Cumberland Lecture | Telling tales from the riverbank - shining new light on rivers with emerging technologies Event as iCalendar

15 November 2018

1 - 2:30pm

Venue: OGH Lecture Theatre - 102-G36

Location: 24 Symonds Street

Professor James Brasington
Professor James Brasington

Telling tales from the riverbank: shining new light on rivers with emerging technologies

Concern over the degraded state of New Zealand’s rivers has, in recent years, developed rapidly from a parochial academic concern into a public outcry.  While the beginning of a national conversation over the health of our rivers is welcome, this debate has so far, centred largely on the impact of excess nutrients on our waterways. 

In this paper, I argue that this myopic perspective blinkers us from the wider harm that results from the engineered straightjacket we have placed around our rivers.  By locking them rigidly into position between stopbanks and impounding their headwaters, we risk the creation of ‘zombie’ rivers that lack the natural dynamism and diversity of form and character necessary for healthy ecosystems to thrive. 

The call to address this by establishing ‘freedom space’ for our rivers is now well-rehearsed within what are arguably more challenging, densely populated areas of Europe, yet has largely failed to gain traction in New Zealand.  I will argue that we need urgently, to re-evaluate the environmental and cultural resources we have lost by hamstringing our rivers in this way, while we continue to search for technical fixes that allow for yet further agricultural expansion and intensification. 

Using a series of examples, I aim to show how emerging technologies have the potential to provide quantitative insights into the shifting pattern of our fluvial landscapes and used to support new data-rich pathways to recover our rich riverine heritage.

James is an outstanding Geographer, with a very interesting track record. A brief synopsis of his career is provided below:

Speaker | Professor James Brasington, University of Waikato

James Brasington is the inaugural holder of the Waikato Regional Council Chair of River Science at the University of Waikato, a post he took up by moving to New Zealand from the UK in late 2017.  He is a geomorphologist with interests in the processes that control the form, structure and function of rivers and their catchments.  His research seeks to synthesize technological advances in environmental sensing and numerical modelling to shed light on how rivers have changed in the past and may respond to a future shaped by a dynamic climate and shifting patterns of land-use.

James holds a BSc from the University of Bristol and read for his PhD at the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge.  He has held positions at the Universities of Cambridge, Wales and Queen Mary, University of London and worked extensively in New Zealand for over a decade.   His research has been supported extensively by UK Research Councils, charities and government departments, including an International Leverhulme Trust Fellowship at the University of Auckland in 2015.