23 May 2019 at 9:00 am

US student helps South Dunedin tackle climate challenge

23 May 2019


Pioneering academic researcher, Fox Meyer, has won a government innovation grant to support his bid to solve a harbour water issue that South Dunedin is likely to face as the climate changes.

“South Dunedin is in trouble and I want to help,” said Fox.

A United States BSc student at Otago University, Fox is looking at how South Dunedin's geology will change over time and respond to dramatic events such as earthquakes.

“South Dunedin is built on reclaimed land, meaning the land had to be significantly modified by humans to accommodate our support infrastructure and housing,” said Fox. 

“Instead of trying to deny ground water its natural course, I’ve set out to help explain how to balance living in South Dunedin while allowing that water to flow freely beneath our feet.”

Fox’s research earned him a Think New Grant, administered by Education New Zealand (ENZ). The $5000 grant supports international students working on innovative research or study projects in New Zealand.

Along with his supervisor, Associate Professor Virginia Toy, Fox is planting water sensors in Otago Harbour, allowing him to monitor what the water quality is like before it enters south Dunedin. This will provide critical information on how water flows between the inner harbour and the porous sediments of South Dunedin.

“The earth is in a challenging position, with significant change happening. The big question is – how should we continue to interact with our planet? Fox’s project addresses a number of human/earth interactions,” said Dr Toy.

The pair currently have three sensors and will use the grant to purchase more, which will expand the scope of the project.

“If we learn something from this, hopefully other cities may jump on board – this is an important geological issue,” said Fox. 

The exploratory Dunedin research complements an existing project funded by crown research institutes, local authorities, business and universities to monitor water levels and see how they reflect the rise and fall of the tide.

ENZ’s Chief Executive, Grant McPherson, said Fox’s application was a stand-out entry in a very strong field.

“We had wide range of impressive entries, it was extremely difficult to choose the winner,” said Grant.

“In order to create a better future for New Zealand, we need new approaches and solutions. Our education system, and Kiwi culture more generally, encourages creativity, innovation and critical thinking – and this brings some exceptional international students here to help us with this.”

Dr Toy echoed this sentiment, highlighting the valuable role that international students play in stretching the thinking of domestic students.

“International students bring new ideas, cultures and life experiences. They make us realise we’re part of a bigger world and encourage us to question ourselves and our assumptions.

“New Zealand is less hierarchical than other countries, which many students find makes them feel free and empowered.”

A total of 2,732 international students from the US studied at New Zealand universities in 2017, up nine percent on 2016. 

New Zealand has the third highest share of international PhD students in the OECD – 48 percent compared to the 26 percent average.

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