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NZ and German research organisations look to the longterm - 15/02/2008

Earth scientists from Germany and New Zealand are looking to build a long term partnership that will bring economic and environmental benefits to New Zealand.


Representatives from leading German research organisation GFZ Potsdam visited Wellington this week to discuss working with colleagues from government-owned research company GNS Science across a range of earth science areas. This includes energy, geological hazards, and climate change.

Individual scientists from the two organisations have worked together in recent years on modest sized earth science projects. The aim of this week’s meeting was to develop a larger, more formal relationship that has the support of governments in both countries.

Leader of the GFZ Potsdam delegation Brian Horsfield said this week’s meeting had reinforced that the two organisations had many strong science synergies.

“It’s clear to us that by working together we can produce economic benefits for both countries,” Professor Horsfield said.

“Jointly we can address areas that impinge on the human habitat and are important to New Zealand and Germany such as energy, climate, and natural hazards.”

“One of the reasons we have come to New Zealand is that it’s a fantastic natural laboratory in which to conduct earth science. The potential to add value to each other’s work is very high.”

Prof Horsfield said there was a high degree of compatibility between the two organisations in terms of scientific disciplines and the desire to deliver benefits to society by applying skills in earth sciences across a range of topical issues.

The Chief Executive of GNS Science, Alex Malahoff, said the proposed partnership would address scientific issues that had national and international significance.

“Together we can achieve a lot more than working in isolation. There are many parallels between the two organisations and this makes it very attractive for a long term partnership.”

Dr Malahoff said one of the many areas that is likely to be investigated jointly is the phenomenon of gas hydrate deposits under the seafloor. Scientists have identified extensive areas of these frozen methane deposits off the North Island’s east coast. The energy contained in these naturally occurring deposits is thought to be greater than the energy in the Maui gas field.

“The powerful team at GFZ Potsdam will help significantly in our research into the actual extent of these deposits and how New Zealand can benefit from them.

“In a nutshell, our joint projects will be about safeguarding society from natural disasters, sustaining economic growth without threatening the environment, and helping in the supply raw materials and energy for a growing population. These challenges depend on understanding the dynamics of planet Earth.”

Dr Malahoff said during the next few months the two organisations would develop a formal partnership document specifying the areas of joint research and the expected outcomes.

The document would be the basis for discussions with government agencies in both countries so the partnership had support through all levels of government.