Professor David J Lowe

David Lowe

Professor in Earth Sciences

Qualifications: BSc MSc PhD Waikato FRSNZ FNZSSS Hon Life Fellow INQUA

Personal Website:

About David

David has published widely in a range of disciplines centred on tephra and its derivatives (such as weathered sequences or soils), including tephrochronology, pedology and paleopedology, Quaternary science, soil stratigraphy, soil and clay mineralogy, geochronology, paleolimnology, geoarchaeology, landsliding, and geohazards. With more than 200 refereed publications in scientific journals or books (including 25 book chapters) to his name, and a co-written text book recently published on "The Soils of Aotearoa New Zealand" (see below). David has undertaken research in New Zealand, Antarctica (Darwin Mountains, Britannia Range, Churchill Mountains), South Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K. He also has field experience in Taiwan, Ireland, France, Germany, Romania, Santorini (Greece), Switzerland, western U.S.A. (eight states including Alaska and Hawaii), and Fiji.


  • Published a comprehensive text "The Soils of Aotearoa New Zealand" (332 pp) with Drs Allan Hewitt and Megan Balks in February 2021 (published by Springer, Cham, Switzerland), the first such text for more than 30 years in New Zealand. Part of Springer's World Soils Book Series (
  • Co-authored the first formal tephra characterisation database ("TephraNZ") for New Zealand based on analyses of rhyolitic glass shards from 23 proximal and 27 distal tephra samples that characterise 45 eruptive episodes since Ma
  • Co-authored a substantial review of tephrochronology in Aotearoa New Zealand (for a special issue on 'Volcanism in New Zealand' for forthcoming international volcanology conference in New Zealand planned for Jan-Feb 2023)
  • Elected a Life Member of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science, December 2020
  • Co-editor of “Tephrochronology as a global geoscientific research tool”, Journal of Quaternary Science 35 (1/2), 1-379, 2020
  • On editorial boards of six international journals, some since mid-2000s: Journal of Quaternary Science, Quaternary Geochronology, Quaternary International, Quaternary, Frontiers in Earth Science (Volcanology), and Journal of NZ and Pacific Studies
  • Awarded Earthquake Commission (EQC) funding for project “Paleoseismology of the newly discovered Te Puninga Fault, Hauraki Plains”, 2019 (AI)
  • Awarded (i) MBIE Endeavour Fund (Smart Idea) and (ii) Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden Grant funding for complementary projects "Evaluating earthquake risk using liquefied ash-layers in lakes’’ and "Earth-shaking insight from liquefied volcanic-ash layers in lakes using", respectively, relating to newly-discovered hidden faults in the Hamilton lowlands, 2019/2020 (PI)
  • Ranked in top 1% most influential scientists worldwide based on six measures of impact, both long-term and in 2018
  • Elected an Honorary Life Member of the International Focus Group on Tephrochronology and Volcanism (INTAV), 2018
  • Co-editor of “Advancing tephrochronology as a global dating tool: applications in volcanology, archaeology, and palaeoclimatic research”, Quaternary Geochronology 40, 1-145, 2017
  • Awarded Earthquake Commission (EQC) funding for project “Hidden tephras in Waikato lakes and peats”, 2016 (PI)
  • Editor of Chapter 11 “Climate Swings and Roundabouts” of award-winning text “A Continent on the Move: New Zealand geoscience revealed, 2nd edition”, published by the Geoscience Society of NZ with GNS Science, 2015
  • Elected an Honorary Life Fellow of the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), 2015
  • Co-editor of “Enhancing tephrochronology and its application (INTREPID project): Hiroshi Machida commemorative volume”, Quaternary International 246, 1-395, 2011
  • Awarded McKay Hammer Award of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, 2011
  • Awarded "Editor's Citation of Excellence for Associate Editors", Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2011
  • Elected Fellow of Royal Society of New Zealand (FRSNZ), 2010
  • Awarded Marsden Fund grant for 3-year project "New views from old soils" on ancient DNA and carbon sequestration in buried volcanic-ash soils and paleosols in the North Island, 2010 (PI)
  • Ron McDonald Memorial Lecture Award, Australian Society of Soil Science (Queensland Branch), 2009
  • Scientific/technical co-editor of “A Continent on the Move”, Geoscience Society of NZ with GNS Science, 2008 (winner of best book award ‘Environment Category’, Montana NZ Book Awards, 2009)
  • Co-editor of “Global Tephra Studies: John Westgate and Andrei Sarna-Wojcicki Commemorative Volume”, Quaternary International 178, 1-320, 2008
  • Elected representative for Quaternary research in NZ and delegate for the International Union for Quaternay Research (INQUA) on behalf of Royal Sociey of NZ, 2007-2019
  • Associate editor for Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2006-2011, and editorial advisor for NZ Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 2004-2009
  • Elected Fellow of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science (FNZSSS), 2002
  • Norman Taylor Memorial Lecture Award, New Zealand Society of Soil Science, 2002
  • Awarded Fellowships of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science for lecture tour of Japan in 2010 and 2000 (PI)

