McKay Hammer Award

2023 McKay Hammer Award winner:
Finn Illsley-Kemp


Finn's award recognises his innovative and timely work on the seismicity associated with Taupō volcano. The primary paper for the nomination showed for the first time that seismicity occurring under Taupō volcano had non-double couple focal mechanisms, providing direct evidence for live magmatic activity. Moreover, it showed that the seismicity occurred in tandem with inflation and that the geophysical indicators served to outline a magmatic mush zone of at least 250 km3 volume.

A supporting paper summarised the co-creation aspects of his research and brought to a global audience the importance of engagement with local communities and indigenous peoples in geoscientific research. A second supporting paper represents a retroactive view of the ‘quiet’ period at Taupō and provides essential background knowledge within a consistent framework with which to view future unrest episodes.


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Past McKay Hammer Award winners

Year Person From For publication(s) on
2022 Jamie Howarth Victoria Calibrating the marine turbidite palaeoseismometer using the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, and Spatiotemporal clustering of great earthquakes on a transform fault controlled by geometry.
2021 Joshu Mountjoy NIWA Earthquakes drive large-scale submarine canyon development and sediment supply to deep-ocean basins.
2020 Susan Ellis GNS Science For a body of work as a leading geodynamic modeller, making pivotal contributions to our understanding of tectonics.
2019 Ewan Fordyce Otago A new eomysticetid from Oligocene Kokoamu Greensand of New Zealand and a review of Eomysticetidae.
2018 Laura Wallace GNS For a body of work that has been transformative in our understanding of the seismic behaviour of the Hikurangi subduction margin.
2017 Daphne Lee Otago For a body of work on palaeontology and palaeobotany of southern Zealandia using fossils in Oligocene-Miocene sedimentary deposits.
  Nicholas Golledge  Victoria For a body of work on modelling the Antarctica Ice Sheet.
2016 Helen Bostock  NIWA For a body of work devoted largely to palaeoceanogrphy and palaeoclimatology in the New Zealand and wider Southern Hemisphere regions.
2015 Julie Rowland Auckland Hydrologic, magmatic, and tectonic controls on hydrothermal flow, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand: Implications for the formation of epithermal vein deposits.
2014 Kelvin Berryman GNS Major earthquakes occurring regularly on an isolated plate boundary fault.
2013 Bruce Hayward Geomarine Research The last global extinction (Mid-Pleistocene) of deep-sea benthic foraminifera.
2012 David Barrell GNS South Island glacial geomorphology and the record of climate change.
2011 David Lowe Waikato Tephrochronology.
2010 Simon Cox GNS Mapping and scientific contributions to understanding the geology of the Southern Alps, focussing on his work on the Aoraki QMAP project.
2009 Brent Alloway Wellington Tephrochronology and its application to palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstructions.
2008 Andy Nicol GNS Research on faults spanning the divide between seismology and structural geology.
2007 Alan Beu GNS Marine Mollusca of oxygen isotope stages of the last 2 million years in New Zealand
2006 Tim Naish GNS Plio-Pleistocene marine record of Wanganui Basin
2005 Chris Hollis GNS KT boundary environmental changes
2004 Phil Shane Auckland Tephrostratigraphy & paleoenvironments
2003 Tim Little Victoria Southern Alps & Neotectonics
2002 Peter Kamp Waikato Fission track thermochronology
2001 Pat Suggate GNS Quaternary stratigraphy & coal rank
2000 Chris Adams GNS Provenance of NZ terranes
1999 Phil Barnes NIWA Southern Hikurangi margin
1998 Lionel Carter NIWA Shelf to deep ocean processes
1997 James Crampton GNS Inoceramid taxonomy
1996 Peter Koons Otago Collision zones and processes
1995 Ian Wright NIWA Offshore TVZ volcanism
1994 Nick Mortimer GNS Otago Schist
1993 Brad Pillans Victoria NZ Quaternary geology
1992 Phil Maxwell Waimate Eocene macropaleontology
1991 Werner Giggenbach
Jack Bradshaw
DSIR Otago Hydrothermal work; Fiordland petrology
1990 Cam Nelson Waikato Carbonate deposits
1989 Chuck Landis
Clark Blake
Otago & USGS Tectonostratigraphic terranes
1988 Ian Turnbull NZGS Southland geology
1987 No award made - -
1986 Colin Wilson Auckland Taupo eruption
1985 Matt McGlone DSIR Botany Quaternary flora, climate
1984 Jarg Pettinga Canterbury Southern Hawkes Bay geology
1983 Mike Johnston NZGS East Nelson geology
1982 George Walker Hawaii Taupo ignimbrites
1981 Vince Neall Massey Taranaki volcanicity
1980 Roger Cooper NZGS Paleozoic geology and fauna
1979 Simon Nathan NZGS West Coast geology
1978 Bruce Hayward NZGS Waitakere Ranges geology
1977 Ian Speden NZGS Cretaceous geology
1976 Gordon Williams Otago Economic geology of NZ
1973-74 PB Andrews   Sedimentology, Torlesse and Otago shelf papers
1972-73 No award made    
1971-72 DG Bishop   Petrology and structural geology papers
1970-71 DG Jenkins   Planktonic Foraminifera bulletin
1969-70 T Hatherton   Geophysical anomalies and seismicity papers
1968-69 GH Scott   Biometry in micropaleontology papers
1967-68 R Stoneley   East coast decollement paper
1966-67 JP Kennett   Kapitean stratigraphy papers
1966 No award made    
1965 A Ewart   Whakamaru Ignimbrite paper
1964 JB Waterhouse   Permian brachiopoda bulletin
1963 BL Wood   Structure of Otago schists paper
1962 B Gunn and G Warren   Geology, Antarctica bulletin
1961 N de B Hornibrook   Oamaru foraminifera bulletin
1960 DS Coombs   Low grade mineral facies paper
1959 HW Wellman   NZ Cretaceous divisions paper
1958 M Gage   Glaciations, Waimakariri paper
1957 CA Fleming   Pecten bulletin
1956 GR Stevens   Geology of the Hutt Valley papers


