Student Profile: Jake Robinson
Nā Jake Robinson
Developing sediment fingerprinting techniques for the Whanganui catchment
A bit about me
Ko Ruapehu te Maunga
Ko Whanganui te Awa
Ko Atihaunui a Pāpārangi te iwi
Ko Te Pooti te Marae
Ko Jacob Robinson tōku ingoa
I was born in the small town of Raetihi where my passion for understanding the many processes in nature started. I remember that from a very early age I was always exploring the bush on my grandparents’ farm. However, it wasn’t until witnessing the 1995-1996 eruptions of Mt Ruapehu from our house that I first thought about pursuing a career in science. After leaving secondary school, I began working at the Tangiwai sawmill as a boiler operator. I then became a fisherman working off the Whanganui coast. At 26 I started my academic journey at Massey University where I studied Earth Science and then went on to complete an honours degree that investigated the history of lahar deposits on the south-western ring plain of Mt Ruapehu. I am currently at Massey University undertaking PhD research investigating sediment tracing in the Whanganui catchment.
An overview of my project
Every year more than 200 million tonnes of sediment washes down New Zealand’s rivers and into the sea. This is not only having a devastating impact on many fresh water ecosystems, but is also a major concern regarding the loss of land productivity. Land instability and flooding are two further challenges that continue to have increasingly negative impacts within the Whanganui area as well as other parts of the country. As a society that highly values its lakes and rivers, is affected by frequent storms and flood events and where the economy relies heavily on soil fertility, it is important that we strive to understand the underlying natural processes causing these issues and strive to understand how these processes may change into the future.
My project aims to investigate sediment fingerprinting techniques within the Whanganui catchment in order to gain insight into the movement of sediment through the system. Due to the inherent geological and geomorphological character of the Whanganui catchment, anthropogenic influences such as land use change have greatly exacerbated rates of erosion leading to increased suspended sediment entering streams and rivers. Sediment fingerprinting is a tool for evaluating sediment provenance, capable of directly quantifying sediment supply through differentiating sediment sources based on inherent geochemical signatures. Understanding the spatial origin and movement of suspended sediment is an important step in guiding sustainable management of the natural resources within the Whanganui catchment.
Another important component of my research is the incorporation of Mātauranga Māori. More than a millennium of occupation has embedded the Whanganui River and surrounding environment deep into the collective consciousness of Whanganui iwi. A substantial environmental knowledge base has accrued during this time and is contained in the forms of recitation of whakapapa, stories, proverbs, sayings, songs, cultural activities and tribal expressions. Incorporating mātauranga pūtaiao into this research presents an opportunity to study the catchment with a unique Māori perspective using methods that adhere to mātauranga ā-iwi principles and values. This indigenous knowledge base can provide holistic traditional and contemporary insights into the physical and spiritual phenomenon operating within the Whanganui catchment and will be a key component in developing effective research tools for this project and management strategies for the future.
Some of the key issues I hope to investigate with this research include enhancing our understanding of the spatial origin of sediment through investigating sub-catchment suspended sediment contributions over various time frames. I also want to develop techniques to analyse historical sediment flux regimes before and after arrival of Māori and European settlers using geochemical techniques on flood deposits. The incorporation of Mātauranga Māori is unique in this field of research and will ensure that the outcomes are relevant to tangata whenua and the wider community. To date, work in this area of research is very limited in the Whanganui catchment and within New Zealand. New approaches will be explored to expand upon the current literature relating to sediment fingerprinting techniques and sediment movement using the Whanganui catchment as a case study. After the completion of my research project, I hope to continue working in the Whanganui region with my iwi to achieve our aspirations as kaitiaki of the environment.