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A world-leading team of ocean chemistry scientists has been selected as the inaugural recipients of the University of Otago’s Research Group Award.
The new award, which goes to the collaborative NIWA-University of Otago Centre for Chemical and Physical Oceanography, recognises outstanding research performance at a high international level by a research group led from the University.
The Centre is a recognised world leader in the field of understanding of the chemistry of the oceans’ interactions with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Its internationally influential contributions include undertaking large-scale ocean fertilisation experiments in which iron triggered vast phytoplankton blooms that take up CO₂ from the air.
Findings from the Centre’s ground-breaking investigations into iron fertilisation have been published in numerous international peer-reviewed journals. Their analysis of the pitfalls of this and other forms of geo-engineering has also fed into international conferences on the subject and government decision making.
The Research Group Award is the latest accolade for the Centre, which last year received the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in recognition of the far-reaching impact of its work.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says he is delighted that the University now has a means to formally honour the distinguished collective achievements of the Centre members and other leading research groups at the University.
“This award helps recognise that achieving sustained research excellence, which the NIWA-Otago Centre has so clearly done, is often the result of good teamwork over a long period,” he says.
The Centre, which was established in 1996 and is based in the University’s Department of Chemistry, has been awarded 11 grants from the highly competitive Marsden Fund, the first in 1999, with four grants currently operating. It has also received significant multi-year funding from the former Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and continues to do so through the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
The Co-Directors of the Centre are Otago Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Sciences, Professor Keith Hunter and NIWA’s Dr Rob Murdoch. Other leading members are Professor Philip Boyd, Dr Cliff Law and Dr Kim Currie of NIWA and the Department of Chemistry’s Associate Professor Russell Frew, Dr Robert Strzepek, Dr Sylvia Sander, Dr Claudine Stirling and Dr Evelyn Armstrong. In addition, dozens of Masters and PhD students and postdoctoral fellows have contributed to the activities of the Centre.
The Centre is also responsible for the establishment of the Community Trust of Otago Centre for Trace Element Analysis, which is one of the most significant and internationally competitive high-resolution trace element analysis facilities in the world.
Professor Keith Hunter says the success of the Centre owes much to the collaborative relationship between NIWA and the Department of Chemistry, which enabled the establishment of a critical mass of researchers in chemistry, physics and plankton biology.
“This has provided access to key facilities such as NIWA’s and the University’s respective research vessels Tangaroa and Polaris II. The important contributions of the many postgraduate students and post-doctoral researchers from the Centre over the last 16 years must also be acknowledged.
“Finally, we are lucky to live in an almost unique oceanic location here in the Southern Ocean – for once, the tyranny of distance becomes a blessing.”
The University will support the Centre to hold a one-day symposium later this year to showcase their research and the Research Group Award will be presented at this event.