Driving force of volcanic super-hazards uncovered

Source: Massey University

Associate Professor Gert Lube.

Massey volcanologists have discovered the driving force behind superheated gas-and-ash clouds from volcanic eruptions, which may help save lives and infrastructure around the globe. 

Endangering 500 million people worldwide, pyroclastic density currents (or pyroclastic flows) are the most common and lethal volcanic threat, causing 50 per cent of fatalities caused  by volcanic activity. During volcanic events, these currents transport hot mixtures of volcanic particles and gas over tens of kilometres, causing damage to infrastructure and loss of life.

One of the issues to studying these phenomena is that they are impossible to measure in real life. Using Massey’s Pyroclastic flow Eruption Large-scale Experiment (PELE) eruption simulator facility, the team were able to synthesize the natural behaviour of volcanic super-hazards and generate these flows as they occur in nature, but on a smaller scale.

Until now, scientists could not find the mechanism responsible for the super-mobility of these flows, and previous models were unable to accurately predict their velocity, runout and spread through hazard models, which put lives and infrastructure at risk. 

Massey University’s Associate Professor Gert Lube says that through their unique experiments, the enigmatic friction-cheating mechanism was found.

“With several tonnes of pumice and gas in motion, our large-scale eruption simulations uncovered the flow enigma that has been baffling researchers for decades. We measured a low-friction air cushion that is self-generated in these flows and perpetuates their motion. We were able to mathematically describe the resulting flow behavior. There is an internal process that counters granular friction, where air lubrication develops under high basal shear when air is locally forced downwards by reversed pressure gradients and displaces particles upward.

“This explains how the currents are able to propagate over slopes, bypass tortuous flow paths, and ignore rough substrates and flat and upsloping terrain, without slowing down.”

“The discovery necessitates a re-evaluation of global hazard mitigation strategies and models that aim to predict the velocity, runout and spreading of these flows. Discovery of this air-lubrication mechanism opens a new path towards reliable predictions of pyroclastic flow motion and the extreme runout potential of these lethal currents, thereby reducing future casualties. It will be used by hazard scientists, as well as decision makers, and is envisaged to lead to major revisions of volcanic hazard forecasts.”

The article, Generation of air lubrication within pyroclastic density currents, was published in Nature Geoscience.

Authors include Massey’s Professor Jim Jones, Dr Luke Fullard, Eric Breard and Joseph Dufek of the University of Oregon, Shane Cronin of University of Auckland and Ting Wang of the University of Otago. Funding includes Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Fund and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.


First-year student discusses future of food with industry’s best

Source: Massey University

First-year student Fatima Imran

Barely a few weeks into her study, first-year Bachelor of AgriCommerce student Fatima Imran, will be rubbing shoulders with industry heavyweights, discussing the future of food production in New Zealand.

AgResearch Future Feeders is a headline event of New Zealand AgriFood Week, exploring the future of food production from the perspectives of industry leaders. Hosted at the Palmerston North Conference and Function Centre on Tuesday March 12, the full-day event will be split into three sections, with a final panel discussion with at the end of the day.

But the former Mt Albert Grammar student says she isn’t worried about the other panelists, which include Mark Piper from Fonterra, Jolon Dyer from AgResearch, and Rob Ward from UK-based company Grocery Accelerator.

“People within these industries are all so down to earth,” Miss Imran says. “People just don’t have giant egos, so it makes it a lot easier to just talk and have a conversation about the issues. I got involved with the event during my summer internship at KPMG. I received a call from CEDA [Central Economic Development Agency] and was asked if I would like to speak at the event, and I said, ‘sure, why not?’”

The focus of the event will be exploring the future of food production from the perspectives of industry leaders.

“They basically want to find out what we want to see in 2050 in this space,” Miss Imran says. “I think New Zealand should be protecting itself, and improving ourselves. Our nutrition levels are quite low and yet we are very much focused on the rest of the world. We as agriculturalists think of ourselves so negatively. I think it’s about time we be more positive, as that’s how we will be able to move forward and get our point across.

“I heard from a speaker from the Netherlands as part of my work with KPMG and they were so self-assured in their direction. I think we could be more like them.”

Miss Imran has been no stranger to these types of events. In 2017, while she was a year 12 student, she spoke during a series of future leaders’ events around Fieldays. In these talks she encouraged students to engage with agriculture, explaining how people within her own school saw agriculture as a subject for those just wanting to gain some credits.

