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Principal Scientists

GNS Science has a proud tradition of scientific excellence and internationally recognised research. Leading the way are our principal scientists who have substantial and enduring reputations in their fields. They demonstrate high productivity and outstanding achievement in science innovation and original thinking. They are recognised by their peers and by non-research entities as pre-eminent. Our principal scientists attract valuable collaborations and business opportunities and represent New Zealand with distinction on the international stage.

Stephen Bannister
Stephen is a seismologist with a research focus on imaging Earth’s structure using seismic waves from earthquakes. His work has included investigations of the Alpine Fault, and the deep structure beneath Transantarctic Mountains, and the Terror rift in Antarctica.
Currently   he is investigating the deep heat source beneath New Zealand’s geothermal fields, and characterising the seismic signature of earthquakes and tremor associated with the Hikurangi subduction megathrust. He currently leads the GNS Science research programme on Understanding Earthquakes and Tsunami.

Raphael Benites

Rafael Benites
Rafael is a geophysicist who specialises in numerical modelling of seismic wave propagation and earthquake fault ruptures. One of his main projects is to combine numerical techniques and observed earthquake data to predict strong ground motion in the Wellington metropolitan region in the event of a large earthquake on the Wellington Fault. Rafael's work on different subjects of wave propagation has led to numerous collaborations with international colleagues. In 1998 he won a Japanese Fellowship for the Promotion of Science, and in 2003 he worked as a consultant in the Bullard Laboratory, University of Cambridge, England. In 2005 he was an invited speaker at the Department of Geophysics of Beijing University, China, and in 2008 at the Earthquake Research Institute, Tokyo University, Japan.

Nancy Bertler
Nancy specialises in the recovery, analysis and interpretation of ice cores from coastal Antarctica with an emphasis to understand and quantify Antarctica’s response to, and its ability to force, global climate change. She is the leader of the National Ice Core Research Programme and manages the New Zealand Ice Core Research Facility. Nancy has led 13 field campaigns in Antarctica and is the Chief Scientist of the 9-nation Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project which focuses on the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in a warming world. Nancy is jointly appointed by GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington and since 2018, serves as the inaugural Antarctic Science Platform Director. The platform, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and hosted by Antarctica New Zealand, is mandated to understand Antarctica’s impact on the global earth system and how this might change in a +2degC (Paris Agreement) world.

Simon Cox
Simon is a structural geologist with professional expertise in the fields of geological mapping, tectonics, GIS modelling, fluid-flow and mineralisation, but claims he is a 'non-specialist' geoscientist. The geological mapping of the Southern Alps and southern Victoria Land, Antarctica, are among his most significant contributions. Simon has also run experiments on Southern Alps hot springs and characterised the effects of earthquakes on groundwater. One area of this research has examined the hypothesis that leakage of pressured groundwater from aquifers beneath Christchurch exacerbated liquefaction brought to the surface. Based in the Dunedin office, he is presently leading an international collaboration to build a geological dataset of Antarctica, runs the National Characterisation of Aquifers project, is working on impact of sea level rise on groundwater and landslide runout. Simon is widely recognised as a public speaker and communicator of science, maintains close ties with local iwi/māori, supervises research students, and is a recipient of the McKay Hammer Award from the New Zealand Geoscience Society.

Cornel de Ronde

Cornel de Ronde
Since 1997 Cornel, a geologist, has led a sustained GNS Science programme to discover and understand submarine volcanism and hydrothermal venting along the Kermadec section of the Pacific Ring of Fire northeast of New Zealand. This frontier research includes exploring active submarine volcanoes and their seafloor hot springs using surface ships, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, and manned submersibles. Cornel has successfully brought together diverse groups of highly skilled specialists from many organisations and numerous countries to study the 2500km stretch of volcanic arc between New Zealand and Samoa. He is internationally recognised for this work and is in high demand as a speaker at a wide variety of forums from scientific conferences to special interest groups and schools. He is President-elect of the International Marine Minerals Society.

Susan Ellis
Susan specialises in geodynamic modelling of crustal deformation, from short (human) to long (millions of years) timescales. Her work has involved development of innovative numerical methods to investigate the influence of faulting on stresses and earth deformation in New Zealand. She has participated in fieldwork and numerical modelling of continental rift mechanics in Papua New Guinea; fluid and magma generation and flow in the Taupo Volcanic Zone; and brittle-ductile deformation in the Southern Alps. Recently she has led a Marsden-funded research programme studying the mechanics of New Zealand’s Hikurangi subduction margin.  Susan is a past president of the New Zealand Geophysics Society (now part of the New Zealand Geoscience Society) and has been a participant in 6 Marsden projects since 2004. She has also convened several scientific meetings including an international NSF-funded GeoPrisms workshop studying New Zealand tectonics.

