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.


$300k for Massey health projects

Source: Massey University

(Left) Associate Professor Vyacheslav Filichev, Professor Geoff Jameson, and Dr Tracy Hale

Two Massey projects have received a combined $300,000 to study the mental health of Māori women and a new model for studying cancer biology and regenerative medicine.

Dr Natasha Tassell-Matamua, of the School of Psychology, and a team from the School of Fundamental Sciences, were two of the fifteen projects to be granted funding. Each will receive $150,000 as part of the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Explorer Grants.

The Explorer Grant scheme seeks to attract and fund transformative research ideas with the potential for major impact on healthcare.

Interpretation of anomalous experiences: Implications for wāhine Māori

An indigenous framework to assess mental health diagnoses is at the centre of this study to determine why a disproportionate number of Māori women are diagnosed with mental illness.

Principal investigator for the two-year study, Dr Natasha Tassell-Matamua, is leading a research team of four Māori women – three clinical psychologists and one professional clinician – from the School of Psychology for the study, entitled Interpretation of anomalous experiences: Implications for wāhine Māori.

The team will create a series of hypothetical case studies – based on real world examples – that could be interpreted as abnormal from a clinical psychology perspective, or as extraordinary or unusual from a lay perspective. They will present the case studies to both Māori and non-Māori women to see how they interpret the experiences in the case studies.

Dr Tassell-Matamua says the team will focus on the Māori concept of pūrākau – meaning ‘incredible stories’ such as myths and legends, or what might be deemed spiritual experiences – as a way of introducing a cultural dimension into mental health. Her hope is that it may offer a more accurate way to understand the experiences of Māori women within the mental health system and potentially identify those who may not be getting the appropriate help.

Transforming the paradigm of functional genome organisation

The study team, comprised of Dr Tracy Hale, Associate Professor Vyacheslav Filichev and Professor Geoff Jameson, aim to explore the development of a new molecular model that may transform studies in areas such as cancer biology and regenerative medicine.

Dr Hale says, “Heterochromatin Protein 1α (HP1α) is a major architectural protein that organises the genome into highly compact domains of heterochromatin, preventing access to certain genomic locations. Maintaining this organisation is essential for normal cellular function, as its disruption is implicated in cancer and ageing. However, the current paradigm of genome organisation is still primitive as it does not address the existence of non-canonical DNA structures.

“We hypothesise that the interaction of HP1α with non-canonical DNA structures is a key determinant of heterochromatin architecture, and will employ structurally sensitive techniques to propose a new molecular model of heterochromatin formation.”


Potato study needs you

Source: Massey University

Sarah Ross is on the hunt for potato lovers.

Fancy yourself a potato connoisseur? The Massey University Food Experience and Sensory Testing Lab (FEAST), and Plant & Food Research, are looking for potato eaters to participate in a potato flavour sensory trial in Palmerston North next month.

The project, being run by Masters student Sarah Ross, requires 120 potato lovers to come in for two one-hour sessions and provide feedback on the flavour of cooked potatoes. Although the project is targeting gourmet potato consumers, all potato lovers, between the ages of 18 and 65, are invited to take part.

Miss Ross says although a lot of dedicated potato fans have been in contact, many more are still needed.

“We would really appreciate you getting in touch. And if the extra calories are a concern, participants will only be consuming a total of 3 potatoes over the course of the trial.”

The trial is being run during the day at Massey University’s Manawatū campus from the 9 -12 April 2019. Participants will also receive a small token of appreciation for their time. 

If you are interested email Sarah Ross.


Massey’s workshops open to AgTech Hackathon

Source: Massey University

Massey will be helping young innovators turn their ideas into reality.

Massey University will be opening its laboratories and workshops for the AgTech Hackathon this Friday and Saturday.

A hackathon asks people from information technology and software development backgrounds to work with groups to solve a problem through the creation of usable software or hardware. The AgTech Hackathon, delivered in conjunction with NZ Agrifood Week, brings together these specialists in groups of three or four to work with real farmers and industry experts on one of four challenges.

Over 1.5 days, the teams then build their solutions, with a pool of mentors helping to validate and develop the solution.

The challenges this year will include:

  • How can we enable farmers to incorporate leaf stage into their pasture management decisions?

  • How can we use technology to efficiently and accurately monitor and report on water quality?

  • How can we leverage technology to train/upskill farm workers and potentially attract new workers to farming?

  • And the biggest problem in pasture-based animal farming, how can pasture utilisation be optimised?

