic data processing and analysis

Description This project will build on two seasons (2015 and 2016) of seismic data acquisition on the Ross Ice Shelf where the seafloor geology of the Ross Sea continental shelf has been imaged by thumper and explosive data.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman and Christian Ohneiser
Level PGDipSc, BSc(Hons) or MSc

^ Top of page

Mafic enclaves image

MSc

"Marine" seismic imaging of the Ostler Fault in Mackenzie Country

Description Collect seismic boomer data in the Pukaki Canal between Lake Pukaki and Lake Ruataniwha and within Lake Ruataniwha (near Twizel) to image the active Ostler Fault and better assess its earthquake hazard.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci or MSc

^ Top of page

Marine seismic imaging of the floor of Lake Roxburgh

Description Collect seismic boomer, CHIRP and multibeam data on Lake Roxburgh (and potentially Lake Dunstan) to evaluate modern sediment accumulation rates on the floor of these Clutha River reservoirs.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci or MSc

^ Top of page

Submarine volcanism in the Canterbury / Great South Basin

Description Assessing the distribution of volcanism imaged by petroleum industry seismic data from the Canterbury and Great South basins southeast of the South Island
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman and James Scott
Level BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci or MSc

^ Top of page

Otago Schist Tectonostratigraphy

Description The metamorphic core of the Otago Schist has recently yielded detrital zircons as young as 108 Ma (Mortimer at al., 2015) whereas unconformably overlying sediments along the flanks contain volcanics as old as 112 Ma (Tulloch et al. 2009). These results add to detrital zircon evidence from the Alpine Schist (Cooper et al., 2013; 2015; Cooper and Palin, 2018) for a previously unrecognized Cretaceous suture. The goal of these projects will be to extend the database into central and eastern Otago. The work will involve field mapping and sampling, petrography, textural and mineral analysis by SEM, and zircon U-Pb dating by LA-ICP-MS. Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x74.
Lead supervisor Mike Palin
Level MSc

^ Top of page

Fluid Release and Transport in the Otago Schist: Hydrogen and Carbon Stable Isotopes

Description Metamorphism of sedimentary rocks involves release of water-rich, carbon-chloride-sulfur-bearing fluids at depth. These fluids play essential roles in the long-term carbon cycle, deformation of the crust, and formation of gold and other mineral deposits. This project will examine the stable isotopes of hydrogen and carbon – the two most abundant volatile elements in such fluids – across metamorphic grade in the Otago Schist. Preliminary results show hydrogen isotope shifts opposite to the anticipated pattern. Recommended preparation: GEOL x62 and x74.
Lead supervisor Mike Palin and Greg Holk (California State University, Long Beach
Level MSc

^ Top of page

Seismic analysis of the Hyde Fault

Description We are running an explosion seismic survey across the Hyde fault at a location where PhD student Jono Griffin has trenched. The prime goal of this project would be to process this unique data set and the to use the processed together with other relevant information to rect a structural and tectonic model for this fault system.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman, Dave Prior, Mark Stirling
Level MSc, BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Developing a crustal P-wave velocity model for SE South Island using petroleum industry sources and land-based broadband seismometers

Description Using travel time determinations between air gun sources at sea and stationary earthquake seismometers on land to produce a 3D model of velocity structure in the crust (and possible upper mantle).
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman and Donna Eberhart-Philips (GNS Science)
Level MSc, BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Gas hydrates – seismic processing and analysis

Description This project will build on ongoing work and data from the Pegasus Basin using existing datasets from industry and academic cruises to investigate focussed accumulations of gas hydrates.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman
Level MSc

^ Top of page

Mechanism for active subsidence of the Dunedin volcano

Description The project will seek to determine the cause of the present c. 0.8mm/yr subsidence of the Dunedin volcano, as determined from the last 1-2 decades of geodetic data from rock sites across the volcano. Elastic and/or viscoelastic modelling of post seismic deformation from late Holocene Akatore Fault earthquakes (constrained in recent paleoseismic studies) will be a definite line of investigation in the project. The project will be suitable for a student with interests in deformation modelling and active tectonics, and with a willingness to learn with deformation modelling software (as yet unspecified).
Lead supervisor Mark Stirling, Paul Denys, Pilar Villamor (GNS Science)
Level MSc

^ Top of page

Climate of the last millennium

Description High resolution paleoclimate records spanning the last 1,000 years are critical for establishing hydroclimate baselines, determining the magnitude of past temperature change and evaluating potential climate drivers. Yet, there are very few highly resolved and well dated records from New Zealand that can provide this perspective. A primary goal of the Lakes380 project (lakes380.com) is to evaluate how climate and landscape change impact water quality in 10% of New Zealand’s lakes (n=380) since first human arrival approx. 700 years ago. This MSc project will compile multiple records of climate change from the southern South Island to help establish a baseline of climate and environmental change.
We are seeking an enthusiastic MSc student to join our international research team to participate in the collection and analysis of sediment cores obtained from multiple NZ lakes. The student will take advantage of the new Otago analytical core repository (OAR) that will house a new µ-XRF core scanner capable of generating multi-element profiles at 0.1 mm resolution. The student will integrate XRF data with other downcore geochemical and physical sediment parameters in order to create a comprehensive multi-site record of climate and environmental change.
For NZ applicants with a BSc, a competitive Lakes380 scholarship that supports stipend and fees is available for the 2nd (research) year. For New Zealand BSc Honours applicants, this scholarship can be applied to the 1-year MSc (thesis only) degree. Please contact chris.moy@otago.ac.nz if interested.
Lead supervisor Chris Moy and Marcus Vandergoes
Level MSc

