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Project On Risk From Volcanoes In Auckland

Project To Focus On Risk From Volcanoes In Auckland

A major research project is underway to improve the understanding of the vulnerability of the Auckland region to volcanic eruptions.

The aim of the seven-year, $5 million project is to better define Auckland’s volcanic risk using the latest geological techniques and sophisticated computer modelling. The information provided by the project, called ‘DEVORA’ (DEtermining VOlcanic Risk in Auckland), will help Auckland become better prepared for and safer from a future volcanic eruption by enabling better decision making to protect assets and reduce potential casualties.

Government-owned research and consultancy company GNS Science and the Institute of Earth Science and Engineering (IESE) at The University of Auckland will jointly lead the project, which will involve collaboration with a number of public and private sector organisations. The Earthquake Commission is providing initial funding.

Auckland is built on the Auckland Volcanic Field, a group of 50 volcanoes that have erupted over the last 250,000 years. Scientists believe that each volcano erupted only for a few months or years and then became extinct. However, knowledge of exactly when each volcano erupted, and how future eruptions might occur is incomplete.

The project will improve knowledge of the history of the Auckland volcanoes and the effects they have had on what is now Auckland City. A future volcano might erupt anywhere within Auckland, and likely effects are lava flows, hot ash and gas avalanches, fire fountains and ashfall. Auckland is also at risk from ash fall from distant eruptions at volcanoes in the central North Island, and DEVORA will improve understanding of this volcanic threat too.

There are three main strands to the research – physical models of how the volcanoes work, risk and hazards from the volcanoes, and the social and economic impacts. There are knowledge gaps in all these areas.

Joint Project Leader, Jan Lindsay from the IESE said the project was a step forward in improving the understanding of the risk to Auckland and Aucklanders from volcanoes.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when, and the more we know about volcanoes and the impact an eruption would have on our city, the better prepared Auckland can be,’’ Dr Lindsay said.

GNS Science Chief Executive, Alex Malahoff, said the collaboration between GNS Science and the IESE acknowledged the two centres of excellence in volcanic research.

“The collaboration will provide an unprecedented amount of information on the volcanic risk in the Auckland region. It is important to understand how the volcanic field might erupt in the future, so Auckland can continue to develop as a major economic hub in New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific,” Dr Malahoff said.

“The project is designed so that the information can be taken up readily and used in civil engineering, infrastructure planning, emergency management, and the insurance industry.”

The Earthquake Commission’s Chief Executive David Middleton said the research was needed because not enough was known about the risk of volcanic eruption in the Auckland region.

“It is important that conventional wisdom is not allowed to crowd out scientific advances. The better our understanding of the hazards we face, the better equipped we can become to deal with them,” Mr Middleton said.

“This work is based on the success of the ‘It’s Our Fault’ project in Wellington, where the risk of earthquake in Greater Wellington is being better assessed by a series of collaborations with industry, regional government and science institutions.”


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