Part of Massey’s sponsorship includes opening its workshops up to participants so they can create some of their ideas, working with Massey technicians to use 3D printers, laser cutters, electronic laboratories and much more.

Last year’s winning ideas included a platform for data storage and transmission, using blockchain technology on farm and a prototype with sensors that alerted farmers when there was a fault in water flows to reduce water wastage.

Massey Bachelor of Engineering with Honours (Mechatronics) graduate Mitchell Coleman was one of last year’s winners, working with local agritech company Levno. Coleman is now an embedded software engineer at the company, developing an idea to detect leaks in farm water troughs.

The Hackathon was collaboratively founded by Microsoft, BCC, Manawatu-Rangitikei Federated Farmers, Accelerate 25, Future Institutes and New Zealand AgriFood Week.

The award ceremony and expo will be at Central Districts Fieldays by the Start Tent (by the food courts),on Saturday, beginning at 1pm.


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. 


Workshop tackles international volcanic risks

Source: Massey University

An international group of volcanologists exploring New Zealand’s uniquie volcanic zone.

How accurately can we forecast the hazards and impacts of volcanic eruptions? How can we advance our computational modelling techniques to mitigate effectively against volcanic fatalities?

These were the questions volcanologists from across the globe were addressing, when they gathered in New Zealand in early January to debate and discuss the latest developments in volcanic hazard modelling, during the first international volcanic hazard benchmarking and validation exercise.

The International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) workshop was initiated and hosted by Associate Professor Gert Lube from Massey and his Physical Volcanology Group, thanks to a Marsden Fund grant.

It began with an official Māori welcome from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, with the first three days devoted to global volcano models. These were followed by field excursions to the Taupo caldera and Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, and a joint-eruption simulation at the Massey campus.

The main focus of the workshop was on pyroclastic flows – hot, fast-moving mixtures of particles and gas which form during volcanic eruptions and the most dangerous of volcanic phenomena. This was discussed in-depth during the workshop held at both the Tauhara Centre in Taupo and Massey’s Manawatū campus

Dr Lube says Massey is leading this area internationally through the University’s funded research programmes.

“The main objective of the workshop is the development of the international guidelines for modelling and mitigation of volcanic pyroclastic flow hazards. The international benchmark is a Massey-led initiative, in collaboration with American, and Italian volcanologists, to inter-compare, validate and advance existing and future hazard models globally,” he says.

“The workshop was attended by twenty of the global leaders in this field and assembled a mix of highly esteemed and emerging researchers. By establishing this workshop, we are now taking the next step to gather together experts to develop the work further and showcase Massey’s research to an international audience.”

Other objectives of the workshop included the advancement of novel volcano monitoring techniques between countries, facilitated through a joint large-scale eruption simulation at Massey where international researchers tested new sensor techniques, as well as identifying the future challenges in global volcanic hazard studies and strategic planning of large multi-national research programmes for the next 5-10 years to address these challenges. 

Safety around the world

Professor Michael Manga from the University of California, Berkeley, says the work is important for safety around the world.

“We would like to be able to predict where they [pyroclastic flows] go and their consequences, and to do so, we need models to help us make decisions. So, we are here to think about how to design better models, how to test those models. Validation and verification. There are two highlights. Personally, getting to see some of the most beautiful and amazing volcanic deposits is special. There’s nothing like seeing a real rock to understand how the earth works. Professionally, it’s the chance to work with some of my colleagues and see what’s going on here at Massey University,” he says.

“I think we have a vision that long-term we will forecast these flows and their consequences like we do the weather.”

Professor Greg Valentine from the University of Buffalo, New York, says, “We have got to the point now where everything we are doing in trying to understand volcanic eruptions is really inter-disciplinary, so it’s really necessary with people with expertise in different approaches and topics to talk together. This workshop has been really great for that.”

Attendees included Professor Michael Manga (University of California, Berkeley), Professor Joe Dufek (University of Oregon), Professor Greg Valentine (University of Buffalo), Professor Augusto Neri, Associate Professor Esposti-Ongaro and Dr Cerminara (INGV Pisa), Professor Roberto Sulpizio (University of Bari), Associate Professor Ulrich Küppers (University of Munich), Professor Gaku Ichihara and  Professor Takehiro Koyaguchi (University of Tokyo), Associate Professor Brittany Brand and Dr Nick Pollock (Boise State University), Dr Sanchez (University of Florence), Associate Professor Sylvain Charbonnier (University of Florida) and Associate Professor Olivier Roche (Universite Blaise-Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand).


