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Research Programmes

Investigating groundwater systems, processes and interactions with surface water.

Current Research Programmes

Envirolink Tools project: A Collaborative Satellite Data Workspace for Regional Councils 

This project aims to develop a suite of standard processing methods that apply satellite data to identify and map land, soil, vegetation and inland water consistently across New Zealand’s regions. The suite employs the Google Earth Engine (GEE) cloud-computing service for satellite data processing, where methods are easily shareable between all regional councils. The project is funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment via an Envirolink Tools grant. Duration: 2019-2021. Contact: Rogier Westerhoff

Te Whakaheke o Te Wai (TWOTW)

The Te Whakaheke o Te Wai (TWOTW) research programme aims to better support water management based on the understanding of flow sources, pathways and lags. Methods are currently being developed to produce the world’s first nationally continuous maps of groundwater age, origin and flow paths, useable for all institutions involved in water management. We are testing and developing methods to represent the origin of flows in groundwater and baseflows in New Zealand’s major aquifer systems and the rivers that drain them. This work involves a national groundwater and surface water age tracer sampling campaign, and stable isotope sampling programme.  We use complementary hydrogeological, chemical and isotope data to understand origin of recharge and flow pathways, effects of geology, seasonality and stream order. To date this work has already provided important insights into the groundwater and surface water flow systems throughout the country.

Groundwater and surface water mātauranga Māori and mōhiotanga Māori is being explored and approaches for combining this knowledge, with other sources of information, are being developed to improve groundwater management. This represents a unique combination of western science and indigenous knowledge and is demonstrating the importance of combining the two knowledge systems. Our ambitious modelling programme is now well underway and has a number of components designed to support decision making, from the national scale through to the very local drinking water source protection zone scale.  New modelling approaches have under development to better integrate tracers, mōhiotanga Māori, and other data across this range of scales.

The programme is led by GNS Science in collaboration with multiple national and international organisations and stakeholders, including major partners NIWA and ESR. Funding was granted through the MBIE Contestable Fund and the programme runs from 2018–2023.

Project Leaders: Catherine Moore and Uwe Morgenstern.



This programme aims to understand the hydrogeological and structural characteristics of New Zealand’s aquifers; determine fluxes of water and key substances in, through and out of these aquifers; develop and apply isotopic tools and biogeochemical tracers; determine impacts of pressures (e.g. human activities and climate change) on groundwater resources and receiving environments (e.g. springs, rivers and lakes); and identify how our research can guide water policy. This programme is funded through GNS’s Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF). Duration: 2019–2024. This programme replaces the Groundwater Resources of New Zealand research programme (completed June 2019). Contact: Conny Tschritter.

NGMP network

National Groundwater Monitoring Programme (NGMP)

This  programme provides a national perspective on groundwater quality, defines “baseline” groundwater quality, associates groundwater quality with certain causes such as anthropogenic influence, and provides best-practice methods for sampling and monitoring as well as groundwater quality data interpretation. The NGMP consists of three components: operations (collaboration with all NZ regional authorities); research and database. Duration: national coverage for the network was attained in 1998; research activities started in 2002. This programme was part of GWR up to 2016 and is now part of GNS Science’s Nationally Significant Databases and Collections. Contact: Magali Moreau.

aquifer potential map

New Zealand Water Model (NZWaM)

This programme aims to improve national-scale hydrological knowledge across the New Zealand landscape with a combination of data on surface water, soil, geology and groundwater. Case study areas include catchments located in the Gisborne, Horizons and Southland regions. This programme brings together NIWA (lead organisation), LCR and GNS. In the NZWaM, GNS is advancing their national models of groundwater flow, groundwater age, and hydraulic properties of the subsurface. Duration: 2016–2023. Contacts: Rogier Westerhoff and Frederika Mourot.

Past Research Programmes

Incorporating environmental and indigenous knowledge for future management of freshwater resources in the Piako Catchment - This project was a collaboration with Hauraki iwi Ngāti Hauā to collate freshwater scientific, mātauranga-a-iwi and policy knowledge about the Piako River catchment and make it available within an interactive user-focussed tool. The information enabled Ngāti Hauā to more readily make informed decisions about freshwater resource management in the Piako Catchment for both the health of the environment and the iwi.

Identification of ‘kaitiaki’ flow regimes for the Awahou Stream -This programme was a collaboration with Rotorua iwi Ngāti Rangiwewehi to identify ‘kaitiaki’ flow regimes for Awahou Stream near Rotorua. This is a new water management concept for spring-fed catchments that will bring together science and mātauranga (traditional knowledge). One of the outputs was a water resources capability plan, which will be promulgated to other iwi and water suppliers and is expected to help other iwi with their water resources capability development.

Groundwater Resources of New Zealand -This programme aimed to: understand the hydrogeological and structural characteristics of New Zealand’s (NZ) aquifers; determine fluxes of water and key substances in, through, and out of these aquifers; develop and apply isotopic tools and biogeochemical tracers; determine impacts of pressures (e.g., human activities and climate change) on groundwater resources; and to assist stakeholders to improve social, cultural, environmental and economic outcomes.

Measuring groundwater denitrification - This project developed and validated a new method for quantifying denitrification in groundwater systems, based on measurement of “excess” nitrogen gas (N2).

Smart Models for Aquifer Management- This programme developoed effective and streamlined groundwater surface water flow and transport models, at local (well or spring) to large (catchment or regional)-scales. The SAM programme also provided methods for identifying optimal data acquisition efforts for multi-scale predictions.

SMART Aquifer Characterisation - This programme aimed to develop a suite of highly innovative methods for characterising New Zealand’s groundwater systems faster and/or less expensively than using traditional methods.

Tracer Validation in Hydrogeology - This programme aimed to improve groundwater models by calibration and validation using hydrochemical, temperature and age tracer data. This programme includes case study areas in the Bay of Plenty, Wellington and Southland regions.

Ka Tu Te Taniwha – Ka Ora Te Tangata - The Ka Tu Te Taniwha – Ka Ora Te Tangata project aimed to understand the impacts of development in the Awahou groundwater catchment to ensure the health and well-being of the Ngati Rangiwewehi people.

Groundwater-Surface Water Interaction

Climate Impacts on Hydrological Systems

Optimal Nutrient Removal for Wastewaters

Annual Hydrogeology Department research output reports

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