Kate on the rocks

29 October 2015

Kate Mauriohooho
Kate Mauriohooho has been awarded two scholarships to assist her PhD study, which will take her to the big mountains on the Central Plateau.

Kate Mauriohooho is nuts about rocks. She’s just graduated at the University of Waikato with a Master of Science with first class honours and is embarking on a PhD.

Kate is especially interested in the changing nature of rocks and has been trialling sophisticated methods, traditionally used for mining, to characterise rocks in geothermal areas.

“It’s been so exciting applying geochemistry in this way,” she says. “Whereas once you needed to take rocks back to the lab for trace element analysis, we’ve been able to test newer, portable, advanced technology. Long term, this could have huge benefits, saving time and money for geothermal power companies as they can test and analyse on site, while they’re drilling.”

And there’s plenty of interest in Kate’s work. She had support from GNS, Contact Energy and an iwi trust during her masters study and, after presenting the results of her research at a geothermal conference, other power companies are also interested.

She says she wouldn’t have been able to do the research without her supervisor at the University of Waikato, Dr Shaun Barker, who was named New Zealand young geochemist of the year in 2014. He has a background in structural geology, geochemistry and economic geology and his research involves applications of new and emerging geochemical tools, including novel stable isotope analyses, to better understand hydrothermal systems.

“He suggested the same techniques used in the mining industry could be applied in geothermal fields and that’s what we did, with good results,” Kate says.

Over the years Kate has been awarded several scholarships to assist her study, including the Sir Hugh Kawharu Masters Scholarship for innovation in science and a University of Waikato summer research scholarship, which saw her helicoptered close to the Te Maari active vent responsible for the 2012 Tongariro eruptions, to determine the temperature of the pyroclastic surge and the hazard implications for users of the Tongariro Crossing.

And now Kate (Waikato, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Tuwharetoa) has two PhD scholarships – a Waikato University Doctoral Scholarship, which gives her $22,000 a year plus course fees, and most recently the university awarded her a Top Achiever Scholarship of $5000.

“Sometimes I think I must be crazy to carry on with more study, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love rocks. I’m in the process of planning some ways to get more young people to study science. When I was at school I didn’t know what opportunities were available, and had I known I would have started my study journey earlier,” Kate says. She worked as an engineering draughtsperson for four years before enrolling at Waikato University to study Earth Sciences.

While it’s early days in her PhD study, Kate, who has a fondness for volcanology, will return to the big mountains of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro where she plans to attach hyperspectral sensors to drones as part of her simultaneous study into slope failure on stratovolcanoes and mineral mapping over geothermal fields.