Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Ready for the Big One?

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  • Russell Brown,

    disclaimer: i work for GNS in GeoNet... :-)

    It shows. Thanks.

    Any good oil on the particular situation in the Wellington CBD?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Matthew Poole,

    earthquake prediction is on a par with weather-forecasting Hilary.
    The tech gets better but the variables are huge and reliability of when/where/how great forecasts are a distant dream.

    Especially when you start forecasting weeks or months, or even years, in advance. Forecasting tomorrow's weather is getting pretty accurate, and the day-after-tomorrow is normally not too far off either. But next week, never mind six months from now?
    The biggest problem with massive complex systems like weather and tectonic motion is that chaos theory will strike. The smaller the area under observation, the less scope there is for random, unpredictable events to manifest. But when you're talking about massive chunks of rock that measure thousands of kilometres by thousands of kilometres, and stresses that build up over decades or centuries, the room for that single wild card to throw itself into the mix becomes absolutely enormous.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Yep; the Elder died trying to evacuate people by boat. There is, not incidentally, another great BBC docudrama about this.

    And the first episodes of Roman Mysteries, not long aired on TVNZ6 =)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report

  • Alien Lizard (anag),

    I like the jam image

    Magmalade ?

    The Arrrgh Complex • Since Jan 2010 • 158 posts Report

  • craigm,


    assuming you're not meaning the pending Phoenix game....


    The good news is that recent GNS research has shown the Wellington Fault ruptures more like every 900 years (on average) not every 600 years as previously thought. The last big one was about 300 years ago ,so plenty of time yet....

    But that's just the Wellington fault. The nearby Wairarapa Fault last broke in 1855 and caused a magnitude 8.2 quake which would still be pretty, shall we say, exciting, in the wellington CBD.

    Taupo • Since Nov 2007 • 16 posts Report

  • chris,

    That was a great explanation above craigm.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report

  • Hilary Stace,

    Thanks Craig. I love the geonet site, and go there straight after a local quake to see how long before it is reported - which is usually pretty quickly. However, on Saturday evening I was reading an overseas autism site and a breaking news message popped up about the Chilean earthquake. Neither it nor the earlier Japan earthquake was yet reported on the geonet site as far as I could tell. I'm not complaining about that, but it would be nice to have links on the site to where you can find out the latest news about overseas earthquakes from gns type organisations.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report

  • Lucy Stewart,

    But that's just the Wellington fault. The nearby Wairarapa Fault last broke in 1855 and caused a magnitude 8.2 quake which would still be pretty, shall we say, exciting, in the wellington CBD.

    On a technical level, how did you feel about the docudrama TV3 did last year? IIRC that was based on a potential Wairarapa fault rupture. Didn't address the wider region at all, though.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report

  • Islander,



    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • izogi,

    Tsunami are also earthquake-triggered: there are deep trenches offshore from where I live that have triggered past tsunami by slumping.

    Supposedly the coast around Kaikoura is at risk of this, as I heard a while ago. A 5 second google search popped up this NIWA paper from 2006 which (from the abstract) describes the off-shore underwater landscape as having "substantial potential for a submarine landslide", and that such a landslide generated tsunami "represents a large potential hazard to the area from South Bay to Oaro" in the South Island.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Islander,

    izogi - not wrong.
    I have that paper. James Goff (he & Catherine Chague-Goff are my friends) used to work for NIWA( before they were headhunted and went to Australia...)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • Rich Lock,

    a landslide generated tsunami

    Probably not a good idea for me to start talking about the Canary Islands at this point in the evening.

    The island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa, was discovered to be in great danger of collapsing. The island is volcanic and during an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in 1949 part of the island slipped a few metres into the sea before stopping. Another eruption could cause the western flank of the island to collapse in the Atlantic Ocean.

    Oh. Would this be an issue?

    It would [cause a tsunami wave] far bigger than any wave ever seen for thousands of years. 500 billion tonnes of rock are waiting to collapse into the ocean at terrific speed. The collapse would create nearly 5,000,000,000,000,000 (5 thousand trillion) joules of kinetic energy, which would be converted into a colossal wave 900 metres high with awesome speed - within ten minutes it would have moved 250 kilometres. The landslide would continue to move underwater, powering the wave as it goes.

    No coastline in the North Atlantic would be spared. Britain, France, Spain and Portugal would all be badly hit North Africa would be hit by 100 metre waves, but the main wave would travel west. It would storm across the Atlantic in hours, hitting the Caribbean and Brazil badly. However, the real damage would be to the East coast of the USA.

    By the time it had travelled the 4000 miles to America the wave would be lower and wider. It would now be just 50 metres high but many kilometres long, allowing it to sweep up to 20 miles in land, destroying everything in its path. Boston, New York and Miami would virtually be wiped off the map. Skyscrapers would be bulldozed as if they weren't there. Bridges would be ripped from their foundations. And virtually every human in these cities would be killed.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report

  • Islander,

    Ah shit, Rich! James & Catherine gave me that info a couple of years ago and I've been trying to forget it, ever since...

    Anybody mentioned that our tenure on this planet, our only lonely home, is - precarious?

