The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is sponsoring a study by researchers from New Zealand and Canada that seeks to determine the earthquake and tsunami potential for part of the Hikurangi Subduction Zone beneath the lower North Island.
The researchers are led by Professor Martha Savage of Victoria University of Wellington. The New Zealand team comes from Victoria University of Wellington and GNS Science, while the Canada team is from the University of Ottawa and Dalhousie University.
The study will involve deploying 20 ocean-bottom seismometers that will help measure how the Pacific Plate is slipping underneath the Australian Plate, off the east coast of Wellington. These seismometers will help scientists determine the seismic activity in this area and estimate the potential for future events.
Savage said that a large portion of the fault is “locked” compared with that further up the east coast but understanding of how often earthquakes occur is quite low.
“This is a big hazard for us because if it goes, it’s going to go fast,” she said. “The result would be a large and sudden earthquake that could also trigger a tsunami.”
Ocean-bottom seismometers have been used to study earthquakes at the Hikurangi Margin further up the east coast and in short-duration subsurface imaging around New Zealand. According to EQC, these have ever been deployed for time periods greater than a few weeks in the locked area in the lower North Island.
The Canadian government is co-funding the research due to the presence of a similar fault along Canada’s western coast.
Natalie Balfour, EQC research manager, said that EQC is funding the project because it meshes with its vision to better understand the natural hazards New Zealand faces.
“EQC has previously funded research on the Hikurangi Subduction Zone, but Professor Savage’s work will hopefully add another valuable piece to that puzzle,” Balfour said.