Professor David J Lowe

Professor (Earth Sciences)

Qualifications: BSc MSc PhD Waikato FRSNZ FNZSSS

Personal Website:

About David

David has published widely in a range of disciplines (tephrochronology, pedology, Quaternary science, soil mineralogy, geochronology) with more than 180 refereed publications in scientific journals or books (including 25 book chapters) to his name. He has undertaken research in New Zealand, Antarctica, Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K., and also has field experience in Taiwan, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, western U.S.A. (eight states including Alaska and Hawaii), and Fiji.


  • Awarded Earthquake Commission (EQC) funding for project “Hidden tephras in Waikato lakes and peats”, 2016
  • 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
  • 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, 2010
  • Awarded Marsden Fund funding for 3-year project "New Views from Old Soils" on ancient DNA and carbon sequestration in buried volcanic-ash soils in the North Island, 2010
  • Awarded Fellowship of Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science for lecture tour of Japan in May, 2010.

Research Interests

  • Tephrochronology, the correlation of tephra (or volcanic ash) deposits and their application to linking, synchronizing and dating geological, ecological 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 layered multisequal soils of volcanic terrains);
  • 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: 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.

Further research information

Research Supervised

David has jointly-supervised more nearly 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) 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.


  • Loame, Remedy (2016 ongoing). Revealing new volcanic ash-fall hazards in the Waikato region by detecting and analysing cryptotephras in 20,000-year-oldorganic-rich sediments (supported by EQC).
  • Hainsworth, Sharn (2016 ongoing, part time). Using digital soil mapping methods and spectrophotometry to map spatial variations in water holding characteristics in New Zealand hill soils (Hawke’s Bay) (supported by Landcare Research)
  • Huang, Yu-Tuan (Doreen) (2015). Studies on carbon and DNA preservation in allophanic soils and paleosols on Holocene tephras in New Zealand.
  • Gehrels, Maria (2009). An enhanced ~1800-year record of recent volcanic ash-fall events in northern New Zealand from analysis of cryptotephra.
  • 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.
  • Jones, Haydon (2004). Impacts of forest harvesting on performance of soil-landscape modelling in a radiata pine forest, northern New Zealand.

MSc or MSc(Research)

  • 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; Volcanoes

Tephrochronology, pedology, Quaternary science, soil mineralogy, geochronology, volcanology, geoarchaeology

Recent Publications

  • Lowe, D. J., Loame, R. C., Moon, V. G., Johnston, R. E., Kluger, M. O., Villamor, P., . . . Rees, A. B. H. (2018). Earth-shaking insight from liquefied tephra layers in lakes in central Waikato region, New Zealand: a new tool to evaluate and date palaeoseismicity?. In Crossing New Frontiers: INTAV International Field Conference on Tephrochronology, ‘Tephra Hunt in Transylvania’. Conference held in Moieciu de Sus, Romania.

  • Lowe, D. J. (2018). Quaternary research in New Zealand and relationship to the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA). Annual Report for the Catalyst Fund: Influence 2017 (with Appendix).. In Annual Report for the Catalyst Fund (pp. 1-24). Hamilton: School of Science, University of Waikato, Hamilton.. Open Access version:

  • Newnham, R. M., Lowe, D. J., Gehrels, M. J., & Augustinus, P. A. (2018). Two-step human−environmental impact history for northern New Zealand linked to late-Holocene climate change. The Holocene, 28(7), 1093-1106. doi:10.1177/0959683618761545 Open Access version:

  • Lowe, D. J. (2018). Foreword: Crossing New Frontiers. In U. Hambach, & D. Veres (Eds.), Book of Abstracts (pp. 1-5). Moieciu de Sus, Romania.

View All research publications by David Lowe

Contact Details

Room: DE.3.02
Phone: +64 7 838 4438 (DD)