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Underground Connection Between New Zealand And Saudi Arabia

22 July 2011
News release

Underground Connection Between New Zealand And Saudi Arabia

Who knew? Madinah city in Saudi Arabia (aka Medina) is located near a very similar volcanic field to Auckland – and that connection has led to a major collaborative research project between New Zealand and Saudi scientists.

The University of Auckland is leading a team of New Zealand geo-hazard scientists to study the geology and potential activity of volcanic lava fields, known as ‘harrats’, in Saudi Arabia.

VORiSA (Volcanic Risk in Saudi Arabia) is a ground-breaking collaborative research project funded by King Abdulaziz University (KAU) and facilitated through Auckland UniServices Ltd, the research and commercialisation company of The University of Auckland.

Jess Cherrington, VORiSA project manager, says: “We were selected by KAU as recognised world leaders in research into the geology and hazards of volcanic fields. This is a significant accolade for New Zealand.”

The most recent eruption in Saudi Arabia was in 1256AD, when lava flows edged towards Madinah city. Interestingly, the lava flows are about the same age as Rangitoto, the youngest of the volcanoes in the similar Auckland volcanic field.

Dr. Jan Lindsay, VORiSA project leader and also co-leader of the DEVORA (Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland) project, is excited about the possibility of drawing parallels between the two volcanic fields.

“Of particular interest to us is being able to investigate the 1256 eruption, which was described by people living in Madinah. We can study the historical records as well as the lava flows, scoria cones and fissures from which the flows erupted to gain valuable insight into how a future eruption in Madinah and Auckland might progress.”

KAU Professor Mohammed Moufti says: “The collaborative research will be carried out over three years and will quantify the volcano-associated geological risks in Madinah and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.

“It will provide a strategy and rationale for mitigation of risk, with a potentially valuable by-product of using the data to evaluate the potential for ground-water and geothermal resources."

Launched in Jeddah recently, the project will include geological field work, with New Zealand and Saudi colleagues spending several weeks at a time working and camping in areas where temperatures can reach 50 degrees during summer.

A key aspect of the project will involve the deployment of an Institute of Earth Science and Engineering (IESE) borehole seismic network to record micro-seismic activity associated with tectonic and volcanic movement. Similar borehole seismic studies are already in place under Eden Park and other sites around Auckland.

The collaboration includes the exchange of postgraduate students between KAU and The University of Auckland to build local expertise in Saudi Arabia.

The New Zealand VORiSA team pulls together volcanic and seismic experience from The University of Auckland’s IESE and the School of Environment, Massey University, GNS Science and the University of Canterbury. IESE’s Jess Cherrington says: “Our collective expertise and co-operation on projects like DEVORA and one on the Korean Jeju volcanic field are receiving worldwide attention and enable us to compete internationally for major research projects.”

Gary Putt, director of international business (technologies) at UniServices, helped put the multi-million dollar Madinah project together and hopes it will lead to other geological research initiatives in the Middle East and Africa, especially as countries look to their post-oil future.

“The world-leading research we do here in New Zealand has directly resulted in this project and we hope it will lead to an ongoing relationship with universities throughout Saudi Arabia as they look to build up their research capabilities.”
ENDS


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