But she says before she left, she has seen that culture turn around.

“They’ve done a lot of work in the area and things have really changed. The numbers have increased, but also the calibre of student. It’s a subject worth taking, and the students are driven to succeed. It’s up there with science and other subjects. There’s a lot to offer, it’s not just agriculture, its telecommunications and everything that goes along with a business.”

Massey and Mt Albert Grammar have been working together for a number of years to expose more students to the opportunities in agriculture. Massey will be bringing a small group of students from Mt Albert Grammar to the University around Fieldays to experience what studying agriculture careers are like. 


$400K grant for new rural innovation lab

Source: Massey University

The Rural Innovation Lab will start by identifying three ‘on-farm’ innovation projects based on technologies such as cloud, big data, the internet-of-things and artificial intelligence.

Massey University has been granted $400,000 from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund to help establish a Rural Innovation Lab in the Manawatū-Whanganui region.

The lab will engage farmers and growers across Manawatū-Whanganui to drive new thinking in the primary sector, particularly digital farm opportunities. It will also serve as a pilot initiative for the development of similar programmes across New Zealand.

“This initiative will help to develop and potentially support the commercialisation of new ideas and technologies, which will improve land use in the primary sector,” Under-Secretary for Regional Economic Development Fletcher Tabuteau says.

“For Manawatū-Whanganui in particular, land use optimisation is a central plank in the region’s economic action plan.  This project will help to unlock new economic opportunities across the region.”

The Rural Innovation Lab is being supported by many organisations, including the Palmerston North City Council, Microsoft New Zealand, Massey University, local economic development agencies and the Manawatū-Whanganui Farmers and Growers Innovation Collaborative.  

“The Rural Innovation Lab is a model example of local people, businesses and the community, progressing a project that aligns with their economic aspirations. The Government is proud to support this work,” Mr Tabuteau says.

Massey Business School Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Stephen Kelly.

Massey contributes funding, evaluation and research expertise

Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Massey Business School Professor Stephen Kelly says the University will contribute funding, administrative support and research expertise to the ongoing evaluation of the project.

“We are holding an event at Central Districts Fieldays to start identifying at least three major ‘on-farm’ innovation projects based on technologies such as cloud, big data, the internet-of-things and artificial intelligence.” 

The projects will be chosen through a competitive process with proposals assessed by an independent panel. The criteria include increasing economic output; enhancing returns for Māori assets; contributing to the mitigation of, or adapting to, climate change; and fostering the sustainable use of natural assets.

Professor Kelly says a research team from the Massey Business School is already working on an aligned research project. 

“The Massey Business School will use its agri-tech expertise to examine the technology adoption decisions of farmers and growers, as well as the actual and potential impact of technology on sustainability within the agricultural sector. 

“The research findings will no doubt provide valuable insights for the Rural Innovation Lab projects.”

Related articles

Getting farms to adopt innovation in agriculture
Agrifood sector is tech-savvy but not ready for major disruption
Drone technology takes out Massey Innovation Award


Workshop tackles global look at nutrient loss and water quality

Source: Massey University

Jenny Deakin of the Ireland Environmental Protection Agency, Flemming Gertz of Denmark’s Seges, and Peter Thorburn from CSIRO, Australia. 

As the world’s attention turns increasingly towards both feeding the world and improving waterways, Massey University is once again hosting its annual workshop focusing on water quality and soils both here and abroad.

The 32nd Fertilizer and Lime Research Centre annual workshop, nutrient loss mitigations for compliance in agriculture, aims to facilitate information transfer amongst industry, science, policy and regulatory personnel concerned with primary production in New Zealand. More than 85 submissions were received for this Workshop, which has been hosted at Massey since 1987.

Fertilizer and Lime Research Centre acting director Professor Chris Anderson says the Annual FLRC workshop is a major event in the NZ agriculture and horticulture calendar. 

“Agriculture and Horticulture are key sectors for New Zealand’s economy but their impacts on the environment have never been more scrutinised than today. Primary producers are being increasingly challenged to comply with social expectations for ‘healthy food, healthy environment’. Regional councils are working on regulations guided by science which target the balance been production and environmental protection.

