Staff profile: Dr Simon Woodward

In this edition we welcome Dr Simon Woodward to the team and find out how he came to work at NIWA.

What is your role at NIWA?

S: I’m a water quality modelling scientist with the Aquatic Pollution team in Hamilton. Our team looks at ways to clean up excess nutrients and organisms in New Zealand’s streams through methods such as constructed wetlands, detainment bunds, and nutrient-absorbing algae.  

My role is to help understand the data generated from our field and lab experiments by finding statistical relationships or predictive models to explain interactions between the environment, management changes and environmental outcomes. I’ll also be working closely with other researchers across NIWA to do this.

How did you come to be a water quality modelling scientist?

S: I got into agricultural and environmental modelling because I liked doing mathematics, and some scientists at AgResearch’s Whatawhata Research Station wanted to be able to predict pasture growth. So, they lured me to the Waikato.

I did ag-modelling for 12 years with AgResearch, developing models for pasture growth, animal intake and soil water. I then moved into groundwater nitrate modelling for 11 years with Lincoln Agritech, before going back to farms with DairyNZ for three years. Now I’m back to focusing on water with NIWA. I enjoy the technical side of scientific programming as well as coaxing data to reveal its secrets. I also really like interacting with experimental researchers to understand their fields of interest, applied objectives and methods. In recent years I’ve moved from using Excel to using the R language to do all my analysis, which has been quite fun.

Tell us about the most rewarding project you’ve been involved in.

S: The most satisfying projects I’ve been involved in have been ones where we’ve been able use some clever analysis to show something interesting about the environment.

For example, while at Lincoln Agritech we did intensive monitoring of a farm hillslope to try and track water and nitrate flowing into a wetland. We were able to simulate the water flow paths and show that the buried palaeosol could not be the only source of denitrification in the subsurface. We also developed a method to infer water and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) flow paths in Waikato catchments based on monthly stream monitoring data alongside daily flow records. At DairyNZ we were able to adapt a European plant growth model to show that poor longevity of ryegrass in NZ dairy farms is probably due to water stress, and this is likely to become more of a problem under climate change.

How you relax in your free time?

S: I have two teenagers at home that keep me busy! My daughter is 17 and my son is 15. I do have a few hobbies; I’m learning to speak Chinese, and I like playing strategy board games and video games. I belong to a monthly book club; my favourite book so far has been “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick. I also go walking on Mt Pirongia quite often. It’s a very quiet track and you get a good burst of cardio and a good view within an hour round trip.


Back to Freshwater Update 84: August 2020


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Water Quality Data Modeller
Introducing Dr Simon Woodward.