October 2012

The NZ river making international headlines

15.10.2012 - Posted by Selene Conn
Throughout my life in New Zealand, Whanganui has been a bone of national contention and confusion. I have grown up calling it Wanganui, however in 2009 the Geographical Board proposed to change it to Whanganui, (pronounced: fon-ga-noo-ee) as many believed it should have always had an ’h’ in it, which was believed to have been dropped sometime during European settlement. Now the Whanganui River is making international headlines for being the first river in living memory to be granted a legal identity. Regardless of whether you ‘h’ it or not, its traditional name is Te Awa Tupua, which roughly translates to 'the spiritual river'. Starting on the volcanic slopes of Mt Ruapehu and draining towards the Tasman Sea, the Whanganui River has one of the largest remaining tracts of remnant podocarp forest and has been an important source of food and transport for all New Zealanders throughout history. (Check out http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whanganui-region/1 for more details.)

In traditional Maori culture, Iwi (or tribes) generally associate with a waterbody. One of the first questions asked in a formal greeting is ‘no wai koe’ – ‘What birthing waters have you come from? What is your Lake/River/Spring? Where are you from?’ These waters are not only where you come from, but define who you are and your place in society. Ngati Hau (Whanganui Iwi) take their name, spirit and strength from their river, and they have a saying ‘Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au’ (I am the river. The river is me.)

Now the respect is being paid back to in kind to the Whanganui River. Being granted a legal identity means the Whanganui River will be recognised as a person when it comes to the law – ‘in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests’. It will be interesting to follow this one river's transition into humanity, and see exactly what it means for it, and other rivers in the future.

Whanganui River. Photo: freewallpaper.co.nz

Alluvium on Mars

2.10.2012 - Posted by Misko Ivezich
This week Alluvium was discovered on Mars, no not a rogue fifth office, or an employee who lost their way doing field work, but our namesake - alluvium, which is defined as material deposited by a river, and it was a fitting name for our company when it was founded.

Although there had been previous evidence of water on Mars the discovery of ancient streambeds is the first time that there has been evidence that streams with flowing water transported gravels. The rounded nature and size of the gravels indicates that the sediment was transported in streams at a speed of about 1 m/s over long distances at a depth of somewhere between ankle and hip height.

These stream characteristics bare remarkable resemblances to some of the ones we work on. It got me thinking, what if in millions of years an extraterrestrial mission lands on the now barren and lifeless earth surface. And the little extraterrestrial rover stumbles across one of our ancient riverbeds, perhaps one of the ones we’ve worked on. These pictures would be beamed back to some far away planet as proof that earth once had water and flowing rivers. They will know little from this discovery about the fish that thrived in these rivers, the crops that were nourished by these rivers and the communities that depended upon them.

If the alluvium on Mars could talk what would it say? If these rivers supported Martian life I wonder how they cared for their precious life giving resource? Fittingly, in the week of the discovery of these ancient extraterrestrial streams it is World River Day (Sunday 30th September). A timely reminder how important it is to care for our natural resources upon which our lives depends.

Image comparing the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars (left) with similar rocks seen on Earth (right). Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI