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GNS Science Wins Funding for Four New Marsden Projects

25 OCTOBER 2010
GNS Science Wins Funding for Four New Marsden Projects

GNS Science researchers have won Marsden Fund support for four new projects worth a total of $3.16 million over three years in the latest round of the ideas-driven research fund.

The Marsden Fund is contestable, is for investigator-driven research projects, and is not subject to government priorities. It is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and funded by the New Zealand Government.

Of the 1113 preliminary proposals received, 229 were asked to submit a full proposal with 86 ultimately getting a share of the $56.4 million fund, giving a success rate of 7.7%. All of the funded proposals are for three years.

The four GNS Science projects will identify the impact of extreme global warming on marine organisms 60 million years ago, investigate the relationship between big earthquakes and damage to aquifers, find out more about deep magmatic fluids that heat our geothermal systems, and build a model of the Hikurangi subduction zone to elucidate its earthquake potential.

A team of international researchers led by GNS Science micro-paleontologist Chris Hollis will investigate how cool water species of miro-oranisms that thrived in the oceans 60 million years ago responded to episodes of extreme global warming. It will involve the fields of paleontology, paleoceanography and climate modelling.

The project will draw heavily on the data and resources within the National Paleontology Collection housed at GNS Science, and drill cores and fossil collections provided by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

The Eocene (40 to 60 million years ago) was the last time that the Earth experienced a truly greenhouse climate with atmospheric CO2 levels exceeding 1000 parts per million.

As such, it is a critical time period for understanding the influence of extreme warmth on the oceans and predicting how physical and biological systems might respond to future global warming.

Potential advances in knowledge stemming from this project include resolving the current mismatch between climate models and Eocene climate data for high latitudes and developing new fossil-based tools for deciphering past climate states.

Laboratory work will be augmented by field work in Otago Canterbury, Marlborough, New Caledonia, and Italy.

In another project, a team led by GNS Science geologist Simon Cox will investigate the impact of large earthquakes on aquifers. Big quakes in Fiordland in 2009 and in Canterbury in 2010 and 2011 resulted in changes in groundwater systems throughout New Zealand.

The aim of this three-year project is to understand the mechanisms that drive underground fluid movement during these major earthquakes. It will be the first systematic investigation of earthquake hydrology in New Zealand.

The team will model changes to water levels and flow rates caused by earthquake shaking and stress changes in the earth’s crust. The result will be internationally important findings in hydromechanics relevant for better understanding of liquefaction, engineering, and security of water supply.

In a third project, a team led by geothermal geologist Isabelle Chambefort will test differing scientific viewpoints on whether shallow intrusive magma bodies feed the geothermal systems of the Taupo Volcanic Zone in the central North Island.

In particular, they will use pioneering analytical techniques to characterise the pattern of magmatic degassing and track the signature of magmatic fluids in active geothermal systems in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

As well as enhancing the understanding of fluid-rock interactions, the findings will help to pave the way for deep geothermal exploration. Currently geothermal energy contributes 14% of New Zealand’s electricity and is forecast to account for 20% by 2020.

However, a key part of achieving this will involve tapping into deeper and hotter fluids than is currently normal. Wells reaching depths of 4km, and deeper, are technically and scientifically challenging as they encounter rocks and fluids at 400deg Celsius. Results from this project will help to make deeper geothermal wells a reality.

In the fourth project, a team led by geophysical modeller Susan Ellis will test an idea that fluid pressure variations along the Hikurangi subduction margin, off the North Island’s east coast, control the strength of coupling between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

The project will involve the first ever integration of structural geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and numerical experiments to build a model of the mechanics of the subduction zone and its earthquake potential. This will be important as subduction zones produce the largest earthquakes on earth, yet the understanding of subduction thrust faults is incopmplete.


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