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Major accolades for two GNS Science staff at Royal Society’s awards function - 10/10/2017

Two GNS Science staff have been honoured in the Royal Society’s Annual Awards announced in Auckland last night. Ian Hamling received the Hamilton Award for Early Career Research Excellence and Roger Cooper won the Hutton Medal which is awarded annually for outstanding research in Earth, plant or animal sciences.

Ian’s award was for his work in advancing the understanding of New Zealand’s tectonic and volcanic processes using satellite-based techniques, and Roger was honoured for his contributions to understanding the geological foundations and the earliest organisms of Zealandia and beyond.

Ian’s expertise is in using satellite-based radar observations, called InSAR, to measure how the surface of the Earth moves in response to tectonic and volcanic processes. This technique, which compares radar images acquired at different times, allows us to detect changes of just a few millimetres.

Ian led work to define the deformation that occurred during the M7.8 Kaikoura earthquake, integrating InSAR data, Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements and geological field observations to build a definitive model of what had happened. He achieved this within two months of the earthquake.

Ian Hamling

Ian Hamling

Published in the prestigious journal Science, the work revealed that the event involved rupture of  20-plus faults and was the most complex earthquake ever recorded with modern methods.  

These findings have caused geoscientists worldwide to revisit fundamental assumptions about how faults rupture in earthquakes, and it has important implications for seismic hazard models.  

Ian has also made important contributions to the understanding of a large variety of other tectonic and volcanic processes in New Zealand and elsewhere.  These include his discovery of a previously unknown inflating magma body beneath Matata in the Bay of Plenty region, which was likely to be the cause of previous large earthquake swarms there.

Also, that large swathes of the Taupo Volcanic Zone in the central North Island are sinking rapidly. The scale of the subsidence (covering more than 1400km2) was previously unrecognised and is thought to be due to cooling and contraction of a magma body at around eight kilometres beneath ground surface.

Prior to his arrival in New Zealand, Ian worked on magma intrusion processes in the East African Rift.

The Award Selection Committee noted that Ian has built up an impressive and diverse body of work in the four years since he arrived in New Zealand, which has contributed greatly to New Zealand geoscience.

“To be awarded the Hamilton award is a huge honour and I am incredibly grateful for the support of my colleagues who nominated me for the award.”

Past winners of this award have included Rupert Sutherland, Tim Naish, Jarg Pettinga, John Haines, Richard Furneaux, Graeme Stevens, and Charles Fleming.  

Roger Cooper’s Hutton Medal award is based on a huge and far-reaching body of work. Knowledge of fossil zooplankton from the early Paleozoic (510-400 million years ago) is based almost entirely on Roger’s work, the medal selection committee noted.  

Roger Cooper

Roger Cooper

This knowledge, combined with careful geological mapping of complex rock formations, allowed Roger to unravel the building blocks of Zealandia’s most ancient geological foundations.  

He was selected to chair the committee tasked with defining the Ordovician Stage of the international geological time scale – the scale that is used to communicate and calibrate ages and rates of geological and evolutionary processes globally. The Ordovician Stage spans 41.2 million years after the Cambrian Period, 485 million years ago – the second of six periods in the Paleozoic.   

At the same time, he led a comprehensive overhaul of the entire New Zealand geological time scale, which provides a measure to quantify rates of geological and evolutionary processes across the entire south-west Pacific. This makes it one of the world’s most highly-developed regional scales.

Roger has made significant contributions to evolutionary research, particularly on the impacts of mid-Cenozoic drowning of Zealandia on New Zealand’s terrestrial biota.  He also conceived studies for investigating what controls the level of biodiversity in marine organisms, using New Zealand’s unique fossil record file.

Most recently he has used the fossil time series that he was instrumental in developing, in combination with novel analytical techniques, to generate important new insights into planetary-scale relationships between climate change, geochemical cycles, and evolution and extinction in the marine realm.

The medal selection committee noted his role in maintaining and developing paleobiological expertise in New Zealand. Roger describes New Zealand as a “geologist’s paradise”.

“By studying the oldest rocks of our continent, Zealandia, I have been lucky to have uncovered some of the mysteries about how the earth and its life have evolved through geological time.”

Roger is an emeritus scientist at GNS science, where he has been employed for 42 years. He was awarded the New Zealand Science and Technology Silver Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2003 and a Doctor of Science Degree by Victoria University of Wellington in 1993. He was elected a Fellow of Royal Society Te Apārangi in 1988.

Past winners of the Hutton Medal have included Colin Wilson, Hugh Bibby, Richard Norris, George Scott, and Pat Suggate. It was first presented in 1911.