Teaching Activities - Cass Mountain Research Area - Field Facilities Centre - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Teaching Activities

Cass Mountain Research Area

The following are teaching activities currently undertaken at the Cass Mountain Research Area:

Dr. Pieter Pelser
Lecturer: Botany and Taxonomy

I run the BIOL305 Practical Field Botany course which is an intensive, short summer course that uses the CMRA as a home base. The course is designed to teach students and professionals basic skills in field botany. It is targeted at students who intend to seek employment in areas such as field ecology, conservation, biosecurity, taxonomy and systematics. It is also of interest to members of the workforce who need to acquire or upgrade taxonomic skills, e.g., from Crown Research Institutes, the Department of Conservation, local and regional councils, and botanic gardens, and those with employment in horticulture or education. The course is designed to accommodate participants with various entry levels: from students with limited plant knowledge to experienced career professionals. Within the CMRA, the participants work in the immediate surroundings of the field station, the fan and slopes of Sugarloaf, and Kettle Hole Bog to practise plant identification, collecting, and photography. The laboratory facilities, Cass herbarium and drying room at the field station are used to identify plants and to prepare herbarium specimens.

Freshwater Ecosystems (BIOL 375). See http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/courses/

Teachers: Prof: Jon Harding (course co-ordinator) & Prof Angus McIntosh

This course, which runs second semester, covers important concepts in freshwater ecology and their practical application to current issues.  It involves an intensive field course, based at the Cass Field Station, focusing on waterways in the upper Waimakariri River Basin, together with an excursion to the West Coast. As well as acquiring general knowledge of the fundamentals of freshwater ecology, from the field activities students taking the course also gain a good appreciation of the distribution and abundance of organisms across a variety of ecosystems including streams, wetlands and lakes. A key component of the field course is an independent field research project which allows students to develop practical skills in experimental design and sampling, as well as laboratory techniques associated with freshwater organisms, physico-chemical conditions and ecosystem processes.  This is also linked to analysis and interpretation of data from freshwater ecosystems, and extension of scientific communication skills, especially oral presentations and scientific paper writing.

Ecology (BIOL 270) See http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/courses/

Teachers: Prof Angus McIntosh (course co-ordinator), Prof Dave Kelly, Prof Matthew Turnbull, & Dr Sharyn Goldstien.

This course provides a fundamental grounding in the main concepts, applications and practical skills used in ecology.  The most important concepts in population, community, landscape and ecosystem ecology will be introduced.  These are considered using examples from across ecosystem types, and with particular reference to the factors controlling the distribution of plants, animals and microbes in New Zealand, and their differences to other countries.  There is a particular emphasis on the problems and issues affecting natural systems, and how ecological knowledge can be applied to achieve solutions. The course includes field- and laboratory-based practical sessions culminating in a four-day field trip to the UC Cass Station.  The field trip involves group-based practical project work which is mostly based within the field station research area. Topics covered can range from evaluation of bird sampling techniques, effects of forest fragmentation on tree weta populations, altitudinal change sin forest vegetation, the recovery of skink and gecko populations following fire, the succession of riverbed plant communities, and the dispersal of aquatic insects.  As well as giving students an experience of the local natural history, these practical exercises are designed to develop skills in field experimental design and sampling, expertise in data analysis and interpretation, and to develop scientific communication skills, especially the use of scientific literature and report writing. 

Dr. Peyman Zawar-Reza
Lecturer: Geography

I run two papers in Cass, GEOG211, and for the first time this year, GEOG313. In GEOG211 there are varied projects that address the sub-disciplines of physical geography, hydrology, geomorphology, and climatology. The students either use the existing in situ array of equipment or install their own. This is a great practice for research as they learn where and how to obtain representative measurements for their projects. GEOG313 is a remote sensing course and the students measure spectral radiance of different land-covers for incorporation into measurements made by satellites. They learn about spatial variation in landscape and how this affects the way satellites see the surface of the planet. The students also use UAVs to collect thermal/visible images of the surface for investigation into microclimactic processes.

STABX Introduction

STABX is the Stable Boundary Layer Experiment carried out in the Cass river basin in the middle of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. This research aims to study atmospheric boundary layers in mountainous environments. This campaign is primarily designed to answer research questions related to atmospheric flows in complex terrain with emphasis on quiescent and cold climate dynamics.

The research targets specifically the micro-scale environment down to the resolution of slopes, trees, small lakes, terrain gaps, and surface types. Effects of larger scale forcing such as drainage winds, mountain waves, weather fronts, will also be considered but in context of the stable boundary layer dynamics.

STABX extensive observation network and design will permit probing into the details of the stable boundary layer features with aims to understand this complex phenomena, which still needs to be studied due to its spatial variability and sensitivity to small scale topography and surface types.
STABX contains:

  • 70 temperature sensors (between air and top-soil)
  • 5 top-soil moisture sensors
  • 3 weather stations including a high elevation one on top of Sugar Loaf
  • 11 micro-barometer stations
  • 6 time lapse cameras
  • A SODAR-RASS system, which consists of a sounding and ranging device and a radio acoustic sounding system to measure wind velocity and air temperature at 5 m height interval up to 400 m AGL.

For more details see:

STABX teaching outreach

In addition to research, this extensive fieldwork resource is currently being utilized for undergraduate teaching in the Department of Geography. A list of courses involve:

  • GEOG109: Forces in Nature
  • GEOG211: Environmental Processes: Research Practice
  • GEOG410: Atmospheric Environments

Principal Investigators

Marwan Katurji
Atmospheric Dynamics, Measurements & Modeling

Web address:

Peyman Zawar Reza

Web address

Research interests:

  • Mesoscale and micro-scale atmospheric numerical modeling
  • Regional climate modeling (dynamical downscaling)
  • Applied meteorology in complex terrain
  • Atmospheric surface layer turbulent physical processes
  • In-situ wind turbulence measurement methods and instrumentation