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Geologist Nick Mortimer Honoured by National Science Body

Geologist Honoured by National Science Body

A geologist who led a project that unveiled a new and largely underwater continent called Zealandia has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi.

Nick Mortimer is a geologist and Principal Scientist at GNS Science and leads the organisation’s minerals programme. His most high-profile work was leading a project that revealed the largely submerged continent of Zealandia – a 4.9 million square kilometre continent on which New Zealand sits.

While it lacks ‘official recognition’ as a continent, Zealandia meets all the criteria applied to the Earth’s other seven continents.

When Dr Mortimer’s summary paper on Zealandia was published in a US science journal in February 2017, it generated unprecedented worldwide media interest.

A readership estimated at 900 million people heard about Zealandia through 16,000 news articles in print and online media. Such extraordinary global interest is rare in New Zealand science.

Geologists have known about Zealandia since the 1990s, but have only recently compiled enough scientific evidence to make a strong case that it is a separate continent.

Royal Society Fellowships recognise international distinction in research and scholarship across the sciences and humanities. The Royal Society has been electing Fellows since 1919 and up to 20 new Fellows are added to its ranks each year. Sixteen new Fellows were announced today.

Dr Mortimer said he was very grateful to his nominators and those involved in the selection of this year’s Fellows.

“To be made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand is a huge honour. It demonstrates the relevance of the underpinning onland and offshore work on Zealandia that my colleagues and I have done over the years. We have made an impact outside mainstream geology," he said.

“Putting Zealandia on the map provides a new framework for the natural sciences, resources, evolution and conservation in the southwest Pacific. Zealandia's plate tectonic relationships with Australia and Antarctica tell the story of Gondwana supercontinent breakup.”

Dr Mortimer's New Zealand research started in the older crystalline rocks of the South Island, especially in the schist country of Otago and Southland. He has also led or participated in numerous research voyages in New Zealand waters and two to Antarctica.

Many scientists achieve success by specialising in their discipline, but Dr Mortimer is more of generalist. He is a petrologist and mineralogist by training and in his 31-year career with the DSIR and GNS Science he has worked on a wide range of research and commercial projects.

“It's pleasing that someone whose main research tool is a hammer, can be awarded one of the country's top research honours. Being a scientist at a Crown Research Institute has been a great platform for discovery. I owe my colleagues a lot.”

He has also played a major part in New Zealand's scientific community as Curator of the National Rock and Mineral Reference Collection, President of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand (2007-2009), and Senior Editor of New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics (2013-2017).

In 1994 he won the Geoscience Society’s premier award, the McKay Hammer for his work on the Otago Schist and in 2015 was the society's Hochstetter Lecturer. Dr Mortimer is an author of 99 scientific papers and three popular books.

Six other GNS Science staff are Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Currently there are about 400 Fellows in total. Fellows can use the letters FRSNZ after their name to indicate the honour.


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