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Source: GNS Science

Project leader Bill Fry of GNS Science said his team is aiming to harness the combined power of existing earthquake and tsunami monitoring equipment, including that from neighbouring Pacific countries, with advanced analytical techniques to produce faster and more specific scientific information in the minutes following a big quake.

“Currently in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, we define a quake as a point source in the Earth, giving it a location and depth,” Dr Fry says.

“But we know that fault ruptures can extend hundreds of kilometres from an epicentre, so we need more information that describes the true extent of an earthquake in order to estimate its impact.

Damage to the Picton-Christchurch rail line due to the rupture of the Papatea Fault north of Kaikōura during the magnitude 7.8 Kaikōura quake in November 2016. Photo – Will Ries, GNS Science.

“This project will build a four-dimensional picture of earthquakes – combining space and time – so we can deliver near real-time reports of potential hazards that feed into impact assessments for decision makers and first responders.”

The main focus will be on the two types of quakes that pose the most severe hazard to New Zealand. These are large local quakes and large quakes in the southwest Pacific that can generate tsunamis.

We will also incorporate earthquake data from Pacific partners, such as GeoScience Australia, to maximise the data available for analysis

Dr Bill Fry

“We will explore the use of new scientific tools for New Zealand that range from those recently established in other parts of the world to highly promising and world-leading approaches. In doing this, the research will push into previously unexplored and ‘high-gain’ areas of science,” said Dr Fry.

“The work will improve the timeliness and accuracy of tsunami warnings and enable the establishment of a world-class tsunami early warning capability. This will strengthen New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen and Pacific partner.”

An important output will be realistic shaking assessments that highlight the severity of potential building, infrastructure and landslide damage to help guide search-and-rescue, post-event engineering assessments, and recovery efforts.

Dr Fry said the new developments would be tested thoroughly before being introduced gradually through the five-year lifespan of the project. The most sophisticated improvements will come to fruition at the end of the project.

As part of the project a new network of seismic instruments will be established in Northland. Northland’s location is ideally suited to picking up the seismic signals from earthquakes and volcanoes in the Pacific that are a focus of this project. 

This will include working with schools in Northland to deliver STEM topics related to the project. Students participating in the research will be encouraged to share their newly-gained knowledge with local communities.

In terms of tsunamis, the aim is to quickly develop accurate forecasts of tsunami arrival times and sizes from a combination of earthquake data and data from the recently installed DART buoys to the north and east of New Zealand.

“We will also incorporate earthquake data from Pacific partners, such as GeoScience Australia, to maximise the data available for analysis.”

The project has been awarded $13.2 million in funding over five years from MBIE’s Endeavour Fund.

It will combine the expertise of scientists, many of them world-leading, in New Zealand, Australia, France, and the United States.