Breadcrumbs

Beware the zombie river

18 July 2019

James Brasington web

New Zealanders are in danger of creating “zombie” rivers, not because of nutrient overloading, but because we’re locking our waterways into position between stopbanks and impounding their headwaters.

Professor James Brasington, inaugural holder of the Waikato Regional Council Chair of River Science at the University of Waikato, says we risk the creation of zombie rivers because too often we prevent them from finding their own course and treat them as a means to simply to get excess water out to sea as fast as possible.

He’ll be talking about his research as part of the University of Waikato Hamilton Public Lecture Series, on Tuesday 6 August.

Professor Brasington is a geomorphologist who researches the processes that control the form, structure and function of rivers and their catchments. “If we put our rivers into straight-jackets, they lose the diversity of form and process that are fundamental to the creation of thriving ecosystems,” he says. “Instead we should make space for rivers to erode their corridors, flood naturally in areas that are of less value which will in turn, reduce risks in more sensitive areas.  We must work with natural processes to reduce the flood risk and support healthy river ecosystems.”

James Brasington3

The river scientist is a pioneer of new technologies that are enabling him and his colleagues to collect novel datasets to better understand how rivers are formed and change over time. “We now can use remote sensing to capture the complex 3D structure of rivers. We use aerial surveys and satellites to create detailed models of rivers that capture the sand and gravel particles that shift and form them through time. This information helps us understand what drives the evolution of rivers through floods and how they create the complex mosaic of habitats within their floodplains.”

Professor Brasington’s research seeks to synthesise these technological advances with numerical models to shed light on how rivers might behave in a future shaped by a changing climate and shifting patterns of land use.

He joined the University of Waikato in late 2017 from Queen Mary University of London and has previously worked at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and the universities of Hull, Cambridge and Wales before that. His PhD focussed on catchment modelling in the Nepal Himalaya and since then he has worked on rivers in many mountain environments, including the European Alps and Pyrenees, the high Himalaya, the US Rockies and New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

His research has attracted competitive funding from a wide range of sponsors, including the UK Natural Environmental Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the US Department of Defence, UK and New Zealand government departments and their executive agencies, and a broad range of industrial partners. He recently returned from the Tibetan plateau where he and other scientists in an international team were studying the effects of overgrazing on soil erosion and river dynamics.

Professor Brasington’s lecture, Tales from the Riverbank: shining new light on riverscapes, takes place on Tuesday 6 August at 5.45pm in the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato.

Latest stories

Related stories

Waikato Volcanologist confirms volcano and secures international conference in 2019

University of Waikato volcanologist, Dr Adrian Pittari, led a team that recently found evidence confirming…

 Dr Alison Campbell

Science educator named Honorary Fellow by the University of Waikato

A long-standing University of Waikato academic and science communicator has been named an Honorary Fellow…

Leading Plant Physiologist Professor Margaret Barbour welcomed as Dean of Science at University of Waikato

Professor Margaret Barbour has been welcomed as the new Dean of Science at a whakatau…

Michèle Prinsep

Waikato academic ranked in top one per cent in the world for research citations

A University of Waikato researcher who identifies compounds in marine species which could be used…

Professor Troy Baisden

Professor named new president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS)

Professor Troy Baisden, who is based in School of Science at the University of Waikato,…

Sharna McCleary

Science student uses mushrooms to help clean up Whakatāne canal

Oyster mushrooms are helping to clean up an historically contaminated timber processing site in Whakatāne,…

Project to investigate earthquake frequency and activity on Hamilton’s faults

Newly discovered hidden faults in Hamilton, an area once thought devoid of any active faults,…

Award-winning Waikato student researching wave power for sustainable energy

A University of Waikato PhD student plans to harness the power of New Zealand’s coastlines…

Abbey Huriwai

Student focussed on sustainability with the aim of helping her iwi

A campaign to curb McDonald’s single use straws spurred Hamilton student Abbey Huriwai to study…

Lead researcher Prof Albert Bifet

Waikato Data Scientists awarded $13 million

Data scientists at the University of Waikato have been awarded $13 million from the Government.

Dr Lee Streeter

Time-of-flight researcher awarded by Royal Society

Dr Lee Streeter has solved a big problem in time-of-flight technology, improving the measurement of…

STEM Fest

Uni campus hosts STEM Festival in Tauranga

As a main sponsor of the country's first world-class STEM Festival (STEMFest) event, the University…