Quake Centre


Project Number: 2019-3

Project Leader: Dr Kaley Crawford-Flett, Dr Mark Stringer, Dr Robert Finch

Host Department: Quake Centre, Civil and Nat Res Engineering (CNRE)

Project Title: Understanding the engineering characteristics of stopbanks (levees) in the Hawkes Bay region

Project outline: Stopbanks (levees) provide the primary means of flood protection for people and properties in many New Zealand communities. It is presently estimated that New Zealand has in excess of 5,000 km of stopbanks, protecting around 100 “flood prone” population centres and managed largely by a mixture of private landowners and regional and local government agencies.  

Regional and City/District Councils typically hold internal records concerning the properties of stopbank and flood-protection assets; however, the availability of engineering information is often piece-meal and inconsistent in type and format.  Furthermore, methodologies for characterising the engineering characteristics of stopbank embankments vary widely from region to region. Accordingly, New Zealand presently lacks a national perspective on hydrotechnical and geotechnical characteristics of stopbank networks.  Ultimately, a more comprehensive understanding of embankment and foundation properties is crucial to understanding the resulting risk profile for peripheral and downstream communities.

This summer research project will provide an opportunity for a student based in Hawkes Bay to work with a team of engineers and researchers to better-understand the characteristics of stopbanks in the Hawkes Bay region. 

This project seeks to collate, characterise, and summarize the available geotechnical and hydrotechnical properties of stopbank embankments and their foundations in the Hawkes Bay region. This project aims to provide a better understanding of the geological, hydrological, and engineering properties of stopbanks, for the benefit of both asset managers and researchers.  Outputs will feed into national-scale research concerning stopbank hazard exposure.

Specific Requirements: This project is offered to a student who is based in Hawkes Bay for the summer period.  Travel and/or accommodation funding for out-of-region students will NOT be provided.

The ideal applicant would be enrolled in the BE (Hons) degree, with an interest in geotechnical engineering.  Students enrolled in other relevant degree programmes (e.g. science or similar) may be considered.



Project Number: 2019-4

Project Leader: Dr Kaley Crawford-Flett, Dr Mark Stringer, Dr Robert Finch

Host Department: Quake Centre, Civil and Nat Res Engineering (CNRE)

Project Title: New Zealand hydropower embankment dams:  geotechnical laboratory investigation

Project outline: New Zealand has a large number of earth embankment dams, many of which were designed from the 1940's through to the 1980's to enable hydroelectric power generation. Given that hydropower generation accounts for approximately 55% of total electricity generation in New Zealand, earth embankment dams form a vitally important part of New Zealand’s energy infrastructure.

Perceived 'knowledge gaps' in the field of dam engineering are internationally well-documented and there are concerns that many older dams possess design deficiencies due to gaps in engineering knowledge at the time of construction.  Through the University of Canterbury Quake Centre, hydropower asset owners in New Zealand have expressed a need for improved guidance for evaluation of the performance of embankment dams. In particular, there is presently a lack of guidance for the evaluation of the whole-life performance of embankments and the possibility of combined earthquake-erosion failure modes.

The Summer Research project provides an opportunity for a senior undergraduate student to gain a background in geotechnical dam engineering within the long-term Quake Centre earth dam research project.  The successful student will gain an appreciation of current issues and challenges facing the geotechnical dam industry both locally and internationally. 

Specifically, the project will involve an assessment of the geotechnical characteristics of some of New Zealand's large hydropower assets.  Research components may include the following:

1)            Sort and interpret geotechnical construction and investigation records for one or more large New Zealand hydropower dams.

2)            Undertake geotechnical characterization of dam soils sampled from one or more large New Zealand dams.  There may be a chance to be involved in materials sampling.

3)            Conduct laboratory testing to help assess the performance of soils in New Zealand dams, with reference to international research findings. Laboratory work may include:

a. Testing of New Zealand soils for erosion or cracking potential in dam applications

b. Development of methodologies to address unique issues encountered in New Zealand dam engineering practice

The nature and extent of laboratory testing will be discussed with the successful student.  There may be potential to explore additional or alternative geotechnical tests.

The project will provide an opportunity for students to gain experience in an industry-based research environment.  It is expected that the outcomes from the summer project/s will inform further research in the field of geotechnical dam engineering in New Zealand.

Specific Requirements: (preferred) Geotechnical engineering courses: ENCN253, ENCN353 or equivalent, OR relevant experience.

Good communication skills.


Able to work independently.