Chris McKeen

Towards a new resilience

Lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, New Zealand is vulnerable to a host of volcanic and tectonic threats. And being an island nation, also the possibility of inundation by tsunami, and the prospect of sea-level rise and more intense weather events. When natural events are difficult to predict or mitigate, how do we build more durable infrastructure, and a more resilient society?

Geography

Underwater volcanos of the Pacific

Extending some 1400 kilometres northeast from the Bay of Plenty, the Kermadec Arc is the longest underwater volcanic ridge on the planet. It is also highly active, creating great calderas on the sea floor and spewing rafts of pumice that drift on the surface for thousands of kilometres. Scientists are only beginning to understand the diversity of life that takes advantage of this unstable environment.

Geography

New Zealand's tsunami threat

Off the east coast of the North Island, one tectonic plate slipping could lead to the same kind of quake that caused devastating tsunami in Japan in 2011 and Southeast Asia in 2004. Thanks to a suite of seafloor instruments and new underwater observatories, scientists are discovering more about this plate boundary and how it behaves.

Science & Environment

­­Ready or not

Preparing for a natural disaster has long been considered a matter of personal responsibility—but what happens to those without the finances to stockpile supplies or the physical ability to run up the nearest hill? Lessons learned during New Zealand’s most recent crises have shifted how towns and cities are building resilience. Researchers with the Resilience National Science Challenge and other agencies now believe that strong community connections will best help everyone ride out a worst-case scenario—but can we form those bonds in time for the next big one?

Living World

After the flood

Nile Street looked much like its Egyptian namesake as rain thundered down on Nelson in December. Culverts choked with rocks and silt, and despite extensive use of sandbags, houses and gardens were inundated. But worse was to come. Hillsides collapsed, rivers burst their banks and torrents of water drove tonnes of silt and sand through valleys and farmland throughout the district. After two days of deluge, those who weren’t driven from their homes by the rising flood looked in disbelief upon the damage wrought by water in one of New Zealand’s sunniest regions.

Science & Environment

In the wake of the quake

The Kaikōura Earthquake was better documented and measured than any natural event in our history. As the data streams in, scientists are scrambling to decode its hidden meanings and answer some burning questions of Antipodean geology: How does seismic energy jump from one fault to another? Why were so many involved in this earthquake? And what can it teach us so we are better prepared for the next one?

Science & Environment

The big one

The Alpine Fault ruptures—on average—every 330 years with a magnitude 8 earthquake. Geologists and authorities are racing to quantify what might happen, and how they might respond in the event of the next one, likely to occur some time in the next 50 years.

Geography

The fire beneath us

New Zealand’s largest city sits atop an active volcanic field that has erupted at least 53 times in the past 250,000 years. The catastrophic blasts felled forests and set the Auckland isthmus alight. The fire-fountaining cones and lava flows rode roughshod over the land. Scientists are not wondering if it will happen again, but what it will cost Auckland in lives and infrastructure when it does.