Physical geography research

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. Massey University's research in this area 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.

Research expertise


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.


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 millennial-scale coastal evolution driven by changes in global sea level.


Fluvial processes

Our research in fluvial processes focuses on river channel dynamics, and sediment flux, together with their interaction with freshwater ecology; alluvial histories and catchment response to environmental change.This includes understanding and extending flood histories; slope-channel coupling and catchment connectivity. Pure research in these areas is applied to address river management issues.



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. 


River solutions

We study hydrology, geomorphology and ecology to maintain water quality and quantity in our waterways while balancing ecological and human needs.


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 help manage their impacts we investigate the physical, environmental, and anthropomorphic conditions that bring about hillslope instability and change over human and geological timescales.



Find programmes with a research element, including the PhD.

Research degrees

Search for an expert

Search our staff database for an expert or area of expertise.

Expertise search

Research projects


Pollen database

The pollen database allows you to search for information on the morphology, pattern, location and shape of pollen from New Zealand and around the world.

Pollen database


Palynology laboratory

Palynology is the science of pollen. It brings together aspects of geography, earth science, plant biology and ecology.

Massey operates a world-class palynology laboratory for pollen analysis, where we have developed the Classifynder, a holistic automated pollen imaging and classification system.

Palynology laboratory

Meet our graduates

Research centres

Innovative River Solutions

The Innovative River Solutions Centre is a hub of expertise on river catchments and provides integrated solutions for the management of New Zealand’s dynamic river systems.

We have staff with expertise in several of the science disciplines within river catchments.

Innovative River Solutions

Departments and staff

Find out more about the departments and staff involved in physical geography research at Massey.

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