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Model behaviour from university scientists

Media Release
December 17, 2008

Model behaviour from university scientists

Waikato University scientists have turned their talents from saving the Rotorua lakes to modelling them.

The university is leading a 10-year, $10 million project to protect and restore the water quality in the Rotorua lakes – and eventually the nation’s lakes – by developing ways to predict and manage harmful algal blooms.

This level of knowledge of the lakes saw the Rotorua Museum of Art and History approach the University of Waikato to ask about creating a model of the Rotorua Lakes for an exhibition. He Korowai o te Wai – the Mantle of Water runs until April 2009 and features artworks in one part of the exhibition called Looking at Water, and also has an educational exhibition about the region’s lakes called Looking after Water.

Professor David Hamilton, the university’s Chair of Lakes Management, said staff and students were more than happy to use their knowledge of the lakes for educational purposes.

“It’s important for people to realise how much the use of the surrounding land impacts on the quality of the lakes, so we’ve provided a visual presentation of all the land uses around the lakes, from forestry to orchards to dairying,” Prof Hamilton said. “It’s also important to bear in mind that only within the past century have pastoral and plantation forests become prevalent. Water quality in the lakes therefore reflects these land use conversions at a variety of time scales.”

The 3m by 2m scale model contains all the Rotorua lakes, and spans the coastal area from the Maketu Estuary to the Tarawera River. It was sponsored primarily by Environment Bay of Plenty, the Rotorua District Council and the Lakes Water Quality Society. Prof Hamilton estimated the model, which was built by a professional model-maker in Auckland, cost about $13,000, not including a substantial amount of time donated from within the university.

The museum exhibition also contains a video made by Waikato PhD student Mat Allan (SUBS CORRECT) using Geographic Information System modelling. It takes people on a fly-through of the lakes area, including into the waters of Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti to show the bathymetry (bottom of the lakes), as well as the diversion wall in Lake Rotoiti.

“It’s an amazing tool, and it’s all based on hard science,” Prof Hamilton said.

The university’s lake restoration work is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. A large part of it has been developing solar-powered, high-frequency buoys that monitor climate conditions and water quality, and wirelessly transmit data. The buoys, one of which is in the exhibition, are already being used in Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti as well as in huge Lake Taihu in China (four times the size of Taupo). Taihu provides drinking water for 5 million people, but has been hit by progressively worsening algal blooms in the past 40 years.


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