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Future of the New Zealand Stratigraphic Lexicon


What is called the New Zealand Stratigraphic Lexicon is a database that has been progressively refined and updated over the last 50 years. Four versions have been prepared, each building on and extending the previous version:

(1) Adkin, G.L. 1954: Bibliographic index of New Zealand stratigraphic names to 31 December 1950. New Zealand Geological Survey memoir 9: 121 p. [A listing of 1012 names, up to 1950]
(2) Fleming, C.A. (editor) 1959: Lexique stratigraphique internationale volume VI, Oceanie, Fascicule 4, New Zealand. 527 p. [Description of 1118 names, including NZ stages, up to May 1957]

(3) McGregor, E. (compiler) 1987: Bibliographic index of New Zealand stratigraphic names to 31 December 1986. New Zealand Geological Survey Bulletin 102. 258 p. + 2 appendices. [A listing of 3873 names, including subsequent usage]

(4) Online Stratigraphic Lexicon. Updated version of McGregor (1987), available online through GNS and GSNZ web sites. Progressively updated by Ian Keyes from regular literature scans. [5000+ entries, including a batch of data awaiting computer entry]

Ian Keyes has undertaken regular literature scans and kept the lexicon updated since the publication of the 1987 version. He has done this work voluntarily since he retired five years ago, and has indicated that he wishes to cease at the end of this year. At the same time, the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences is planning to move the database from an obsolete computer to a new computing platform, which involves considerable work.

A meeting, convened by Diana Kelly, to discuss the future of the Lexicon was held at GNS in October 2000. It was decided that it was important to consult the New Zealand geological community about past and future usage of the lexicon. A basic question was whether there was a clear need that it should continue. A small subcommittee (Greg Browne, Simon Nathan, and Ian Raine) was given the responsibility of preparing and distributing a questionnaire, and reporting on the results. It was hoped that this could be done rapidly so that the results could be discussed at the forthcoming Geological Society conference.

The questionnaire was sent out as part of a GSNZ Newsflash on 13 November 2000.A reminder was sent out to everyone thought to be likely to be interested in New Zealand stratigraphy (about 50 people) several days later. By the time results were tallied up on 23 November, 37 people had responded. Several replies came in later (and are not included in the following figures).


Results of questionnaire

Respondents = 37 (+ several late responses)
19 IGNS; 10 University; 1 Editor; 7 Consultant/self employed

1. Are you aware of the printed version of the Lexicon ? Y = 36; N = 1

2. Do you refer to it from time to time ? Y = 34; N = 3

3. Are you aware of the Online version of the Lexicon ? Y = 24; N = 13

4. Have you ever used the Online version ? Y = 7; N = 30

5. Are you likely to use the Online version in the future ? Y = 33; N = 3

6. Do you think that there is an ongoing need for a stratigraphic lexicon ? Y = 36; ? = 1

7. Would you prefer a new edition to be a book or an online version ? Book = 7; Online = 12; Both = 16; Either = 2 [Note that "Both" was not an option offered ˆ it was written in. Several people wanted an updated version of the Fleming version].

8. How can the overall earth science community contribute to maintenance of the Lexicon ? [This was deliberately an open question to see what sort of response was obtained. The response was highly varied, and included the following ideas]
Obtain sponsorship
Apply to PGSF
Encourage retired co-ordinator
Get GSNZ/GNS agreement
GSNZ levy on subscriptions

9. Which organisation should run the Lexicon ?
GSNZ = 14
IGNS = 7
[A number of respondents emphasised the need for a long-term GSNZ/GNS agreement]

10. General comments. Most people left this blank. There were no general themes to the response.

11.Are you happy with the current, relatively relaxed approach to stratigraphic nomenclature in New Zealand ? Yes = 24; No = 12

12. Would you like to see any changes ? Yes = 13; No = 17

13. Do you favour a GSNZ subcommittee to oversee running of the Lexicon and resolve major stratigraphic issues ? Yes = 34; No = 3

14. Do you think that there should be a system for vetting and approval of new stratigraphic names in New Zealand ? Yes = 17; No = 18

15. Do you favour a clear statement about stratigraphic nomenclature standards in the "Instructions to Authors" in the New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics ? Yes = 36; No = 1

16. Do you consider that stratigraphic names proposed in University theses are valid ? Yes = 5; No = 32

17. Should the International Stratigraphic Guide replace the older New Zealand Stratigraphic Code ? Yes = 27; uncertain = 5

18. Can the current usage of Tikorangi (Ignimbrite/Limestone) continue ? Yes = 25; No = 9

19. Is there need for guidance about the definition/naming of sequence stratigraphic units ? Yes = 19; No = 3; Uncertain = 7

Those who replied to the questionnaire appear to be a substantial proportion of those actively involved in stratigraphic work in New Zealand. Slightly over half consisted of IGNS staff.
Almost everyone was aware of the printed version of the Lexicon, and most people used it from time to time. [A couple of people commented that it was equivalent to having a dictionary on the shelf]. A smaller number were aware of the online version, and very few had actually used it (almost everyone said that they would in future). It is clear that publicity about the availability of the online version would increase its usage).
Almost everyone felt that there was a strong ongoing need for the Stratigraphic Lexicon to continue. [The one person who expressed doubt said "depending on how much it is going to cost"]
Almost half the respondents said that they wanted both a book (hard-copy) and online version ˆ although they were asked to make a choice. There is clearly some demand for a hard-copy version even although an online version may be more up-to-date.
A variety of answers were given to the question about how the earth science community can contribute to the maintenance of the Lexicon. In this and the following question a number of respondents emphasised the need for a long-term GSNZ/GNS agreement on the future of the lexicon, and many people felt that this was a "public good" issue.
About two thirds of respondents were happy with the current, relatively relaxed attitude to stratigraphic nomenclature in New Zealand, but a small group felt that stratigraphic practice (by other people!) was too sloppy, and more control was needed. There was a 50:50 split between those that favoured and those that opposed some form of vetting of new stratigraphic names.
There was overall support for a GSNZ committee to be involved with oversight of the Lexicon and resolving major stratigraphic problems (although it was not clear how this might work). But clearly it did not extend to the detailed vetting of new names.
There was also strong support for a statement about standards of stratigraphic nomenclature in the "Instructions to Authors" of the New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics.
Most people did not consider that names proposed in University theses were valid.
Many people were happy to accept the International Stratigraphic Guide in place of the older New Zealand Stratigraphic Guide, but several people commented that they were uncertain about the differences.
There was recently correspondence in the GSNZ Newsletter about the usage of the term Tikorangi (Ignimbrite or Limestone). Most people were prepared for current usage to continue, as there was unlikely to be confusion, but many people commented that such duplication was undesirable.

Simon Nathan (1 December 2000)