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12/9/2018 — Education, Science and Technology
Alpine Fault anniversary raises questions

The Alpine Fault that runs from the South Island up to the base of the North Island has now passed its 300th anniversary since a devastating earthquake.

This has, according to the website Newshub, got scientists saying the Alpine Fault is overdue for a massive earthquake.

That massive quake 300 years ago measured 8.1, making it about three times stronger than the Kaikoura quake of 2016.

In recent years scientists armed with technology and drilling rigs have probed the Alpine Fault to look for signs of any major instability.

Newshub said this week that The New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics has published a special issue on the Alpine Fault. There are contributions from scientists at GNS Science, the Universities of Victoria, Canterbury and Otago, and from overseas.

“The intrigue of this earthquake arises from the gradual unveiling of multiple lines of research that have come together to consolidate our understanding of what took place in 1717 AD,” the journal said.

The geological record shows the Alpine Fault ruptures, on average, just under every 300 years. Ten years ago, scientists only had evidence for three separate quakes on the fault - now they have seven recorded at multiple sites along the fault, and 27 in individual stretches.

They were able to narrow down the timing of the last big one to 1717 by looking at tree ring patterns.

The report claimed that being on the boundary of the Pacific and Australia tectonic plates, “it will happen again.”

Research by the University of Otago said scientists, emergency planners and numerous agencies involved in preparing for a future Alpine Fault earthquake have modelled the impacts of a major earthquake on the Alpine Fault. This highlighted the need for emergency agencies to work across boundaries during a future disaster.

Project AF8, an initiative funded by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, was established in July 2016 to improve the South Island’s collective response capability to deal with the next magnitude 8 earthquake.

University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Caroline Orchiston is the science leader for the project and outlined the development and outcomes of the project to date.

The most recent initiative is a series of videos, one that Dr Orchiston fronts herself, which explain the Alpine Fault hazard and offer practical advice to individuals and businesses to help them prepare for such an event.

Having developed the scenario, Project AF8 recently completed the South Island Alpine Fault Earthquake Response (SAFER) framework. Based on the first seven days of emergency response, the plan outlines response, coordination, priority needs and the transition to recovery.

It covers such things as the shelter and care of displaced people including the potential for tens of thousands of tourists, an immediate medical response and the restoration of priority telecommunications.

A Tier 4 national civil defence exercise is planned to be held in 2020 to build awareness and resilience and to test the SAFER framework and national response capability.

The university said rupture of the Alpine Fault could cause strong shaking across the South Island for at least three minutes and would be widely felt across all New Zealand.

The highest shaking intensity would be concentrated along the fault with the most severely impacted regions likely to be the West Coast, inland Otago, Fiordland, inland and low-lying coastal parts of Canterbury and the southern parts of Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough.

Sources: newsub.co.nz; otago.ac.nz

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The Alpine Fault spans the South Island. Source: Newshub.