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • craigm,

    @Chris - thanks !

    @ Hilary

    The best place to look for overseas stuff is the usgs website.


    they look after the global seismic network which is able to locate large earthquakes any where in the world. Our NZ network cant locate events too far outside NZ with any accuracy so we rely on the GSN for that info. A couple of NZ stations contribute to the global network. There's a link to it on the Geonet website under the Earthquakes tab - links.


    havent actually seen that TV3 program ...probably an omission on my part. bUt the estimated shaking intensity in the Wellington CBD from the 1855 quake is MM10 on the Mercalli scale. This is described as "Many buildings are damaged and most weak buildings are destroyed."


    Volcanoes are more my thing anyway ;-).

    Taupo • Since Nov 2007 • 16 posts Report

  • izogi,

    The only social tool that remained fully working was facebook; my Chilean friends say that FB went into overdrive for both businesses and friends checking in and confirming their family/employees/friends status, relieving not just people but i would have thought also taking pressure off the telephone network.

    Facebook was impressive in this situation. My fiancé spent her 6th form year in a small town (100,000 people) called Curicó about 100km from the epi-centre. It's small enough in population that it barely registers -- in 2007 when I told my Santiago-based español class at the end of my first week that I was visiting Curicó for the weekend, they couldn't understand why on earth I'd want to go there. The only news report of any sort that we could find was a single bulletin in spanish that claimed "80% of the town had been flattened". She eventually tracked down her 10 or so closest friends through Facebook within a couple of days to confirm they were okay (although some were still without places to live), and one of her friends had also posted a collection of photos from around Curicó. Among other things she picked out the doors of her favourite ice cream shop under a pile of rubble. The large church in the centre of town, which they'd only just finished rebuilding 50 years after the 1960 earthquake, sustained heavy damage all over again. It must be terribly disheartening for many many people.

    In time it turned out that the "80% flattened" figure was to do with all the older buildings and churches in the centre of town, but not so much the housing blocks around the sides where everyone was sleeping. I think the Curicó death toll was only about 40 people, but I'm struggling to say "only" because in most contexts that'd be a terrible disaster, and obviously it still is for many people, but in retrospect they also got off lightly. If it'd struck during the day it probably would have had a much heavier toll. Chile has good building standards with regard to earthquakes, and some of their less stable older buildings probably disintegrated in 1960 and were re-built better, but this was just such a seriously big amount of energy that solid building standards didn't always count.

    Actually being stuck in New Zealand as we woke up on Sunday morning and wanting to find out about Chile was very frustrating. Our internet was down with a neighbour chopping a tree, and the only thing the media here was talking about was the impending tsunami in New Zealand. (I can appreciate why, of course.) We hopped over to my parents' place to borrow their internet and ended up watching some CNN, which was giving lots of information about the situation in Chile until the tsunami began to get close to Hawaii at which point the Chile focus abruptly stopped as they switched to perpetually showing live footage of empty Hawaiian beaches in hope that something interesting would happen.

    I guess it showed us both how much we'd been taking the internet for granted with respect to quality information about what's happening overseas. It's not just access to foreign media and blogs, it's the whole thing.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Jan Farr,

    called Plinian after a young eye witness.

    Please don't tell me that is a quote from Te Papa.

    That was an understandable abbreviation of an explanation at the exhibition that because of Pliny the younger's vivid descriptions of the eruption, those types of eruptions were then known as Plinian.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 395 posts Report

  • craigm,


    unfortunately that La Palma story is somewhat exagerated......

    Taupo • Since Nov 2007 • 16 posts Report

  • Yamis,

    There was an article in the Herald last year on this: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/news/print.cfm?objectid=10580021

    Seems we, in Auckland, would have days or maybe weeks to prepare for a volcano to blow (of course this wouldn't be a volcano that currently exists but a new one).

    Auckland (aside from being underwater millions of years ago) is believed to have had a volcano around 5 times the size of Mt Ruapehu 10-15 kilometres off shore from Muriwai (the other theory is that there were a chain of smaller volcanoes that stretched up the west coast - one of these theories is correct). It has now eroded away and is completely covered by sediment on the sea floor but it's remnants of course are a large part of the Waitaks.

    I could be wrong but I think the faultline which ran under Auckland and I guess was largely responsible for all the volcanic activity has been migrating east for some time and might be closer to the Coromandel. That's not to say Auckland won't get more volcanis activity (it will at some point) but maybe there's less chance now?

    I'm a high school geo teacher so my knowledge of such matters is spread far and wide (and thin).

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report

  • Rich Lock,

    unfortunately !!!??!!!!

    You sound disappointed.

    From the mildly hysterical tone of the 'armageddononline' website I linked, I did kinda suspect it might not be 100% kosher.

    I just vaguely recalled the story from a couple of years ago and went googling.

    Here a couple of more credible links:



    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    ham radio enthusiasts have been very helpful in natural disasters recently, but that seems like a dying hobby

    The internet won't fail though? It was designed to withstand nuclear war, so surely earthquakes and supervolcanoes wouldn't break it.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Also, I have very little in food and water, depending on whether I've been camping recently. But I know where the supermarket is in order to engage in community reliance.

