Professor David J Lowe

Academic Team Leader Earth Sciences, School of Science

Qualifications: BSc MSc PhD Waikato FRSNZ FNZSSS Hon Life Fellow INQUA

Personal Website:

About David

David has published widely in a range of disciplines centred on tephra and its derivatives, including tephrochronology, pedology and paleopedology, Quaternary science, soil stratigraphy, soil and clay mineralogy, geochronology, paleolimnology, geoarchaeology, landsliding, and geohazards. With nearly 200 refereed publications in scientific journals or books (including 25 book chapters) to his name, David has undertaken research in New Zealand, Antarctica (Darwin Mountains, Britannia Range, Churchill Mountains), South Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K. He also has field experience in Taiwan, Ireland, France, Germany, Romania, Santorini (Greece), Switzerland, western U.S.A. (eight states including Alaska and Hawaii), and Fiji.


  • Co-editor of “Tephrochronology as a global geoscientific research tool”, Journal of Quaternary Science 35 (1/2), 1-379, 2020
  • On editorial boards of six international journals, some since mid-2000s: Journal of Quaternary Science, Quaternary Geochronology, Quaternary International, Quaternary, Frontiers in Earth Science (Volcanology), and Journal of NZ and Pacific Studies
  • Awarded Earthquake Commission (EQC) funding for project “Paleoseismology of the newly discovered Te Puninga Fault, Hauraki Plains”, 2019 (AI)
  • Awarded MBIE Endeavour Fund (Smart Ideas) and Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden Grant funding for complementary projects "Evaluating earthquake risk using liquefied ash-layers in lakes’’ and "Earth-shaking insight from liquefied volcanic-ash layers in lakes using", respectively, relating to newly-discovered hidden faults in the Hamilton lowlands, 2019 (PI)
  • Ranked in top 1% most influential scientists worldwide based on six measures of impact, both long-term and in 2018
  • Elected an Honorary Life Member of the International Focus Group on Tephrochronology and Volcanism (INTAV), 2018
  • Co-editor of “Advancing tephrochronology as a global dating tool: applications in volcanology, archaeology, and palaeoclimatic research”, Quaternary Geochronology 40, 1-145, 2017
  • Awarded Earthquake Commission (EQC) funding for project “Hidden tephras in Waikato lakes and peats”, 2016 (PI)
  • Editor of Chapter 11 “Climate Swings and Roundabouts” of award-winning text “A Continent on the Move: New Zealand geoscience revealed, 2nd edition”, published by the Geoscience Society of NZ with GNS Science, 2015
  • Elected an Honorary Life Fellow of the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), 2015
  • Co-editor of “Enhancing tephrochronology and its application (INTREPID project): Hiroshi Machida commemorative volume”, Quaternary International 246, 1-395, 2011
  • Awarded McKay Hammer Award of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, 2011
  • Awarded "Editor's Citation of Excellence for Associate Editors", Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2011
  • Elected Fellow of Royal Society of New Zealand (FRSNZ), 2010
  • Awarded Marsden Fund grant for 3-year project "New views from old soils" on ancient DNA and carbon sequestration in buried volcanic-ash soils and paleosols in the North Island, 2010 (PI)
  • Ron McDonald Memorial Lecture Award, Australian Society of Soil Science (Queensland Branch), 2009
  • Scientific/technical co-editor of “A Continent on the Move”, Geoscience Society of NZ with GNS Science, 2008 (winner of best book award ‘Environment Category’, Montana NZ Book Awards, 2009)
  • Co-editor of “Global Tephra Studies: John Westgate and Andrei Sarna-Wojcicki Commemorative Volume”, Quaternary International 178, 1-320, 2008
  • Elected representative for Quaternary research in NZ and delegate for the International Union for Quaternay Research (INQUA) on behalf of Royal Sociey of NZ, 2007-2019
  • Associate editor for Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2006-2011, and editorial advisor for NZ Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 2004-2009
  • Elected Fellow of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science (FNZSSS), 2002
  • Norman Taylor Memorial Lecture Award, New Zealand Society of Soil Science, 2002
  • Awarded Fellowships of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science for lecture tour of Japan in 2010 and 2000 (PI)