“The workshop has provided over the last 30+ years a platform for science, policy and farm advisors to jointly review the state of this balance, with input from international experts. Compliance is a key theme of this year’s workshop. Compliance is not only about meeting the expectations of regulators but is also about meeting the public’s expectation for clean rivers, affordable housing and safe food. Massey and FLRC has a key role to play in supporting the agricultural and horticultural sectors comply with public and regulator expectations, through forums such as the FLRC Workshop.

“We are on forefront of providing education and teaching, in delivering professional short courses which support capability development, and in finding innovative solutions through research and development for increasing primary productivity with reduced environmental impacts.”

The first session of the three-day workshop focused on what other countries are facing and their current management.

Jenny Deakin – Ireland Environmental Protection Agency – The Key Water Quality Issues in Ireland and the Irish Epas River Basin Management Plan.

Dr Deakin spoke about Ireland’s challenges with excess phosphorous in rivers and lakes and excess nitrogen in estuaries, as well as the implications and impacts of the end of the milk quota’s abolition in 2015.

She outlined the work to improve water quality under the River Basin Management Plan, which Ireland must produce a river basin management plan under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It sets out the actions that Ireland will take to improve water quality and achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of all water bodies by 2027.

“It has to work,” Dr Deakin said. “The stars are aligning in agriculture; the evidence base is strong. We had the dairy quotas lifted, which led to opportunities for expansion, but there are concerns about the environment.”

“We are making good steps forward in public sector and public engagement programmes. Lots of collaboration, lots of investment in engagement and we are starting to see the fruits of that, but it is still
early days.”

She ended the session with the Irish phrase “Ní neart go cur le chéile – By working together we will achieve more.” Dr Deakin has come to the country accompanied by other key players involved in the delivery of the Irish River Basin Management Plan, who will be liaising with key players in NZ water quality management.

Flemming Gertz of Denmark’s Seges, Denmark Engaging Farmers in Environmental Management in Denmark.

Dr Gertz focused on farmer engagement in Denmark and their focus on reducing nitrate levels and the difference between Denmark’s approach and neighbouring countries in terms of focus nutrients. A key issue being the nitrogen contribution to coastal water bodies, with a large coastline.

One key mitigation technique he spoke of was the countries focus on restoring and constructing wetlands. As well as increased farmer engagement through the use of catchment officers, who are working closely with farmers to deliver technical advice based on local needs, a new concept in Denmark which has traditionally used legalisation to enact change.

CSIRO Agriculture and Food (Australia) Peter Thorburn, Digital Agriculture, Helping Farmers Reduce impacts of cropping on the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Thorburn spoke about the technical and cultural challenges around reducing the impact of cropping, through dissolved nitrogen, on the Great Barrier Reef. With a large body of work underway to protect the Australian asset.

He spoke about the work being done through incentives, possible market based-approaches such as a water quality credit system, and regulation. As well as engagement with farmers around nitrogen and the development of several applications to guide their decision-making. CSIRO aim to roll out these apps and improve upon them through public engagement.

The whole picture

Other sessions over the three-days include: environmental challenges for agriculture; regional policy initiatives; reducing agricultural emissions; reducing nutrient loss to water; managing critical pathways; developments with overseer; challenges for irrigated agriculture; measurements and tools. Where participants will hear from council staff, organisations and other scientists.

Catalyst Water Quality Workshop

After the conclusion of the workshop, the group will be running the Catalyst Water Quality Workshop will run on Friday, focusing on targeted and effective water quality management, sharing and advancing science and policy tools to manage nutrient flow pathways and attenuation in sensitive agricultural catchments.

 This workshop will include world-leading researchers and policy managers from Denmark, Ireland, USA and New Zealand, sharing learnings and new initiatives from around the world.


Working with sand isn’t child’s play

Source: Massey University

Mustard seeds used in experiments around granular flow.

Ever wonder how an hour glass measures time? Who designed it, did the math, tested it and perfected it? Working with sand may sound like child’s play, but the process of understanding how these materials behave is the focus of scientists around the world – and it can mean big money and safer communities.

Granular materials, like sand, fascinate physicists, engineers, mathematicians, and other scientists. Granular materials include minerals, wheat grain, pharmaceutical powders, food powders, sugar grains, and seeds, adding up to multi-trillion-dollar enterprises. However they also include natural granular flows, like avalanches, landslides and more, with the understanding of their behaviour key to mitigating destruction from these natural events.