Alexander McKay

Alexander McKay was born in Scotland on 11 April 1841 and migrated to New Zealand aged 22. 

After working in the New Zealand and Australian goldfields he spent four years exploring and prospecting the south-west part of the Mackenzie Country.  It was during this time that he met Julius Haast who, in 1870, engaged him as an assistant on some geological surveys of the north Canterbury region. 

Late in 1872 James Hector, director of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey of New Zealand, noted McKay's fine saurian fossil collections from Waipara in the Canterbury Museum, and engaged the young geologist to make similar collections from Haumuri Bluff near Kaikoura.  At the completion of this work in April 1873 McKay moved to Wellington.  Shortly afterwards he was appointed a permanent officer in the Geological Survey, where he remained until retrenchment of the survey in 1892.  He was then transferred to the Mines Department as mining geologist, eventually becoming government geologist. 

Initially a fossil collector for the Geological Survey, McKay was soon sent by Hector on geological reconnaissance explorations.  Enthusiasm, physical and mental robustness, and a sheer joy in discovery and exploration carried McKay to the remotest parts of the country.  He delighted in the discovery of a new fossil locality, the rocking motion of an earthquake, and particularly, a finding in the field that cast doubt on the favoured theory of a local specialist. 

In the late 1880s McKay took up a new enthusiasm – photography.  He experimented with designs of cameras and telescopes and with telephotography and microphotography, even grinding his own lenses from bottle ends, and achieved good quality photo-micrographs of thin sections of rocks. He retired from the public service in 1904. 

Philosophically, McKay's greatest achievement can be seen as freeing New Zealand earth scientists from the strictures of a European-based 'received wisdom', enabling them to see, interpret and report the uniqueness of New Zealand geology.

Alexander McKay died in Wellington in 1917. 


A longer more detailed biography of Alexander McKay can be found in Te Ara.