150 years of Science inquiry in the Hutt

Hutt News, July 4, 2017

Long-time Hutt Valley resident GNS Science can trace its origins back 152 years, making it one of the oldest Crown-owned agencies in New Zealand.

But it has far more going for it than just longevity.  GNS Science continues to be a leading provider of geoscience research and consultancy services.  In some areas-for instance, earthquake sciece and helping to develop geothermal energy – it ranks among the world’s leading science organisations.

It started life in 1865 as the New Zealand Geological Survey helping with economic development of the young country, particularly with the early coal and gold mining industries.

There have been a number of name changes along the way.  One of the milestones was in 1992 when the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, based in Seaview, was split into nine stand-alone Crown-owned companies.

One of these was the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd. Then in 2005 it shortened its name to GNS Science.

Lower Hutt residents who drive past the organisation’s sprawling three-storey building in Fairway Drive Avalon, no doubt wonder what it gets up to.

As well as the Avalon office, GNs Science operates its National Isotope Centre at Gracefield.  Together its two Lower Hutt facilities employ about 320 staff.

The organisation also has offices in Taupo (60staff) and Dunedin (10).  More than half its staff have PhDs.

Its activities span a surprisingly wide range of areas from exploring Zealandia – the vast sunken continent of which the New Zealand landmass is just a small part – to identifying sources of air pollution in urban centres.

One arm of its work is dedicated to dealing with the perils of Mother Nature – particularly earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and landslides.  This work extends into areas such as seismic engineering, risk management and planning to reduce the impacts of natural hazard events.

Its GeoNet project – funded by the Earthquake Commission – is often held up as a world leader in monitoring geological hazards.  It operates more than 600 instruments nationwide – all connected by satellite and sending data in real-time to the organsiation’s Lower Hutt facility.  When media from around the world rang for the latest scientific data on the November earthquakes, it was GNS they spoke to.

Another arm of the business provides the scientific horsepower to help manage many of New Zealand’s 200 known aquifers, which supply about 30 per cent of all our freshwater needs.

GNS Scientists are at the core of the work being done to check the safety of the Waiwhetu Aquifer, after E.coli was detected in water taken from bores.

Then there is a specialist group using isotope technology for applciations such as environmental monitoring, nanotechnology and radiocarbon dating.

GNS Science has revenue of about $84 million a year, made up of direct government grants for research (33 percent), contestable public good research contracts (27 per cent), consultancy services (26 per cent) and funding from the Earthquake Commission for the GeoNet project (14 per cent).