Papers Taught

Research Supervised

David has taken up a part-time appointment from January 2021 and in general is now teaching only in graduate papers (in volcanology and soil resources and risks) and supervising research students associated mainly with his MBIE and Marsden-funded projects on paleoseismicity in the Hamilton lowlands, and an EQC-funded project on Te Puninga Fault. Previously he taught in soil-science and pedology papers at year-2 and -3 level and contributed to year-1 papers by co-leading associated field trips. David contributes to field trips associated with Tauranga-based students (with Dr Shari Gallop) including a new trip along the Bay of Plenty coast to the Rangitaiki Plains 2020 and 2021.

David has jointly-supervised more than 70 postgraduates to completion, being chief supervisor for more than half of these. Two of David's PhD students (Fieldes Award) and six of his MSc students (Rigg Award) have been awarded the top prizes of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science for their outstanding research. Another former student (Dr Maria Gehrels, then at Plymouth University, UK) was awarded the Pullar-Vucetich Prize (2008) of the Geological Society of New Zealand for her research on cryptotephras. Relatively recent (since mid-2000s) or current PhD and MSc students supervised or co-supervised by David are given below.

PhD (since 2004)

  • Garova, Elena (2021 - enrollment pending) Using liquefied lacustrine tephra layers to evaluate paleoearthquakes and seismic hazard in the Hamilton lowlands (supported by Marsden Fund)
  • McBride, Rowan (2020 onging).The chronology of Waikato wetland pā (supported by Marsden Fund grant to Prof Alan Hogg)
  • Chaneva, Jordanka (2020 ongoing) Geotechnical properties and palaeoseismic implications of liquefied lacustrine ash-layers, Hamilton Basin (supported by MBIE Endeavour and Marsden Funds)
  • Robertson, Thomas (Tom) (2018 ongoing). Sensitive soils derived from rhyolitic tephras and landsliding, Bay of Plenty (part time).
  • Prentice, Marlena (2018 ongoing). Volcanism of the Tauranga and Kaimai volcanic centres: supereruptions at the dawn of the modern TVZ (partly supported by Western Australia Skeptics)
  • Dr Yousefzadeh, Elhamy (Eli) (2020). Ongatiti Ignimbrite and its emplacement: textures, mechanism, and distribution.
  • Dr Ratcliffe, Joshua (Joss) (2020) . Carbon accumulation and decay rates in pristine and disturbed Waikato restiad peatlands.
  • Dr Huang, Yu-Tuan (Doreen) (2015). Studies on carbon and DNA preservation in allophanic soils and paleosols on Holocene tephras in New Zealand (supported by Marsden Fund).
  • Dr Gehrels, Maria (2009, Plymouth University). An enhanced ~1800-year record of recent volcanic ash-fall events in northern New Zealand from analysis of cryptotephra.
  • Dr Palmer, David (2008). Development of national extent terrain attributes (TANZ), soil water balance surfaces (swatbal), and environmental surfaces, and their application for spatial modelling of Pinus radiata productivity across New Zealand (supported by 'Bright Futures' scholarship).
  • Dr Jones, Haydon (2004). Impacts of forest harvesting on performance of soil-landscape modelling in a radiata pine forest, northern New Zealand (supported by SCION Rotorua).

MSc or MSc(Research) (since 2006)