Matt Gerstgenberger

Matt Gerstenberger 
Matt is a seismologist who focuses on earthquake forecasting and seismic hazard modelling. He has particular interests in better understanding and quantification of uncertainties, developing testable models (and testing them), and also developing methods for propagating uncertainties through to end uses of forecasting and hazard models. He has actively worked in seismology in the USA, Japan, Europe and Australia. He currently leads the National Seismic Hazard Model and also the earthquake forecasting teams at GNS. He is a GeoNet earthquake duty seismologist and is an Associate Editor for the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Stuart Henrys

Stuart Henrys
Stuart Henrys – Theme Leader Land and Marine Science
Stuart studies how tectonic plates collide and break apart. He uses seismology methods to provide detailed images of the earth’s crust and integrates these with a wide range of other geophysical and geological observations. The results are used to promote collaboration across the earth science community and include contributions to subduction zone structure, exploration of natural resources, and interpreting paleo-climate rock records. Stuart gained his PhD from Auckland University in 1987 and has held research positions at Rice University, Houston, and Victoria University of Wellington before joining GNS in 1994. Stuart has been a member of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Science Evaluation Panel and the Australian-New Zealand IODP Science Committee and is also the current Chair of the New Zealand IODP Committee. Stuart was a Visiting Professor at Tokyo University in 2012. He is a member of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, American Geophysical Union, and the Society of Exploration Geophysics.

Chris Hollis

Chris Hollis
Chris Hollis is a micropaleontologist and paleoclimatologist with a particular interest in southern Pacific climate variation during the greenhouse world of the Paleogene. He has been the principal investigator on three Marsden Fund projects and was awarded the McKay Hammer by the Geological Society of New Zealand in 2005 for his Marsden team's research on the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Chris has been programme leader of the Global Change Through Time programme, Paleontology Department Head and Chair of the New Zealand IODP Committee. He has played a leading role in the development and delivery of several outreach and community engagement initiatives, notably Te Kura Whenua.

John Kennedy

John Kennedy
John V Kennedy is a material scientist working on development of novel materials for low carbon energy technologies. He uses ion beam technologies pioneered by Lord Rutherford to develop functional materials and provide key information about material’s structure-property relationship. The knowledge generated is useful across the material science community for design of new products, surface engineering, development of catalytic materials for hydrogen production and storage, thermoelectric materials for converting waste heat to electricity, energy storage materials, magnetic materials and energy efficient systems. He has been a principal investigator on three Marsden funded projects and Science leader for more than 10 MBIE funded research projects. He has published more than 200 peer reviewed articles and 20 international patent applications with citations exceeding 7000 and a H-index of 52. John’s ability in applying his materials science expertise to industrial projects has led him to be a Principal Investigater in the Product Accelerator, Inductive Power Transfer Programme, Titanium Technologies of New Zealand and The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Chris Massey
Dr Chris Massey is an engineering geologist with more than 25 years of consultancy and research experience in the investigation and analysis of complex geological and geotechnical data for landslide and slope stability including landslide monitoring, foundation design, underground/surface rock support and groundwater problems. He has applied these skills to geohazard risk analyses and assessments, and to oil and gas pipelines, highway, railway, mining engineering and town planning projects in Africa, the Himalayas, Europe, South East and Central Asia and Australasia. Chris has a degree in geology from Leeds University, UK; a masters in Engineering Geology from Imperial College, London, UK; and a PhD in engineering geology from the University of Durham, UK. Dr Massey’s research interests are in rock mechanics, engineering geomorphology and in particular landslide processes and mechanisms of movement. Dr Massey has published many peer-reviewed journal papers and has given lectures and workshops around the world

Catherine Moore

Catherine Moore
Dr. Catherine Moore is a groundwater scientist and modeller. She has more than 25 years’ experience in local government, groundwater consultancies and research organizations.  Her modelling interests include the development of pragmatic tools for robust decision-support modelling, quantifying model predictive uncertainty, identifying cost-effective data acquisition and monitoring strategies, and optimizing model-data assimilation.  Some of her current work is focusing on mathematical and empirical explorations of appropriate model complexity to enhance decision support. Catherine led the SMART models for aquifer management research programme, and is currently co-leading the Te Whakeheke O Te Wai research programme at GNS, and is a part-time member of the Flinders University led Groundwater Modelling for Decision Support Initiative. 

