Physical Geography Research

physical-geography-collage.jpg Physical geography is the study of the natural features and processes operating at the Earth’s surface and their impacts on, and interaction with, human society. Our research focuses on fluvial, slope and coastal geomorphology, Quaternary biogeography, and environmental change. Geomorphic research has a “mountains to sea” theme, which recognises the landscape connections between slopes, rivers and coasts.

We publish GeoScience, a Working Paper series that publishes work in progress and serves as a means to publish preliminary findings, often in association with taught postgraduate work.

For more information about our research activity, select individual researchers' names below.

Our expertise

Fluvial processes

Research in fluvial processes focuses on river channel dynamics and sediment flux; alluvial histories and catchment response to environmental change; slope-channel coupling and catchment connectivity. Pure research in these areas is applied to address river managment issues. 

Contact Dr Ian Fuller
Contact Professor Mark Macklin


Coastal processes

We research the processes that drive changes in New Zealand's coastal landscapes. This encompasses changes driven by contemporary coastal processes, such as coastal erosion, to longer-term changes such as Late Quaternary coastal evolution driven by changes in global sea level.

Contact Dr Alastair Clement


Slope processes

In young, tectonically active landscapes like New Zealand, landslides are the dominant form of erosion. They can modify the landscape both gradually or dramatically, and affect infrastructure and communities. To reduce their impact we investigate the physical, environmental, and anthropomorphic conditions that bring about slope instability and change over human and geological timescales.

Contact Dr Sam McColl



Palynology (the science of pollen) is an inter-disciplinary science that combines geography, earth science, plant biology and ecology. Massey houses a world-class palynology laboratory that uses pollen from ancient sediments to reconstruct past environmental change.

Contact Dr Kat Holt



Biogeography is the study of the distribution of living things across the earth. It draws on many scientific disciplines including ecology, biology, plate tectonics, statistics and molecular biology. We specialise in reconstructing past biogeography to understand how factors like climate change and natural and anthropogenic disturbance have modified the environment.   

Contact Dr Kat Holt


River solutions

We study hydrology, geomorphology and ecology to maintain water quality and quantity in our waterways while balancing ecological and human needs. Massey’s Innovative River Solutions research centre brings together research skills in physical geography, ecology, hydrology, soil science, and Geographic Information Systems to solve water-management issues.

Contact Dr Ian Fuller

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Solving the mystery of Easter Island

Renowned for its towering Moai statues, Easter Island has presented one of the greatest mysteries of our time. What happened to the people who built its massive statues? Why are there no trees on the island? The answers to these questions have now largely been answered, thanks to pollen.

Emeritus Professor John Flenley has devoted a considerable part of his research career to unraveling the vegetation and environmental history of this mysterious east Pacific island.

Professor Flenley collected sediment cores from several volcanic craters on the island, and extracted the pollen from them. This showed that the island once supported an extensive palm forest, which was progressively removed following the arrival of humans. Without trees, the island’s soils became degraded and were no longer productive, and the civilization fell.

Easter Island is now regarded as a microcosm for our own planet, and serves as a warning of the dangers of overexploitation of the environment.

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