    Plus, my feeling about big disasters is that there's nothing one can do about it, so why stress? If there's a big enough supervolcano, then humans will become extinct. We had 50,000 years, it's been good, so bye...

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • webweaver,

    I too have to do the "lalala I can't hear you" thing in relation to natural disasters that may befall us - otherwise I couldn't even live in NZ, let alone Welli...

    Having said that... I do have quite a good collection of useful stuff. My friend works for the gummint in disaster preparedness and we've had quite a few chats about this very subject. He reckons you need to be able to be self-sufficient for at least 7 days, just in case....

    I have two of those quick "emergency kits in a bucket" - one's in my house, the other's in the garden shed. They have a bunch of the most obvious emergency stuff in them - you can get them from Mitre10 and suchlike.

    Then I have a massive plastic waterproof box container thingy into which over the past couple of years I have shashed all sorts of useful stuff - batteries, spare torches, tobacco, loo roll, toiletries, warm clothes, space blankets, sun block, spare sunnies, sunhats and warm hats, a big first-aid kit and lord knows what else. I have camping gear also, including cooking gear, tents, a gas cooker and gas lantern with a bunch of spare gas cannisters - also carefully packed away so hopefully I can get to it and it won't be all squished.

    I reckon I've got enough food for at least a week (I don't eat much), and I have a carton full of bottled water stored away. I also have my very wonderful wind-up/solar-powered transistor radio to keep me connected with the outside world. I've bought these for most of my friends for various Christmases and birthdays as well...

    My friend reckons I should also get some of the 15-litre plastic water containers that the City Council sells - he reckons one would probably do me, but I think I might get 4 and store them in various places around the house and garden shed :) You just have to remember to renew the water once a year. You can get them for $10 each from the City Service Centre at 101 Wakefield Street in Welli. WCC emergency management overview

    We've talked about what I'd do if the big one hit - where I'd go etc. They recommend that people stay home in the first instance, but if I had to leave he's talked me through how I would get out of Welli and up the coast to his place via backroads (because he's sure the harbourside access would be gone). I'd put the cats in their baskets and wheel them along in a wheelbarrow, along with the rest of my gear. Kewl! Just like The Road! What fun! (not).

    He also reckons I need to make a plan with other friends who live nearby so that I wouldn't have to get to his place unless I really had to.

    When I'm working somewhere permanently I also have a little store of warm clothes and a pair of comfy shoes somewhere near my desk... just in case...

    And then I just don't think about it at all. So I don't freak myself out.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 332 posts Report

  • Islander,

    Ur Rich, we've had something like 120,ooo ybp as AMH's - probably another 50,ooo ybp (the data is insufficient.) There have been 2 major bottlenecks (when AMH h. saps.saps got down - it seems, from DNA- to less than 10,000 of our paticular species.) We're survivors - but so are other wonderful species. Sharks. Cockroaches. Eels.

    The difference between them (and many other survivor species) is ---we can plan against extinction--

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • craigm,

    unfortunately !!!??!!!!

    You sound disappointed.


    hah! poor choice of words, *luckily* i meant.

    @Yamis. The Waitaks are indeed made up of an old volcano that once existed to the west of AUckland. It is part of a chain of long dead volcanoes that exist offshore from Kaipara to the Waitak's. THey were formed when the plate boundary was much further west than it is today (may somewhere around where AK is today - except of course Ak didnt exist then). THat was about 20million years ago (20Ma). Around 10Ma the plate boundary moved east (rotated clockwise) and formed the Coromandel Peninsula. Then around 2-3Ma it moved east again and started to form the present day Taupo Volcanic Zone. East Cape is continuing to rotate clockwise and eventually the next volcanoes in NZ will probably form somewhere around W(h)anganui - but we're talking millions of years....

    The Auckland volcanic field is unrelated to the present day (or past) plate boundary. It's what's called an Intraplate volcanic field, ie a volcanic field that forms within a plate away from a boundary. There's another one in Northland - Kaikohe that last erupted only 2ka. The Mumbai Hills are an older version of the auckland field, it's thought that activity moved nth from the Bombays which were active about 1Ma to the AVF which started about 250ka.

    Taupo • Since Nov 2007 • 16 posts Report

  • Hilary Stace,

    Just walked up Tinakori Hill as you get a good view of the Wellington fault from the top, and can almost see what could happen with the Ohariu and Wairarapa faults too.

    Lucy: I saw that docudrama and I thought it was quite unrealistic that they closed off the Wellington region at Otaki and didn't let anyone near the Miramar peninsula or the main affected areas. People would walk, climb and clamber, or steal jetskis to get to their families. Those two who broke into the chemist shop to get diabetes medication and were shot for looting - would that happen? (The office block in Maginnity Street where the group was trapped was where I did some civil defence training years ago.)

    A more realistic story was the young adult story Earthquake (can't remember author but was well-known NZ writer). Had the mother walking home from her job in Porirua (took her a long time) and how the family coped in different parts of Wellington.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report

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