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GeoNet The Natural Hazards Powerhouse In Your Pocket

Twenty years ago, New Zealand’s natural hazards monitoring was catapulted from weeks-long waits for earthquake information to near instant data streams via GeoNet that now sit underneath nearly all our natural hazard science and emergency management writes EQC Chief Resilience and Research Officer Dr Jo Horrocks.

This month we’re celebrating 20 years of GeoNet, the natural hazards monitoring platform established in 2001 by EQC, GNS Science and LINZ, which now includes more than 700 sensors nationwide and the 24/7 National Geohazards Monitoring Centre supported by MBIE.

The near instant data streams on earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and volcanoes are critical to helping us understand our natural hazards and better manage and reduce the impact of those hazards.

GeoNet is EQC’s biggest research investment each year and is used by scientists, emergency managers, government decision makers, insurers, aviators, members of the public and many more. EQC’s funding helps keep GeoNet data free to everyone.

In 2021, it is hard to imagine a New Zealand, especially its science community, without this continuous stream of data from the Earth’s crust through GeoNet.

Back in 2001, our seismic monitoring was based on analogue seismometers using taper paper which could take weeks to analyse.

The monitors were often placed on farms in remote locations and “rapid” assessment after an event meant a GNS scientist phoning the farmer to ask them to kindly walk into their paddock to check the paper and report back.

Fast-forward 20 years and near instant updates on location and strength of any seismic activity has become standard, both for scientists, and for everyday New Zealanders via the GeoNet app and website.

While some New Zealanders may lose a bit of interest between major events, geologists, seismologists, volcanologists, engineers, risk modellers, scenario planners, disaster recovery experts and insurance analysts continuously pore over the millions of pieces of data GeoNet provides.

After all, even when it feels quiet, the ground underneath us is continuously moving – GeoNet locates between 20,000 and 30,000 earthquakes annually. Most are small, but between 1 and 2 percent are large enough to be felt.

For scientists, having now 20 years of GeoNet data is a goldmine. As well as a greater long-range understanding of New Zealand’s natural hazards, we’re witnessing the development of innovative models of earthquake activity that could give us a better of view of the future. These models can now be extensively tested against years of real data.

The investment of EQC levy payer dollars into GeoNet has been considerable, at nearly $190 million over the past 20 years. But the return on that investment is substantial.

Not only does GeoNet provide the raw data for nearly all research into hazards that could impact New Zealand, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides or tsunamis - it also informs a wide range of research projects into mitigation initiatives, like better engineering solutions for buildings and infrastructure so they can withstand the impacts of the hazards we face.

Geonet data and the associated science also helps create the risk models EQC uses to predict the financial impact of different natural hazard scenarios. EQC uses this modelling to secure reinsurance for New Zealand homeowners on the international markets.

Today, Geonet has become part of our everyday lives, with hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders having this data powerhouse in their pockets on their phones.

Whenever there is news of shaking, volcanic unrest or threat of tsunamis, New Zealanders head to where the data is – GeoNet’s app or website - and through “felt” reports on their experiences, make their own contribution to the power of GeoNet data.

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