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17/9/2018 — Education, Science and Technology
Big research grant to GNS Science

GNS Science has been awarded $11.2 million for three new multi-year research projects in the latest round of the Government’s Endeavour Fund allocations.

The Endeavour Fund invests in research that has high potential to transform New Zealand’s future economic performance, sustainability and integrity of the environment.

The new projects cover mapping water flows in New Zealand’s aquifers, using oil industry seismic data to improve the understanding of active faults in Taranaki, and developing a clear coating for windows to enable them to generate electricity to power appliances.

The groundwater project received $9.5 M over five years to develop a world-first series of maps showing the source and flow patterns in NZ’s 200 known aquifers and large river catchments.

It is called Te Whakaheke o Te Wai – understanding of flow sources, pathways, and lags of groundwater. GNS Science said this information is needed for better management of groundwater.

At present the scientific understanding of aquifers and river catchments is limited partly because of the inability to observe the complex flow pathways underground. Water can take years to hundreds of years to travel underground from its source before entering rivers, lakes, and estuaries.

Co-leaders of the project, Catherine Moore and Uwe Morgenstern, said human activity was causing degradation of groundwater resources nationwide, resulting in economic, environmental, social, and cultural impacts that had been estimated at $150 M annually, not including losses from illness.

“Inability to relate cause to effect is the main reason that New Zealand’s groundwater resources are not being managed sustainably,” Dr Moore said.

“This project will develop the world’s first nationally continuous maps showing the age, source, and destination of groundwater in our aquifers.”

Research outputs would be used for setting national policies, managing catchment-scale contaminant inflows to groundwater-fed rivers, and protecting potable water supplies in cities and towns throughout NZ.

A second project has been awarded $728,600 over two years to use petroleum exploration industry data to better understand the threat posed by the Cape Egmont Fault zone in Taranaki.

The fault zone underlies communities and nationally important energy and industrial infrastructure along and offshore from the southern Taranaki Peninsula.

Project leader, Hannu Seebeck, said his team would investigate the three-dimensional geometry of the fault zone and its development through time to better understand the factors that control earthquake behaviour.

“Information from this study will contribute to the resilience of local communities and critical national infrastructure to these powerful natural forces,” Dr Seebeck said.

A third GNS Science project has been awarded $1 M over three years to develop a transparent thermoelectric material for using on windows to power electric appliances in homes and offices.

Project leader, Peter Murmu, said the aim was to develop technology that could be installed in new and old buildings without compromising the transparency of glass.

“Our goal is a proof-of-concept coating material for ‘smart windows’ that are capable of creating a variable voltage for electricity generation,” Dr Murmu said.

The project will work closely with NZ manufacturers to encourage uptake of the technology for commercialisation.

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Pupu Springs at Golden Bay. Photo by Lloyd Homer, GNS Science.