International award for University earthquake expert

Dr Boulton, a lecturer in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences (SGEES), is the first New Zealand recipient of the prestigious Jason Morgan Early Career Award, which recognises outstanding early career research in tectonophysics.

Dr Boulton says she feels honoured to receive international recognition.

“My focus over the years has been on our plate-boundary faults, which represent the largest seismic hazards in New Zealand.

“I feel incredibly lucky to work with other researchers in the earthquake science community at the University and at GNS Science. We have different backgrounds and study earthquake processes with complementary methods.

“This diversity brings with it creative approaches to solving complex problems and provides new insights into the way the Earth works.

“Looking ahead, I am committed to improving our understanding of earthquakes and to increasing resilience within the community to natural disasters.”

Dr Boulton’s determination to reduce earthquake risk came from experiencing the effects of the Canterbury earthquake sequence, which began with the magnitude 7.1 Darfield event on September 4, 2010. She was working on her PhD at the University of Canterbury when that earthquake happened.

“Experiencing several major earthquakes took the problems we try to solve out of papers and textbooks and made them real to me.

“Earthquakes impact the people and places we love. The science of earthquakes is interesting in its own right, but our focus is always on the wider community and on limiting the effects of seismic hazards.”

As a PhD student and then a postdoctoral research associate, she carried out the first rock-deformation experiments on the Alpine Fault rocks that accommodate earthquake movement.

“In the laboratory, we simulate earthquakes to understand the processes that happen on fault planes during these dramatic events. I also participated on site in the Deep Fault Drilling Project phases 1 and 2, where we drilled into the Alpine Fault and recovered fault rocks that have experienced thousands of earthquakes.

“More recently, as a postdoctoral research fellow, I turned my focus to investigating processes potentially responsible for slow-slip, creep, and large-magnitude earthquakes on the Hikurangi Subduction Zone fault, which underlies much of the North Island and is the largest seismic hazard in New Zealand.”

SGEES Head Professor James Renwick says the award is marvellous recognition of Dr Boulton’s skills and knowledge, and reflects the enthusiasm she brings to the school.

“Her passion for the science is inspiring.”

The nomination letter for the award says Dr Boulton is “an exceptional, multi-talented tectonophysicist who has made significant contributions to our knowledge of the processes that generate earthquakes”.

“Dr Boulton is innovative in integrating diverse scientific data including experimental, field, petrological and geophysical data sets to generate key advances in understanding chemical-mechanical interactions during—and after—fault slip.”

Nominees need to have made outstanding and significant contributions to tectonophysics through research, education, and public outreach activities, and be no more than six years past the completion of their PhD.

Dr Boulton says she is now planning research to better understand the mechanics of the Darfield and Kaikōura earthquakes.