  • Hughes, Joshua (2021 ongoing from mid-year): Late Quaternary history and possible activity of Te Puninga Fault, Morrinsville area (supported by EQC and Marsden Fund)
  • Gibbons, Vittoria (2021) Geotechnical properties and soils of fault in Hillcrest, Hamilton.
  • Ross, ChrisAnne (2020). Volcanology and secondary alteration of the 1.6 Ma Ngaroma Ignimbrite, upper Waipari Valley.
  • Robertson, Tom (2017) Role of chemical composition in sensitive soils and landsliding, Tauranga.
  • McKay, Aleesha (2017) Using pedological soil maps to aid assessment of liquefaction in Hinuera Formation
  • Kapasi, Aliasgar(2016) Volcanology of the basaltic lava succession within the Auckland pit of the Bombay Quarry, Bombay Volcanic Complex, South Auckland Volcanic Field
  • Loame, Remedy (2016). Using a tephrostratigraphic framework to determine the past 40,000 yrs of rupture and paleohydrothermal activity on the east strand of the Whirinaki Fault, Ngakuru Graben, central Taupo Volcanic Zone.
  • Noyes, Adrea (2016). Soil recovery on landslides in hill country at Whatawhata Research Station, western Waikato, New Zealand.
  • Kleyburg, Melissa (2015). Palaeoliquefaction in Late Pleistocene alluvial sediments in the Hauraki and Hamilton basins.
  • Laubscher, Nadia (2014). Improvement in soil water availability in pastures by excavating and mixing buried soil horizons from multilayered Pumice Soils (Vitrands) at Galatea, central North Island, New Zealand.
  • Heaphy, Marie (2013). Assessing drivers of plantation forest productivity on eroded versus non-eroded soils on hilly and steep land in eastern North Island, New Zealand: from catchment to regional scale.
  • Foster, Courtney (2013). Palaeolimnology of Adelaide Tarn, a ~14,000-year-old low-alpine glacial lake, northwestern South Island, New Zealand.
  • Cunningham, Michael (2012). Sensitive rhyolitic pyroclastic deposits in the Tauranga region: mineralogy, geomechanics and microstructure of peak and remoulded states.
  • Lanigan, Kerri (2012). Characterisation and paleoclimatic signals within tephric loess deposits aged between c.33 to 9.5 cal ka in the Rotorua area, northern New Zealand.
  • Hainsworth, Sharn (2011). Properties and distribution of soils on the Ruataniwha Plains, Hawke's Bay: a new approach integrating classical and digital mapping techniques.
  • Wyatt, Justin (2009). Sensitivity and clay mineralogy of weathered tephra-derived soil materials in the Tauranga region.
  • Pickett, Rachel (2008). A tephra-dated record of palaeoenvironmental change since c. 5,500 years ago from Lake Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand.
  • Cole-Baker, Jeremy (2006). Sedimentology and tephrochronology of Late-Glacial and Holocene lake sediments and peats, Westland, South Island.


  • Linehan, James (2015). Distribution of soils in the Southern Hawke’s Bay Greywacke Foothills Land System.

Research Interests

  • Tephrochronology, the characterisation, dating, and stratigraphic correlation of tephra (or volcanic ash) and cryptotephra deposits and their application to linking, synchronizing and dating geological, paleoecological or archaeological deposits or events;
  • Pedology, the nature, genesis, distribution and classification of soils, and palaeopedology, the study of soils of landscapes or environments of the past, especially multi-layered soils in volcanic and pyroclastic-dominated landscapes where upbuilding pedogenesis occurs;
  • Mineralogy of soils formed in volcanic materials including studies of (i) allophane and its role in C sequestration and DNA adsorption, and (ii) halloysite and its morphology and association with landsliding;
  • Environmental change in the Quaternary: developing chronologies for the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments, including the impacts of humans (hence geoarchaeology), using environmental proxies at a range of time-scales and deposits since about 2.6 million years ago.
  • Developing research using liquefied lacustrine tephras (tephra seismites) as a new tool for evaluating prehistoric seismic activity on newly-discovered faults in the Hamilton lowlands and the potential impacts and hazards of such activity (Marsden Fund and MBIE Endeavour Fund projects) (see
  • Writing a text book on tephrochronology and its application (with Prof Nick Pearce)
  • Writing an introductory guide to managing and understanding epilepsy (published in 2021 by Hamilton-based Epilepsy Waikato Charitable Trust EWCT)

Further research information

Link to ResearchGate: David J. Lowe on ResearchGate

Recent Publications

  • Hewitt, A. E., Balks, M. R., & Lowe, D. (2021). The soils of Aotearoa New Zealand (1 ed.). Cham: Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from

  • Lowe, D., & Pittari, A. (2021). The Taupō eruption sequence of AD 232 +- 10 in Aotearoa New Zealand: a retrospection. Journal of Geography (Chigaku Zasshi), 130(1), 117-141. doi:10.5026/jgeography.130.117

  • Lowe, D. (2021). Introduction to the landscapes and soils of the Hamilton Basin and South Waikato: field notes. (pp. 1-36). School of Science, University of Waikato. Retrieved from

  • Richer-de-Forges, A. C., Lowe, D. J., Minasny, B., Adamo, P., Amato, M., Ceddia, M. B., . . . Arrouays, D. (2021). A review of the world's soil museums and exhibitions. In Advances in Agronomy (Vol. 166, pp. 277-304). Elsevier. doi:10.1016/bs.agron.2020.10.003

Find more research publications by David Lowe


Environmental Change; Geology; Natural Resources; Radiocarbon Dating; Science; Science Education; Volcanoes; Wetlands Environment

Andisols; volcanic-ash soils; tephra; cryptotephra; tephrochronology; tephrostatigraphy; pedology; soil stratigraphy; paleopedology; Quaternary science; paleolimnology; soil mineralogy; clay mineralogy; geochronology; volcanology; geoarchaeology; landsliding; natural hazards; geohazards; Waikato region; New Zealand

Contact Details

Email: [email protected]
Room: DE.3.02
Phone: Use cell phone
Cellphone: +64 21 027 727 07
Fax: +64 7 838 4352