Phil Clunies-Ross

'I’m keen to do what I can to help conserve our amazing natural resources...'

  • Phil Clunies-Ross

Bachelor of Science with Honours in Environmental Science

Studying towards a PhD in Water Resource Management

Having previously studied Biomedical Science and worked in medical labs for a few years, Phil’s love for the outdoors eventually saw him look towards another field of science that would get him outside more often.

‘Environmental Science was the obvious choice’ He says. ‘I’m keen to do what I can to help conserve our amazing natural resources in this changing world. I’m a keen kayaker so I have spent a lot of time playing in our rivers. Studying with the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management has allowed me to work in an environment that I am passionate about.’

Phil’s Environmental Science honours research looked at the presence of microplastics in New Zealand coastal regions, and their effect on the immediate environment. This work was featured in the NZ Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, Stuff and The Listener.

‘I’m really interested in scientific communication; breaking down complex ideas and research to communicate to the public in a way that stimulates positive environmental outcomes,’ he says.

Now doing a PhD, Phil’s focus is Water Resource Management, with research on New Zealand’s freshwater rivers and lakes sustained by glaciers. His thesis examines how glacier-fed rivers may respond to increasing pressures from pollution and climate change.

‘My primary focus is to examine the properties of glacial flour. This is the fine sediment produced by glaciers as they grind up rock in the mountains. These tiny particles give many of our rivers their characteristic bright blue colours. They can also interact with pollutants in the water as they travel downstream. In the same way that a sponge can soak up water, the glacial suspended sediment can soak up a number of environment contaminants. My goal is to determine what kind of protective effect it has.

‘Working out how chemicals are behaving in this environment is complex, and a real challenge which keeps me on my toes. To do this work, I am using a mixture of laboratory experiments and computer simulations which will help to provide some insight into how these glacier-fed systems may respond to environmental pressures.’

His particular highlight about UC has been the field trips throughout both undergrad and postgrad study, with his current research allowing him to go to some incredible locations.

‘My PhD research has a great mix of lab work, pouring through the books and getting out there sampling in some of our most spectacular terrain. I’ve been on many missions to collect samples in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

‘It’s an amazing place to do my field work in,’ he says. ‘When I’m not studying, I’m usually kayaking or up in the hills somewhere.’

Phil has received a number of scholarships to support his research, including a UC Doctoral Scholarship and a UC Summer Research Scholarship. He’s also been awarded a UC Meadow Mushrooms Postgraduate Scholarship for conducting research with the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management.

Studying at UC has been a source of inspiration for Phil’s future career prospects, as he endeavours to contribute to New Zealand’s green image.

‘I plan to be involved in the conservation of New Zealand’s waterways. Likely in the field of environmental contaminants. I would consider a research position or working with an organisation with common environmental goals.’

Toiata Apelu-Uili

Toiata Apelu-Uili

'The water cycle's importance to people, and how people react to it, is very interesting...'

Roland Eveleens

Roland Eveleens

'Go for it and meet new people, get involved, try new things and get stuck into your passion...'