Massey’s Dr Luke Fullard is interested in both of these types, but his latest research looks into how these materials, like sand, behave in silos.

“The behaviour of gas and liquids in silos has been well studied and modelled, but there is a lot to be learnt about granular materials like sand – they are tricky as they can behave like solids, like liquids and even like gas. When you are trying to model the behaviour of granular particles, it is impossible to model every particle individually, so my research focuses on methods to treat flowing granular material like a continuous fluid.”

Changing the gap.

The physics of flow

The dynamics of granular flow from a silo with two symmetric openings, was published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings, describes the behaviour of sand draining out of a silo.

This project involved developing mathematical models followed by lab experiments in silos help to understand the physics of the flow and to generate data to validate the mathematical models. In these models, the distance between the two openings was studied in how it changes the flow rate.

They found that the flow rate is highly dependent on the spacing between the two openings with a complicated interference behaviour between the two openings – make them too wide or two narrow and the flow rate changes.  

“These results aid understanding of granular physics, particularly granular interference phenomena. The results may also have implications for industrial silo design, giving valuable information for how grains or powder behaviour when being processed.”

Dr Luke Fullard with the small-scale model.


Help build the BVD Free business case and win

Source: Massey University

Challenge to boost campaign

A national campaign to help fight bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) virus is incentivising farmers and veterinarians to engage by offering cash prizes to those who participate.

The BVD Free Challenge 2019 is part of an initiative launched in July last year, led by Massey University and the National BVD Steering Committee. It aims to engage with beef and dairy farmers across New Zealand to help develop frameworks for controlling BVD at the farm and industry levels.

Project manager, Massey University’s Dr Carolyn Gates says, “This disease affects every beef and dairy farmer in New Zealand, whether they currently have BVD or not. It’s an expensive disease, from the production losses it causes in infected cattle, to the ongoing costs of testing and vaccination to keep cleared herds BVD free.”

“With an estimated annual cost to industry of $150 million and about 37,000 commercial cattle farms, this works out to roughly $4,000 per farm per year on average.  We’re challenging New Zealand farmers to find out how much of a difference BVD control can make for their herds.” 

Beginning February 1, farmers and veterinarians can earn entries into the prize draw by participating in different research and extension activities over the coming year. There are separate cash prize draws for farmers and veterinarians with a first-place prize of $4,000.

Challenges will be run at different times throughout the year, with each challenge gaining participants a different number of entries into the prize draw depending on what’s involved. It can be as easy completing a 10-minute survey on managing BVD in New Zealand, spending an hour with your veterinarian to build a BVD management plan for the 2019/2020 season, testing beef calves at weaning to receive a free herd screening test, or exploring the impacts of national BVD control through new interactive online tools. 

Dr Gates says the challenges are a way of getting more farmers directly involved in designing a strategy that will have the biggest long-term benefits for New Zealand.

“Two of the key research questions we have been tackling over the past year are understanding what impact BVD is currently having on New Zealand cattle herds and what the future could look like under different possible national control scenarios. Many farmers and veterinarians are already doing great work in managing BVD in their herds. We want to acknowledge that and use their experience to help develop resources that will make it easier for industry to have a bigger long-term impact on BVD.”

The team will present the project findings to farmers, veterinarians and industry professionals in July 2019. 

Dr Carolyn Gates

About the campaign

BVD is an infectious cattle disease which costs New Zealand farmers an estimated $150 million per year which, when divided by the number of cattle herds in New Zealand, equates to approximately $4,000 each, which is the value of our first-place prize draw. Primarily these costs are associated with reproductive issues, reduced growth rates and decreased milk production. Infected animals are also much more likely to fall ill from other significant diseases and spread these within and between herds.

Cattle farmers can register on the project website, which includes interactive tools that make it easy for farmers to work in partnership with their veterinarian to develop a new BVD management plan tailored to their unique herd situation and confidentially share what they are currently doing to manage BVD in their herds.

This information will then be used by the research team to build computer simulation models to predict what the future of BVD in New Zealand might look like if the current voluntary approach is continued, versus adopting more coordinated national control efforts.

The results from the computer simulation models will be presented back to farmers and industry in July 2019 allowing them to choose a strategy with the biggest long-term benefits for New Zealand cattle businesses.

For more information and to get involved, visit the project website.