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Korea holds clues to Auckland’s volcanic future

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Korea holds clues to Auckland’s volcanic future

Future roads, buildings and infrastructure in New Zealand’s largest city are likely to be based on volcanic risk models developed from ancient eruptions that occurred on a South Korean island.

Massey University researchers have won $960,000 in funding to lead a NZ consortium to work with South Korean counterparts in developing statistical and economic models on the likelihood and impacts of future eruptions on the Auckland region.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology will provide the funding over the next three years to the team led by Associate Professor Shane Cronin from the Institute of Natural Resources at the Manawatu campus.

Dr Cronin says the collaboration will allow his team to take a “sister-volcano” approach to the problem.

“The youth of the Auckland Volcanic Field is problematic, because not enough eruptions have occurred to generate robust statistical models,” he says. “We’ve found a sibling volcanic field at Jeju Island in South Korea which is geologically and economically matched to Auckland, but four or five times older, with hundreds of eruptions and several Rangitoto-like episodes. We’re essentially trying to look into the future in Auckland, using the Korean site and results from their parallel research program as a guide.”

Stakeholder groups in the region, including the Auckland Engineering Lifelines Group, the Auckland Regional Council, the Earthquake Commission and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, will use the results to develop appropriate volcanic-risk management strategies.

“The research will help dictate where major infrastructure projects are located,” Dr Cronin says. “It will help in the planning of electricity lines, water, evacuation routes, bridges, high-rise buildings, schools and roads.”

Dr Cronin has assembled a national research team comprising volcanologists, statisticians, economists and planners from Massey and Auckland Universities, GNS Science, Kestrel Group Ltd and Market Economics Ltd.

Professor Peter Xu, from the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology in Albany, has also received significant funding from the foundation.

The world-leading researcher in mechatronics has been awarded $1.2m to take the technology behind wearable assisted devices to the next level.

Wearable assisted devices can be attached to arms and legs or joints to assist movement in patients undergoing rehabilitation – such as helping someone with a jaw motion disorder to chew and speak. They also enable healthy people such as construction workers to lift heavier loads.

But the funding will support a three-year project to develop new cutting-edge technologies that will safely figure out what the person wants to do with the muscle – even if it has been amputated – using motion commands from the central nervous system.

The funding will enable Dr Xu to appoint four PhD students to carry out the work at Massey University.

“We are very excited to receive the funding,” says Professor Xu. “We have a good track record in the area of robotics and we have identified a new direction that will be able to help people.”

The project, which could start in March, will be carried out in collaboration with the State Key Laboratory of Robotics in China and bio-engineer Professor Andrew Pullan from the University of Auckland.

“What we would like to see eventually is the chance for a New Zealand manufacturer to take this device up for trial,” says Professor Xu.

Caption: Associate Professor Shane Cronin surveys Auckland’s volcanic field from Mount Eden.


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