Research Interests

  • Tephrochronology, the characterisation, dating, and stratigraphic correlation of tephra (or volcanic ash) and cryptotephra deposits and their application to linking, synchronizing and dating geological, paleoecological or archaeological deposits or events;
  • Pedology, the nature, genesis, distribution and classification of soils, and palaeopedology, the study of soils of landscapes or environments of the past, especially multi-layered soils in volcanic and pyroclastic-dominated landscapes where upbuilding pedogenesis occurs;
  • Mineralogy of soils formed in volcanic materials including studies of (i) allophane and its role in C sequestration and DNA adsorption, and (ii) halloysite and its morphology and association with landsliding;
  • Environmental change in the Quaternary: developing chronologies for the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments, including the impacts of humans (hence geoarchaeology), using environmental proxies at a range of time-scales and deposits since about 2.6 million years ago.
  • Developing research using liquefied lacustrine tephras (tephra seismites) as a new tool for evaluating prehistoric seismic activity on newly-discovered faults in the Hamilton lowlands and the potential impacts and hazards of such activity (Marsden Fund and MBIE Endeavour Fund projects)

Further research information

Research Supervised

David has jointly-supervised more than 70 postgraduates to completion, being chief supervisor for more than half of these. Two of David's PhD students (Fieldes Award) and six of his MSc students (Rigg Award) have been awarded the top prizes of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science for their outstanding research. Another former student (Dr Maria Gehrels, then at Plymouth University, UK) was awarded the Pullar-Vucetich Prize (2008) of the Geological Society of New Zealand for her research on cryptotephras. Recent or current PhD and MSc projects supervised or co-supervised by David are given below.


  • McBride, Rowan (2020 onging).The chronology of Waikato wetland pā (supported by Marsden Fund grant to Prof Alan Hogg)
  • Robertson, Thomas (Tom) (2018 ongoing). Sensitive soils derived from rhyolitic tephras and landsliding, Bay of Plenty (part time).
  • Prentice, Marlena (2018 ongoing). Volcanism of the Tauranga and Kaimai volcanic centres: supereruptions at the dawn of the modern TVZ (partly supported by Western Australia Skeptics)
  • Loame, Remedy (2016 ongoing). Revealing new volcanic ash-fall hazards in the Waikato region by detecting and analysing cryptotephras in 20,000-year-old organic-rich sediments (supported by EQC, Waikato Regional Council, and Western Australia Skeptics)
  • Yousefzadeh, Elhamy (Eli) (2015 ongoing). Ongatiti Ignimbrite and its emplacement: textures, mechanism, and distribution (partly supported by Western Australia Skeptics)
  • Dr Ratcliffe, Joshua (Joss) (2020) . Carbon accumulation and decay rates in pristine and disturbed Waikato restiad peatlands.
  • Dr Huang, Yu-Tuan (Doreen) (2015). Studies on carbon and DNA preservation in allophanic soils and paleosols on Holocene tephras in New Zealand (supported by Marsden Fund grant to Prof David Lowe).
  • Dr Gehrels, Maria (2009, Plymouth University). An enhanced ~1800-year record of recent volcanic ash-fall events in northern New Zealand from analysis of cryptotephra.
  • Dr Palmer, David (2008). Development of national extent terrain attributes (TANZ), soil water balance surfaces (swatbal), and environmental surfaces, and their application for spatial modelling of Pinus radiata productivity across New Zealand (supported by 'Bright Futures' scholarship).
  • Dr Jones, Haydon (2004). Impacts of forest harvesting on performance of soil-landscape modelling in a radiata pine forest, northern New Zealand (supported by SCION Rotorua)

MSc or MSc(Research)

