Update from Lottie – our 2024 GNS Ambassador
June 13, 2024

Kia ora, I’m Lottie –  I’m doing my postgrad in Geology at the University of Canterbury, Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha. As the 2024 Blake GNS Ambassador, I got the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes in a major research project around Whakaari.

Safe to say I was chuffed about the volcano

Our recent scientific cruise embarked from The Port of Wellington, setting sail around the East Cape and up the bays with the mission of understanding the complex storage of magma beneath the ocean floor of the Bay of Plenty. The purpose of this is to identify the volcanic risks of the islands to inform hazard forecasting and emergency preparation. Over a span of seventeen days, a team from GNS and the University of California San Diego engaged in a series of research activities assisted by Georgie and myself, two very keen BLAKE Ambassadors!

The focal point of our trip was the retrieval and analysis of Ocean Bottom Electromagnetic Sensors (OBEMS), which are instruments designed to passively detect electromagnetic signals moving from the subsurface. These signals, when deciphered, provide insights into the location of magma chambers and geothermal fluids stored beneath the seabed in the scale of tens of kilometers in depth.

The process of recovering the OBEMSs was a cool one! We were able to send a release frequency to the instruments from afar, using a series of codes. This sent a burn signal to the instrument, where a wire was broken and the OBEMSs released from a weight. Sometimes the sea floor topography blocked the signal, or we had to track it down before bringing the OBEMS on board, but the process is actually very streamlined considering the size of the field area!.

The office on deck, where a lot of the magic happens. We were on alternating 12-hour shifts, so this room was always full of people working on the next retrieval/ deployment.

OBEMSs are dropped into the ocean using a winch system and 200kg weights. Mayor Island in the distance.

In tandem with passive electromagnetic measurements, our cruise conducted surveys by towing instruments capable of measuring electromagnetism and conductivity. These surveys aimed to collect more accurate details about structures closer to the surface, improving our understanding of the subsurface dynamics. While towing the lines around Whakaari I saw the most marine animals I’ve come across in my life! Dolphins, squid, flying fish, albatross, pilot whales and even a sunfish. Sometimes octopus would climb into the OBEMS, and we’d have to release them back into the ocean.








Towing the different instruments. One sits 50 meters above the sea floor, whereas the other floats on the surface.

Friendly octopus posing with an electrode wire for scale. All creatures were safely returned home!

A highlight of the journey was circling Whakaari, the boat did lines around the island to get a range of measurements and being up close to the volcano was exciting. The steam changed every day and was a reminder of how complex the volcanic system is.

This was definitely a trip of a lifetime, and such a cool insight into how research works. I learnt how research projects are conceptualised, planned and executed as well as all the crazy skills and talents that are required.

Sir Peter Blake’s view of our world and the environment has inspired me to want to understand it more. His passion and dedication to learning, as well as his adventurous and tenacious spirit are things I hope I will also carry through my life, and this trip was something that encouraged that. I want to thank everyone on the boat, and behind the scenes that also holds this passion for research, and the drive to pursue it.