Oceans Research


A crucial role for the earth sciences is to explore New Zealand and its territories. This leads to compilations of onshore and offshore geological, geochemical and geophysical maps of our region, and understanding of the dynamic processes acting at and adjacent to the tectonic plate boundary. This knowledge of the rocks, structures and processes that form New Zealand and its territories, including the foundations of our cities, underpins much of our other research. Key aspects are the definition of the nation’s territorial and cadastral boundaries, and the geological makeup of New Zealand’s vast EEZ and Extended Continental Shelf. This region represents 95% of our territory, but remains poorly explored with its geological structures and resources being largely unknown.

The benefits that will accrue from our research programme include:

  • provision of geological, geochemical and geophysical maps for other researchers whose work enhances geological resource evaluation and geohazard assessment
  • sustainable infrastructure and land-use planning taking into account local geology and New Zealand’s active tectonic environment
  • the national surveying datum and precision surveying methods underpinned by geodetic research and monitoring

Active Research Programmes

Geological Exploration of the EEZ - Stuart Henrys

Investigation of New Zealand and its EEZ, including assessment of resource and prospectivity and improved exploration methods, using a multi-disciplined team. The programme incorporates the following themes:

Regional Structure and Tectonic History - Dan Barker.
Study of crustal structure and sedimentary basins of offshore Zealandia, regional tectonic history, and active Hikurangi subduction plate boundary.

  • Tasman Frontier. Study of tectonic history and petroleum prospectivity of vast submerged continental mass between New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia.
  • Hikurangi Subduction Plate Boundary. Study of the convergent margin tectonics and varied plate boundary behaviour along the Hikurangi subduction margin, offshore the east coast of the North Island.
  • Cambell Plateau – Bounty Trough – Chatham Rise. Study of the tectonic history of the submerged continental blocks and Gondwana continental margins southeast of New Zealand.

SMS Mineralisation - Cornel de Ronde.

  • SMS Mineralisation along the Kermadec Arc - Cornel de Ronde. Investigation of SMS deposits along the Kermadec Arc to assess mining potential
  • SMS Mineralisation in Frontier Regions - Fabio Caratori-Tontini. Investigation of SMS prospectivity in regions such as the Havre Trough, Colville Ridge, Kermadec Ridge, Fiordland subduction zone, and TVZ lake floors

Gas Hydrates - Gareth Crutchley.
Investigation of Gas Hydrate deposits offshore New Zealand.

International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Stuart Henrys.
Coordination of New Zealand contributions to IODP.

Other Recent Research Programmes

  • Losing the Tops off Submarine Volcanoes (Marsden) – Fabio Caratori Tontini. Determination of 3D subsurface density / magnetisation distribution of southern Kermadec volcanoes, and assess the stability, extent and location of collapse-prone zones.
  • Subduction’s Slipper Slope (Marsden) – Stuart Henrys. Testing the hypothesis that fluid pressure drives episodic slow slip behaviour on subduction interfaces.
  • Development of a modern New Zealand national gravity landmark database (SDF) – Fabio Caratori Tontini. GNS Science has developed and upgraded a national database from 1950, this project aims to improve various aspects of the database, including new stations, new absolute gravity measurements, QC of existing stations and realignment to the ISGN71 network.