Meet Ursula Cochran

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Earthquake Geologist at GNS Science.

Job description: 

I use sediments and fossils to identify evidence for large earthquakes and tsunamis that have happened in New Zealand’s past. We use this information to understand more about where and when such events will happen in the future so we can all be better prepared for them.

Work background: 

I have worked as a geologist at GNS since leaving university and I hope to be there until I retire because it’s such a great place to work!

Favourite part of job: 

Making new discoveries about our planet and the place we live in.

Least favourite part of job: 

Commuting to the office – although that gives me a good opportunity to sing loudly without anyone hearing!

What I am working on now: 

I am currently writing a scientific paper about past earthquakes and tsunamis that we have found evidence for in a valley near Napier – we think these are large events that happened on the plate boundary fault known as the Hikurangi subduction zone. 

A quick story about a job well done: 

After the Kaikōura earthquake, I was helping my colleague survey the amount of coastal uplift that had happened near Cape Campbell in the South Island. The farmer warned us to be careful of a big dip in the road as we headed out to the coast. The “dip” was marked with road cones and we drove down it carefully but something looked a bit strange – we took a closer look and quickly realized it was a fault rupture from the earthquake! The ground had broken across the farmer’s land! That day we ended up with a new fault trace mapped as well as our coastal uplift measurements. We also got to name the fault – we decided on the “Lighthouse Fault” because it headed towards the Cape Campbell lighthouse.


I have a PhD in Geology from Victoria University of Wellington and a BA in English from the University of Auckland.

Interests outside work: 

I have two young boys who keep me well entertained with their conversation and ideas. I enjoy being in the outdoors with my family – discovering new bush tracks, look-outs, beaches and picnic spots. And I collect old picnic sets so I’ve always got an appropriate one for the occasion. 

Ursula Cochran is an Earthquake Geologist at GNS Science. Image: GNS Science.