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GNS Wins Funding For Three New Science Projects

GNS Wins Funding For Three New Science Projects

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS) has won funding of $1.39 million from the government's Marsden Fund for three new science projects.

GNS has a strong track record in submitting successful projects to this highly competitive fund that supports "the-best-of-the-best" in long-term scientific research. This year, just 14 percent of applications to the $44 million Marsden Fund were successful.

The successful GNS projects will investigate how plants coped with pre-historic global warming, when and how plants and animals colonised the Chatham Islands, and what causes earthquakes to "cluster" in a particular area.

GNS palaeontologist Erica Crouch will lead a study of plant reactions to past episodes of global warming. The project has received $50,000-a-year for two years under the "Fresh-Start" category, designed to support promising recent graduates.

By comparing fossilised spores and pollen found in New Zealand with similar records collected from North America, Europe, and Australia, Dr Crouch and her colleagues hope to discover how plants have responded to the global warming episodes of different magnitudes in the past.

The project will focus on plant microfossils in sedimentary rocks in central Westland and in North Canterbury. It may help identify how plants can "slow down" the effects of greenhouse warming, and help predict how plants may react to future global warming.

GNS geologist Hamish Campbell will lead an investigation of when and how plant and animal species colonised the Chatham Islands, 800km east of New Zealand. The project has received a total of $870,000 over three years.

Traditional wisdom dates the Chatham Islands at 70 to 80 million old. But new evidence suggests they may have emerged from the sea as little as 4 million years ago.

This may mean that all life on the islands can be classified as relative newcomers that have somehow succeeded in making the big step from mainland New Zealand.

If correct, this would give biologists new ideas to develop their theories on dispersal, colonisation, evolution and biodiversity. As well as GNS, the project will involve researchers from Massey, Lincoln and Otago universities.

GNS geologist Andy Nicol will lead an investigation of the factors that cause the phenomenon of clustering of large earthquakes in particular areas. The results may help to improve earthquake hazard estimates in many parts of the world where seismic activity is high.

The project received a total of $420,000 over three years.

Dr Nicol's team will focus on the volcanic region of the central North Island, where there is an exceptionally well preserved geological record of large earthquakes over many thousands of years. Initial studies in the central North Island indicate that earthquake activity on individual faults is often cyclical. Faults may have periods of up to 5000 years of intense earthquake activity separated by periods of up to 10,000 years of little or no activity.

Improving the knowledge of what causes earthquakes to cluster is a key step to an improved understanding of what triggers earthquakes.

The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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