  • Ross, ChrisAnne (2020). Volcanology and Secondary Alteration of the 1.6 Ma Ngaroma Ignimbrite, Upper Waipari Valley.
  • Loame, Remedy (2016). Using a tephrostratigraphic framework to determine the past 40,000 yrs of rupture and paleohydrothermal activity on the east strand of the Whirinaki Fault, Ngakuru Graben, central Taupo Volcanic Zone.
  • Noyes, Adrea (2016). Soil recovery on landslides in hill country at Whatawhata Research Station, western Waikato, New Zealand.
  • Kleyburg, Melissa (2015). Palaeoliquefaction in Late Pleistocene alluvial sediments in the Hauraki and Hamilton basins.
  • Laubscher, Nadia (2014). Improvement in soil water availability in pastures by excavating and mixing buried soil horizons from multilayered Pumice Soils (Vitrands) at Galatea, central North Island, New Zealand.
  • Heaphy, Marie (2013). Assessing drivers of plantation forest productivity on eroded versus non-eroded soils on hilly and steep land in eastern North Island, New Zealand: from catchment to regional scale.
  • Foster, Courtney (2013). Palaeolimnology of Adelaide Tarn, a ~14,000-year-old low-alpine glacial lake, northwestern South Island, New Zealand.
  • Cunningham, Michael (2012). Sensitive rhyolitic pyroclastic deposits in the Tauranga region: mineralogy, geomechanics and microstructure of peak and remoulded states.
  • Lanigan, Kerri (2012). Characterisation and paleoclimatic signals within tephric loess deposits aged between c.33 to 9.5 cal ka in the Rotorua area, northern New Zealand.
  • Hainsworth, Sharn (2011). Properties and distribution of soils on the Ruataniwha Plains, Hawke's Bay: a new approach integrating classical and digital mapping techniques.
  • Wyatt, Justin (2009). Sensitivity and clay mineralogy of weathered tephra-derived soil materials in the Tauranga region.
  • Pickett, Rachel (2008). A tephra-dated record of palaeoenvironmental change since c. 5,500 years ago from Lake Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand.
  • Cole-Baker, Jeremy (2006). Sedimentology and tephrochronology of Late-Glacial and Holocene lake sediments and peats, Westland, South Island.


  • Linehan, James (2015). Distribution of soils in the Southern Hawke’s Bay Greywacke Foothills Land System.

Teaching Commitments


Geology; Radiocarbon Dating; Science; Volcanoes

Andisols; volcanic-ash soils; tephra; cryptotephra; tephrochronology; tephrostatigraphy; pedology; soil stratigraphy; paleopedology; Quaternary science; paleolimnology; soil mineralogy; clay mineralogy; geochronology; volcanology; geoarchaeology; landsliding; natural hazards; geohazards; Waikato region; New Zealand

Recent Publications

  • Abbott, P. M., Jensen, B. J. L., Lowe, D. J., Suzuki, T., & Veres, D. (Eds.) (2020). Tephrochronology as a global geoscientific research tool (Special Issue). Journal of Quaternary Science, 35(1 and 2), 1-379. Retrieved from

  • Kluger, M. O., Jorat, M. E., Moon, V. G., Kreiter, S., De Lange, W. P., Mörz, T., . . . Lowe, D. J. (2020). Rainfall threshold for initiating effective stress decrease and failure in weathered tephra slopes. Landslides, 17, 267-281. doi:10.1007/s10346-019-01289-2 Open Access version:

  • Nelson, C., Lowe, D. J., Grant-Mackie, J., & Hudson, N. (2020). From pharmacist to internationally-recognised belemnite researcher: Arthur Brian Challinor BSc, DSc (Waikato) (7 December 1930-18 January 2020) [Obituary]. Geoscience Society of New Zealand Newsletter, 30, 52-57.

  • Abbott, P. M., Jensen, B. J. L., Lowe, D. J., Suzuki, T., & Veres, D. (2020). Crossing new frontiers: extending tephrochronology as a global geoscientific research tool. Journal of Quaternary Science. doi:10.1002/jqs.3184 Open Access version:

View All research publications by David Lowe

Contact Details

Room: DE.3.02
Phone: +64 7 838 4438 (DD)
Cellphone: +64 21 027 727 07
Fax: +64 7 838 4352