Physiographic Environments of New Zealand
Integrating landscape process knowledge with water chemistry to understand how and why surface water quality varies across New Zealand
Challenge funding: $100,000
Research duration: July 2017 – December 2019
What Did We Do?
Water composition and quality varies widely between regions and catchments around New Zealand, even where there are similar land uses and pressures on the surrounding land. This is due to the influence of natural landscape features, which can account for more than twice the variability in water quality than land use alone. Therefore, it’s important to include landscape attributes in explanations for water quality outcomes.
Physiographic science works ‘backwards’, using water composition to trace the water’s journey back through the landscape to understand the landscape controls over water composition, and hence quality.
Physiographic Environments of New Zealand (PENZ) researchers are using national and regional water composition and quality data sets, in conjunction with existing geospatial layers, to map and numerically model the processes that control the spatial variability of water. The method brings together data for climate, topography, geology, soils, and hydrological controls with analytical chemistry at a national scale.
How Can The Research Be Used?
- Regional and district councils (Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Horizons, Canterbury, Southland) are sharing data and collaborating to develop and apply the physiographic approach to their regions.
- Physiographic outputs have been loaded into Northland Regional Council's ESRI Collector software suite in order to support the council's farm, forestry and biodiversity extension teams in the field.
- An aligned MPI Sustainable Farming Fund project, Farmer Interface for Physiographic Environments, is underway to provide physiographic maps to farmers. A web-based map is being co-developed with a wide range of collaborators including farmers and industry representatives: Foundation of Arable Research, Deer Industry New Zealand, Ravensdown, Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Living Water, Southland Economic Development Agency, Environment Southland. The key aim is to educate farmers on how contaminants (N, P, sediment and faecal microbes) leave their land so that they can make well-informed land use decisions to reduce losses.
- Fonterra farm extension advisors are using the method to tailor their evolved Sustainable Dairying Programme (Tiaki). Specifically, calibrating farm extension initiatives to the physiographic setting, in order to implement the most effective and least cost steps towards minimising environmental contamination from farms.
- A collaboration with Living Water (a Fonterra and Department of Conservation partnership) allowed the research team to apply the physiographic method to the Waituna Catchment. This work enabled a significant amount of method development to be undertaken and tested. Fonterra has now incorpoarted physiographic information into the Tiaki Farm Source model within the Waituna Catchment, in order to provide more targeted advice to its suppliers and inform farm environment plans.
- Physiographic science is now being taught through Lincoln University's third-year soil science course.
In the Media
Irrigation NZ News, Spring 2019 (page 46)
“We want to empower land users to make more effective decisions in land management and mitigations,” says Dr Pearson, “creating a future landscape and community that is more resilient, healthy and prosperous than it is today.”VIEW ARTICLE →
Rural News, 8 February 2018
“You can have exactly the same enterprise, the same land use, and you get very different outcomes. If we can understand the things that determine variations in water quality, we can use them to help manage land use losses in a more tailored manner than previously was possible” – Clint RissmannVIEW ARTICLE →
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