Nick Mortimer

Nick Mortimer
Nick is a Dunedin-based petrologist who uses the composition and texture of rocks to help answer a variety of geological, tectonic and forensic questions. He has worked in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Antarctica, all over New Zealand and in several offshore SW Pacific areas. Nick is best known for his work to define and refine the extent of Zealandia, and understand how and why it came to be Earth’s most submerged and smallest continent. This work continues. He was Senior Editor of the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics for six years, is a former Curator of GNS Science’s National Petrology Rock Collection and Petlab database, and a past-President of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. In 2017, Nick was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

David Rhoades

David Rhoades
David is a geophysical statistician who works on improving models for earthquake hazard and risk, to provide better information on the likelihood of future large earthquakes and their damaging effects, and to increase our understanding of how earthquakes are generated and what make us vulnerable to them. His pioneering collaborative studies on patterns in the occurrence of small earthquakes before big ones, are leading the way internationally in developing testable methods for long-range earthquake forecasting. He is an active participant in the California-led Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability and is co-chair of the Working Group on Earthquake Predictability of the International Association for Seismology and Physics of the Earth's Interior.

Richard Sykes

Richard_Sykes
Richard is a petroleum geochemist who studies organic-rich rocks and petroleum fluids to help exploration companies to find and produce oil and gas resources for New Zealand. Whilst New Zealand still needs oil and gas (for transportation, electricity generation, and methanol production, etc.), it is far better we produce our own rather than be entirely dependent on imports. In 2004, Richard discovered that New Zealand crude oils are derived mostly from fossil leaf cuticle in coal seams, helping to dispel the widely held theory that coals expel only gas. His current research interests involve using the geochemical fingerprints of oils to identify genetic oil families and determine oil maturity, information which helps to reveal the petroleum “plumbing systems” in the subsurface. He is also interested in the use of multivariate statistical analysis to apportion contributions in comingled well streams from different reservoir zones and fields, for improved field management. Richard is the leader of the Petroleum Source Rocks, Fluids, and Plumbing Systems research programme funded by MBIE. He has been a visiting scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada and the GeoForschungsZentrum (Germany) and regularly presents seminars and short-courses at international conferences and directly to exploration companies.

Phaedra Upton

Phaedra Upton
Phaedra specialises in Tectonic Geomorphology and Geodynamic modelling. Her work brings together observations from geology and geophysics and uses modelling to understand the processes behind the observations. Her research covers a wide range of topics from 3D deformation within oblique orogens, crustal fluid flow, topographic development, river capture, drainage evolution, placer gold distribution and the relationship between tectonics and genetics. She has worked extensively in the Southern Alps of New Zealand and in a number of overseas mountain belts including Taiwan, the Himalaya, SE Alaska, Norway and the USA. Phaedra has convened several international scientific meetings including the 2017 PATA days International Workshop on Paleoseismology, Active Tectonics and Archeoseismology, a year after the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake. In 2018 she convened an international workshop in the US focussed on Coupling of Tectonic and Surface Processes. Phaedra led a large research programme on tectonics of the New Zealand plate boundary. She was the New Zealand Geoscience Society Hochstetter Lecturer in 2020.  Phaedra is currently the Geodynamics Team Leader.

Pilar Villamor

Pilar Villamor is an Earthquake Geologist specialising in active faults in extensional regimes with a focus on the Taupō Volcanic Zone, New Zealand, and similar regions around the world, such as Mexico, El Salvador and Japan. Her interests range from individual fault behaviour (how often faults rupture and the magnitude of the associated earthquakes) to whole rift kinematics and evolution. Her studies also include interactions between faults and volcanoes, and natural hazards associated with siting critical facilities in Australia, Japan, Spain, Vietnam and New Zealand. She also works on active faulting and paleo-liquefaction in strike-slip and contractional tectonic environments in regions ranging from very low (Spain, Vietnam) to high (New Zealand Plate Boundary) seismic activity. She co-led the surface fault mapping of the 2010 Darfield and the 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes. Her studies underpin earthquake hazard modelling and geothermal resource assessment in New Zealand. She has led large research programs on tectonics of New Zealand plate boundary and the Taupō Volcanic Zone. She is the current leader of the Hazards and Risk Management research programme. 

Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace
Laura Wallace is a geodetic scientist specializing in crustal deformation studies at active tectonic plate boundaries, with a focus on New Zealand, Japan, Papua New Guinea, and other regions of the western Pacific. She has worked on all types of plate boundaries, but has a particular interest in subduction plate boundary processes, including interseismic coupling and slow slip events. She primarily uses Global Positioning System (GPS) data in her research, but has more recently made the foray into seafloor geodesy and scientific drilling methods to investigate subduction plate boundary processes and their associated hazards. She is currently leading an MBIE Endeavour Fund project to better understand hazards posed by the Hikurangi subduction zone, and is co-leading an effort to use IODP scientific drilling offshore New Zealand's North Island to understand the mechanisms behind slow slip events.