Student helps create craft beer with gin

Source: Massey University

Massey student Tash Snowball Kui and Lila, the Juniper Wit beer she helped create

Most students leave their summer internship with new skills or knowledge or maybe even a job offer, but Tash Snowball Kui gets to leave with a beer she helped create.

Studying a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours (Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering), Miss Kui landed a summer role with Taranaki Gin Distillery, BeGin, researching how the water by-product from BeGin’s distilling process, could be used to create a beer.

The Belgian Wit was released on January 5 by Three Sisters Brewery, named “Lila”, after the largest of BeGin’s copper stills. It is currently in five stores around Taranaki, with plans to produce more batches later in the year for further distribution.

Miss Kui says that people’s reactions to the beer have been amazing.

“It’s the first-ever gin / beer that I have heard of in New Zealand. As a student, to make something, it’s pretty amazing. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life so far.

“At the start we started off with just the still-water, which is the by-product that comes out of the distillation and then we ran some tests on it to see if there were any starches that could be used for fermentation for beer. We found some, so we decided to do a trial brew batch. The trial batch was quite zesty, quite orangey and a real light summer beer, which was different from the final batch. Which was surprising as when we increased the amount that we made, it changed the flavours, so we added gin and juniper berries to it as well and got a whole new flavour.”

“It is such an achievement because I’ve never really done anything like this. I’m being able to do something I love and learn new things, other than just learning the theory of it at university.”

BeGin’s Dave James, Jo James and Tash Snowball Kui, and Three Sister’s owner Joe Emans; Tash Snowball Kui.

From idea to beer

The initial idea came from BeGin owners, Jo and Dave James, who have a strong commitment to sustainability in their business. 

Jo James says that they try to find alternative uses for the by-products of their signature Juno gin. 

“When you are making gin, you end up with solid and liquid material at the end. The solid material is the juniper berries, which goes to a local chocolatier Giles who makes Juno Gin truffles, which are delicious. But we hadn’t found a home for the liquids and it was a discussion with the beermakers at the Auckland Food Show where we came up with the idea. Because it’s had all this juniper through it, it’s got starches and sugars, could we use that to ferment and make a beer? We didn’t know, so we were really looking for someone who could take that project on and run with it. “We had an application for an internship from Tash who said her interest were brewing, so it was a no-brainer.”

“The beer is delicate, refreshing and delicious — a perfect middle ground upon which craft beer and gin enthusiasts alike can get excited.”


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.


Model for improving campylobacter management

Source: Massey University

Massey PhD student Jing Liao

A refined model for understanding the source of campylobacter infections may be a key management tool for public health officials around the world.

The pathogen campylobacter, which causes the gastrointestinal infection campylobacteriosis, is the most frequently notified enteric disease in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health, and places an incredible stress on the public health system. An outbreak of campylobacteriosis in Havelock North in 2016, caused around 5,500 out of 14,000 residents to become ill.

Massey University PhD student Jing Liao says in recent years, the rates have dramatically reduced, thanks in part to the guidance provided by statistical models, however, New Zealand’s rate is still high by international standards.

“Understanding the source of infection, including drinking contaminated water, eating undercooked animal food products, or handling food products contaminated by animal faeces, is essential for the implementation of control measures. By modelling the potential sources and pathways of infections, you gain the ability to identify where the highest risks are and where interventions will do the most good.

“It provides timely and accurate data on high-risk areas for public health officials to guide efforts,” she says.

For example, in 2005-07, the models identified high-rates of campylobacteriosis cases attributable to poultry. This allowed the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (now the Ministry for Primary Industries) and the poultry industry to intervene with measures such as improving slaughter and processing, to reduce levels of contamination.

Currently scientists use a range of models to help distinguish between different animal sources of human infection, Ms Liao says. “This includes the asymmetric island model; a statistical source attribution model which uses microbial genetic data and evolutionary processes.”

However, she adds, a key question for scientists is whether these complex genetic models yield superior attribution results compared to simpler, non-genetic models, and whether the models can be improved to include risk factor information on individual human cases. “Simpler non-genetic models can help to test model assumptions that underpin the more complex genetic models, but they may not perform well under certain conditions.”

The research used surveillance data on campylobacteriosis gathered in New Zealand’s Manawatū region between 2005-14. The team compared the asymmetric island model with an adaption of the Dirichlet model, a genetic-free model, to determine whether it could guide management with the same success as the other model.

The comparison found that the simpler model proved just as robust as the more complex model for identifying the source of common human strains of Campylobacter, but did not perform as well for rare strains. However, if the majority of infections are caused by highly observed strains, the simpler model may be fit for purpose and has the advantage of being quicker to implement.