^ Top of page

3D lithological reconstruction of the Dunedin Volcano

Description the Dunedin Volcano, for example at Aramoana/Spit Beach. Descriptions of these sites are still based on the original work of Marshall and therefore a need for revision with modern technology is ripe. In this project you will utilize aerial (drone) images to construct 3D models of type-locality eruptive sequences and subsequently use visualization software to project lithological boundaries and infer flow directions and vent sites. The project will also include the petrographic characterization of lava flow packages to generate a three dimensional geological map.
Lead supervisor Marco Brenna
Level MSc or BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Magma ascent rates in the Auckland Volcanic Field

Description How long will Aucklanders have to organize a volcanic emergency response after detection of deep unrest? Elemental diffusion profiles in xenocrysts in Auckland lavas can reveal timescales of crystal residence in the melt, and hence the rates of magma ascent. The project may involve a small component of fieldwork to collect samples, and a large component of laboratory work.
Lead supervisor Marco Brenna
Level MSc or BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Quaternary Stratigraphy (and/or Structure?) of Otago Harbour

Description This project will build on ongoing work that has has coarsely mapped about 150 m of infill sediments in Otago Harbour. Ideally, the student working on this project will integrate new multi-channel seismic boomer and CHIRP data collected from small boats early in the year with sediment samples or perhaps even shallow cores to constrain the the history of sediment infill of the harbour. It is also possible that the seismic imaging could identify the position of a fault that may control the orientation of Otago Harbour.
Lead supervisor Andrew Gorman and Christina Riesselman
Level MSc or BSc(Hons)

^ Top of page

Otago Schist tectonostratigraphy image

PhD

Understanding the timing and drivers of drought in New Zealand

Description

We are currently seeking a PhD student to investigate the spatial extent, magnitude and the climatic forcing of past drought on the South Island. This PhD project will involve 1) collection of geophysical data and sediment cores from multiple lakes, 2) generation of geochemical (stable isotope and elemental) and paleoenvironmental (diatom) data sets to evaluate past changes in water balance, and 3) integration of these data sets with established paleoclimate records and climate models.

The successful applicant will take advantage of facilities available at Otago University to carry out this work: 1) a Uwitec percussion piston coring system capable of collecting sediment cores up to 25m in length; 2) multibeam and chirp instruments that are part of the Otago Near Geophysical Imaging Facility, 3) non-destructive instrumentation within the newly established Otago analytical core repository, including a Geotek multi-sensor core logger and new Itrax XRF scanner, 4) laboratory facilities for the extraction and preparation of sediments for stable isotope and diatom abundance/paleoecological analysis.

The project is ideal for individuals with multidisciplinary interests in climate science, geochemistry, paleoecology and sedimentology. We are seeking an individual that has enthusiasm for field work, experience working in a geochemistry laboratory and demonstrated research experience (MSc preferred; BSc with honors thesis considered). The selected candidate will be funded by a competitive University of Otago PhD Scholarship, which includes a 3-year stipend of NZ$ 25,000 per year (tax free and includes a fee waiver), research costs, and travel support to national and international conferences. Both New Zealand and international students are encouraged to apply. The appointment will be based in the Department of Geology and can be begin at any time from January 2019.

Lead supervisor Chris Moy, Christina Riesselman and Marcus Vandergoes (GNS Science)
Level PhD

^ Top of page

Magma-water explosions: experiments (Buffalo, NY) to test explosion triggering by wet-rock impact

Description Work with experimental lab; begins with mastering current understanding of magma-water interaction and controls; PhD will have additional experimental, analytical or field/sample work; link other project(s)
Lead supervisor James White, overseas co-supervisor
Level PhD (MSc, BSc(Hons) OK but time of experiments is mid-year)

^ Top of page

Surtsey – the ICDP-cored diatreme that will change the model for wet volcanism

Description Microtextural analysis of new core from 2015 drilling; thorough study and analysis of existing models for explosive submarine to subaerial eruptions with water
Lead supervisor James White
Level PhD with probable fieldwork on Surtsey; BSc(Hons) or PGDipSci core only

^ Top of page

Effects of dike/fissure-wall properties on near-surface magma transport and eruption: an experimental approach using molten wax

Description An experimental approach using molten wax
Lead supervisor James White
Level PhD, MSc

^ Top of page