NZ Geomechanics News

Chair’s Corner

From the Chair

Figure 1 – Gavin Alexander receiving his NZGS life membership, presented
to honour the huge impact he had on the society

Gavin Alexander

I am very sorry to share with you that our former Chair and NZGS Life Member, Gavin Alexander, passed away on 19th November 2020 after a battle with cancer, surrounded by his family.

Gavin served on the NZGS management committee for a decade taking on the roles of Treasurer, Chair and more recently the ISSMGE Vice President for Australasia.

During Gavin’s tenure as Chair the NZGS was awarded the Outstanding Member Society of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in recognition of the impact that the Society was having under his stewardship.

He also took a leading role in managing the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering Practice Modules, guiding their delivery
in a way that has resulted in a very significant improvement in performance across the geotechnical discipline.

Gavin’s calm, warm and collaborative approach made him a great leader who was always a pleasure to work with. I am particularly grateful for the advice and support he gave me, and no doubt also many of you, over the years.

21st NZGS Symposium

Planning for the 21st NZGS Symposium, which was to be held at the Dunedin Conference Centre in  October 2020, has been severely disrupted by the travel limitations imposed across the country. The technical content of the symposium is very strong, and registrations have been good, so a decision was made to avoid cancellation and to instead postpone to March 2021, when there is a significantly improved chance of successfully hosting a face-to-face event that will truly celebrate the great work of the authors. 

We owe a debt of gratitude goes to the hard-working symposium committee who have put in a huge effort developing multiple parallel options for hosting the event (including online options):

  • Eleni Gkeli (WSP, Convenor)
  • Phil Robins (BECA, Technical Coordinator)
  • Doug Mason (WSP, Finances, Technical Subcommittee)
  • Ayoub Riman (ENGEO, Technical subcommittee, Soil Structure interaction plenary session)
  • Chris Sandoval (Tonkin and Taylor, General Support, YGP and Public Lecture)
  • Nathan Schumacher (Freelance, Sponsorship)
  • Helen Hendrickson (WSP, General support, Sponsorship)
  • Stuart Read (GNS), Don Macfarlane (AECOM), and David Stewart (WSP) – workshop and field trip subcommittee

Further information about the Symposium is available on our website and on the Symposium site

Climate change in geotechnical engineering

The Management Committee is currently considering running a special one-day mini conference focused on the implications of climate change to the geotechnical sector. We are in the process of developing the scope for this, and anticipate an event in May, June or July 2021. If you would like to be involved in this event, please contact committee member Jen Smith ( 

If you have any thoughts about how the geotechnical professions can better adapt to or mitigate the effects of climate, start preparing your paper now! 

Changes on the management committee

Our ever-enthusiastic Young Geotechnical Professional Representative, Áine McCarthy, has stepped down from her role to take maternity leave. She has been extremely effective in her time on the committee, among other things developing a series of very successful YGP mini-symposia around the country. These events have been extremely well received, and we hope to continue them in the future.

After a very competitive selection process our new YGP rep has been selected. Helen Hendrickson will make a worthy successor to Áine, and the handover has already taken place. Because of the very impressive selection of candidates who put their names forward for these roles, we have also created some additional roles. The first of these YGP-specific roles (outside of the management committee) will be focused on development of YGP-centric training material. Miles Buob’s enthusiasm for developing training meant that he was a natural candidate for this role.

We will also be creating three further YGP roles (also outside of the management committee), supporting our international society Vice Presidents, and we would like to encourage the unsuccessful candidates to apply for these roles. These roles are designed to link our YGPs more closely with the international societies, and to encourage more YGP activity in each of these groups. 

This move is particularly important now because Pedro Martins has indicated his desire to step back from his role representing Australasia in the IAEG Young Engineering Geologists Committee. Pedro has been a fantastic link to our international society, and the success he has brought to this role has encouraged the NZGS committee to seek to replicate his role for the sister societies (ISSMGE and ISRM). We will be calling for expressions of interest soon.

New Life Members

I’m delighted to announce that two new life members were elected at our AGM in September. Life membership is an honour bestowed on our most esteemed members for their service to the NZ Geotechnical Society. Stuart Read and John Scott have been long-standing supporters of the NZGS, and this award is extremely well deserved.

John Scott has given a lot of support to the national management committee over a period of many years. Despite not being a committee member John has consistently gone beyond the core requirements of his roles at MBIE and EQC by actively reaching out to the NZGS and involving us in his work. He is a regular guest at committee meetings, providing advice and insights that have made the work of the management committee significantly easier and more productive.

John has been the driving force behind the New Zealand Geotechnical Database since its inception. His advocacy and tactful lobbying have been crucial to the database taking form and being accepted. His legacy is now a world-leading national database of huge value to all our members.

Stuart Read has given many years of exemplary service to the society over a period of four decades. He first joined the NZGS committee in 1979, and quickly became editor of Geomechanics News from 1980 to 1982. He was secretary of the society from 1982 until 1985, and went on to become one of the lead authors of the original 1988 field guide for the description of soil and rock.

For the past four years Stuart has represented New Zealand and Australia as the Australasian Vice President for the International Society for Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering (ISRM). His support and advice to the NZGS committee has been very valuable, and his work developing and coordinating many training courses, particularly for engineering geologists, has benefitted many of our members. He has been involved in organising many of our conferences and symposia, including the current 21st NZGS Symposium.

As one of the original team involved in developing the Professional Engineering Geologist (PEngGeol) qualification he has made a material difference to the recognition of engineering geology as a profession in New Zealand.


The NZGS has continued to advocate for our members interests through our links to Engineering New Zealand and the Building Systems Performance Team in MBIE. 

Of note since our last Geomechanics News is the new round of consultation started by Engineering New Zealand on professional registration. We will keep working with Engineering NZ for the best outcome possible for our profession and members, in concert with our sister societies (SESOC and NZSEE). Our feedback to date can broadly be summarised as supportive of the Engineering NZ proposals, with a desire to see the timeframes shortened.

A little further into the future I expect that there will be a significant volume of work related to the Building Code updates required for the new National Seismic Hazard Model and the “Building for Climate Change” programme. The new National Seismic Hazard Model is currently being developed by GNS Science and should be finished in 2022. We anticipate this will result in some changes to loadings in parts of the country, as well as a change of approach to site classification. The Building for Climate Change programme has the potential to significantly change construction in New Zealand and will require us to change our design processes to consider the emissions throughout the design life of a structure.

I represent NZGS on the MBIE Code Advisory Panel, so please contact me if you would like to know more about these.


Despite a most challenging year, most of the activities of the NZGS have continued successfully. I am particularly looking forward to our symposium in March and to seeing you all there.

NZ Geomechanics News
Ross Roberts
NZ Geomechanics News>Issue 100 - December 2020
Society News

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