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Geography students to learn first-hand about South Dunedin

May 11, 2017

Geography students to learn first-hand about South Dunedin

Students from Kings High School and Bayfield High School will get to whet their appetites for natural science with an opportunity for hands-on learning about the geography and hydrology of South Dunedin.

Thanks to funding from the Government’s Curious Minds programme, Year 10 geography students from both high schools will be working with Otago Regional Council, the NZ International Science Festival, GNS Science, and the University of Otago to learn about the variability of groundwater levels and soil composition beneath their schools.

The students will get the opportunity to drill groundwater monitoring bores, study some of the material from the various drill cores, and analyse data from ORC’s existing groundwater monitoring network.

South Dunedin was built on land reclaimed from coastal wetlands and dunes – today there are 2700 homes constructed on land that is less than 50cm above sea level. The low level of South Dunedin, along with high groundwater levels, means the area is flood prone. There is also concern the hazard might increase with any rise in sea level.

“Given what we know about South Dunedin, we need to be prepared for adapting to the changing environment over time. Understanding the nature of the landscape South Dunedin is built on is an important step in that process,” ORC director of engineering, hazards, and science Dr Gavin Palmer said.

“The small bores in the school grounds will provide simple visual cues as to the rise and fall of groundwater and rainfall and ocean tides affect these movements,” Dr Palmer said.

“Students will also be able to look at the soil and sedimentary layers from their bore holes to see its composition and compare this to what we know the historical landscape of the area to have been. We hope by the end of the project they have a greater understanding of what the climatic pressures facing South Dunedin are and how they interact with each other.”

Once the students have analysed the data, they will make presentations to family and the school community on their findings. This will give them experience in presenting scientific information to a lay audience, as well as giving them a forum to present their findings.

NZ International Science Festival director Dan Hendra said it was important students and the community understood South Dunedin’s changing environment and its effect on the area’s geography and hydrology.

“Recent rainfall events mean it’s more important than ever that we collectively engage in what is happening directly below our feet,” Mr Hendra said.

This project is the first step in engaging the community through outreach to affected schools.

“The next step is to build on this through creating an educational exhibition for the 2018 NZ International Science Festival, which will outline in greater context the role of climate change in shaping Dunedin’s evolution and geology history, and our sustainable occupation of this landscape,” Mr Hendra said.

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