The study found strong differences between rural and urban populations in Manawatū, with those living in highly rural areas much more likely to get campylobacteriosis from mammals, while poultry was the predominant source in urban settings.

A poster about the work

Future work

Ms Liao says the research is promising, but there are more areas to explore.


One future direction is to adapt the models with additional risk factors, which might include age, occupation, and contact with animals. For example, there is evidence that children in rural areas are at higher risk of campylobacteriosis through contact with farm animals.

“Another direction is in expanding the role of water. In these models, we have assumed that water is a source of human campylobacteriosis infection, but water differs from the other food and environmental sources in that it is not an amplifying reservoir for Campylobacter. While there is presently little evidence that water is an important source for human campylobacteriosis from the current models, these are fitted to data on sporadic cases of campylobacteriosis. However, as the residents of Havelock North are well-aware, water is known as a key source of outbreaks of campylobacteriosis.

“Characterising the source of Campylobacter found in water has important implications for both water quality and public health,” she adds.

Ms Liao says the research also represents the results gained from interdisciplinary collaboration in the area.

“This work took the cooperation of not only a number of organisations in the health and agriculture sectors, but also a lot of scientific disciplines. Modelling zoonoses [infectious diseases that can be naturally transmitted between animals] requires an advanced approach with the focus changed from just epidemiology to a combination of epidemiology, evolutionary genetics and biology.”

Extending statistical models for source attribution of zoonotic diseases: A study of campylobacteriosis, was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Ms Jing Liao was co-supervised by Professor Martin Hazelton, Dr Jonathan Marshall and Distinguished Professor Nigel French. The work was funded by Massey’s Infectious Disease Research Centre, School of Fundamental Sciences and the New Zealand Food Safety Science & Research Centre (NZFSSRC), with support from MidCentral Public Health Services, Massey’s Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory for data collection, and the Ministry for Primary Industries. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Cras tincidunt nonummy quam. Praesent auctor sapien at massa. Duis pellentesque condimentum nunc.


Climate-related coral research inspires artwork

Source: Massey University

One of the painted works by Viv Kepes, Absolute (2019) oil on linen, 1100 x 1100mm [Credit: Mitchell Bright].

Fragments of coral collected by Massey University scientists have inspired a Christchurch artist to create an exhibition of paintings, with the exhibition opening this weekend.

Christchurch-based artist, Viv Kepes, visited Massey laboratories in Auckland last year, taking hundreds of photos of small coral fragments collected from Rangitahua (the Kermadec Islands), which lie 1000 km northeast of the North Island of New Zealand. She then used these photographs as inspiration for a suite of painted works.

Kepes was captivated by the perfection of the delicate, repeating, and gradually changing organic forms in the coral’s skeletal structures. She was drawn to share their presence and beauty to a wider audience through her artwork. She also wanted to support the important role of the pristine Rangitahua marine sanctuary, and the research being conducted there to protect these modest creatures.

The coral was collected by Massey’s Dr David Aguirre and Dr Libby Liggins, during expeditions in 2015, 2016, and 2017 when they gathered samples from several species of coral found around Rangitahua. The coral fragments no longer have their colourful soft tissue but have been prepared so that the skeletal structures can be observed. The same organic forms in which the artist found beauty have been intricately measured by the scientists to help understand the corals.

Dr David Aguirre prepares to take a small coral sample at Dougal rock, Raoul Island [Credit: Crispin Middleton].

Research meets art

Dr Aguirre says they collected the coral to better understand the unique adaptations that allow corals to survive in this isolated, rugged place.

“Coral reefs around the world are under the immediate threat of global climate change, and in particular, a phenomenon known as ‘coral bleaching’,” Dr Aguirre says. “Increases in ocean temperatures trigger a cascade of physiological reactions within the tissue of the coral that causes corals to lose their resplendent coloration, and instead adopt a sickly bleached appearance resulting in starvation.”

“Coral bleaching has never been studied in Rangitahua. Ultimately we want to calibrate their potential to endure the global climatic changes predicted in the future.”

Kepes will be showing the paintings, created as part of her Masters’ in Fine Arts at Canterbury University, at her upcoming exhibition Remember Me. Rangitahua’s Treasure in Christchurch in February, with Dr Aguirre and Dr Liggins attending the opening. She will also publish a book to support the painted works. She has also been supported by Ngati Kuri, Mana Wheuna of Rangitahua (Kermadecs).

The show opens at PG Gallery (192 Bealey Ave, Christchurch) on Feb 18 at 5.30pm and will run for a month.