Research updates and news

Read the latest research updates and news from the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment.

Research updates

Advanced sensor technology for tracking woody debris (GMCNE project)
Advanced sensor technology for tracking woody debris (GMCNE project)

Advanced sensor technology for tracking woody debris

Primary investigator: Dr Heide Friedrich, Deputy Head, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Dr Heide Friedrich’s project is focussed on better understanding the interactions between sediment and large woody debris (LWD) trapped in our waterways.

“In New Zealand, the flow of many of our streams and rivers is influenced by the sediment and LWD [sometimes referred to as driftwood] from waste, bank erosion, forestry and other land use activities,” Dr Friedrich says.

“Wood jams lead to culverts and bridges being blocked and have a significant impact on property and road crossings.”

As part of the project PhD Engineering student Gabriel Spreitzer will be using new technology to track the way sediment and LWD moves through our waterways.

“Understanding the dynamics of how wood jams form and persist is important for design guidelines, managing the accumulation of sediment, as well as establishing what impacts it might have on habitats and infrastructure,” he says.

Much of the work will take place in the laboratory where natural scenarios can be simulated in a controlled environment. The team will model and scale the scenarios using either machined logs or real debris (small size) – and the observed processes can then be upsized to prototype scale.

“By controlling key variables such as water and sediment discharge, channel geometry, bridge alignment, and wood structure - and capturing the resulting data - we can gain some understanding of characteristic sequences of jam development and the statistical likelihoods of different types of jams,” explains Gabriel’s co-supervisor, Dr Jon Tunnicliffe from the School of Environment.

The knowledge gained through this research will allow the project team to better understand the risk natural hazards pose to New Zealand ecosystems. It will inform New Zealand’s freshwater and forestry management systems and help make New Zealand’s environmental infrastructure more resilient.

Dr Friedrich presented the preliminary research (on which this project is based) at the 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU)Fall Meeting in New Orleans, in December.

AGU's Fall Meeting is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world and serves as a platform for scientists to present and discuss cutting-edge research.


2017 Research projects

2017 marks the inaugural funding round for the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment.  The following projects have been funded:

  1. Plastic pollution and solutions
    Primary investigators: Kevin Simon, Gavin Lear
  2. Hilltop to Oceans: processes of change and mitigating impacts
    Primary investigators: Emily Douglas & Luitgard Schwendenmann, Caitlin Blain, Jenny Hillman
  3. Building public understandings of ecosystems
    Primary investigator: Maria Armoudian

Funding was also awarded to the following three seed projects:

  1. Advanced sensor technology for tracking woody debris
    Primary investigator: Heide Friedrich
  2. Developing metagenomics for pathogen surveillance in a threatened endemic bird
    Primary investigator: Alexander Knight
  3. Tackling global warming: methane emission from ruminant animals
    Primary investigator: Ivanhoe Leung


Inaugural funding for environmental research | 26 October 2017

Three University of Auckland-based environmental research projects have been awarded funding of more than $1 million from the new George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment. Read more and see details about the funded projects below.

Partnership with Foundation North | 5 September

An important partnership between The University of Auckland’s George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment and Foundation North was sealed in July. Read more.