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Seismic fitness of NZ’s historic churches under scrutiny

International group to focus on seismic fitness of NZ’s historic churches

Some of New Zealand’s historic churches and heritage buildings are set to get specialist attention from an international group of seismologists and engineers.

The two-year project, funded by the Earthquake Commission, will see scientists from New Zealand, Italy and Portugal develop a ‘seismic vulnerability index’ for unreinforced masonry churches and historic buildings to help with decisions on retrofitting to prevent damage in future earthquakes.

Initially they will use data from 48 unreinforced masonry churches in Canterbury, which suffered damage in the Canterbury earthquake sequence of 2010 and 2011.

Also included will be structural data from 11 churches in Wellington, about 50 churches in Auckland, and 29 churches in Dunedin.

“At present there is no standard or systematic way to assess the earthquake vulnerability of churches nationwide,” said project leader Tatiana Goded of GNS Science.

The project would be based on a proven method to assess the vulnerability of churches and monuments in Europe, Dr Goded said.

“However, we will need to calibrate this method to ensure it is accurate for New Zealand conditions.

“The project is a first step towards assessing all historic buildings in the country, to preserve New Zealand’s cultural and historical heritage.”

Churches in the four main centres had been selected to ensure a fair cross section of seismic scenarios in New Zealand.

As well as Dr Goded, the group also involves researchers from Canterbury and Auckland universities, the University of Genoa in Italy, the University of Minho in Portugal and collaboration from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington.

The scientists are expecting to present their findings at the world conference on earthquake engineering in Santiago, Chile, in 2016, as well as at the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering’s annual meeting in 2015.


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