Position: Geophysicist, GNS Science, Lower Hutt.
Dr Laura Wallace is studying various aspects of tectonic plate movement and subduction zones in New Zealand, including slow slips. She is a specialist in the use of global positioning systems data in this kind of work. Laura was the first person to discover the first slow slip event recorded on New Zealand’s GPS network, near Gisborne, in October of 2002.
Laura has had a fascinating career leading to her current job. She grew up in the US (Augusta, Georgia) and had plans to study English and become a writer. This changed after taking a geology class at University.
“Geology really sparked something in me”, says Laura. “I think I took to it because, if you understand geology and plate tectonics, you can understand why the world looks the way that it does. I also enjoy being able to do the creative thinking that a research career in Earth sciences requires.”
Laura went on to do a geology degree at the University of North Carolina, and a PhD at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her PhD research took her to Papua New Guinea, studying active tectonics using GPS techniques. Papua New Guinea has some of the fastest, most exciting tectonic plate movements in the world. Laura describes her year doing fieldwork around Papua New Guinea as “a real life-defining experience.”
After finishing her PhD, Laura came to New Zealand in 2002 to work at GNS Science. She sees New Zealand as one of the best places in the world to study plate tectonics, with some really amazing geophysicists and geologists to work with.
I think I have one of the coolest jobs I can imagine having...I get to work on really fun scientific problems everyday, and I also get to travel all over New Zealand and the world as part of my job.
Laura continues to work on a number of projects related to the Hikurangi Subduction Zone and is involved in the Australian and New Zealand IODP Consortium (ANZIC) that is installing deep-ocean observatories off the coast of Gisborne to better monitor the area. Learn about ANZIC and the work of the IODP in Voyages of discovery.
This article is based on information current in 2007 and updated in 2018.