PhD title: Seismic risk and the tourism industry in the zone of the Alpine Fault, New Zealand: disaster preparedness and business resilience.
Assoc. Prof David Johnston (GNS, Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Wellington)
Funding and logistical support
Otago University PhD Scholarship
EQC Postgraduate Scholarship
The South Island of New Zealand contains some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the world, where the landscape is young and incredibly active on a geological timescale. The Alpine Fault runs the length of the South Island, and marks the plate boundary along which the Pacific Plate is being forced beneath the Australian Plate in the west. Movement along the plate boundary results in periodic earthquake activity, and paleoseismic studies suggest that the Alpine fault produces earthquakes within M 7.8-8 magnitude range approximately every 100-300 years.
Coincident with this zone of high seismic risk is a burgeoning tourism industry. Visitors are attracted by world-renowned scenery, with the active tectonic environment providing the backdrop for a wide range of tourism activities in the zone of the Alpine fault. Tourism destinations in the South Island are highly vulnerable to extensive long-term disruption in the event of a major Alpine fault earthquake, with Milford Sound, Queenstown, Mt Cook and the West Coast lying within tens of kilometres of the Alpine Fault zone. An Alpine fault event would result in number of severe physical impacts, including landslides, rupture lengths of several hundred kilometres, and associated effects. Tourism in the zone of the Alpine fault would be critically damaged by a sudden and prolonged drop in visitor numbers caused by serious damage to road access and negative international media coverage. In addition, long-term damage to the aesthetic value of the forest and mountain landscape would further damage and impede the recovery of the tourism industry. To date, no research has applied the real science of earthquakes to gain insights into the vulnerability and resilience of an industry which is now the financial cornerstone of the alpine region of the South Island.
Stage one of this research will investigate the relationship between seismic hazards and the spatial extent of the tourism industry. A number of isoseismal models have been generated based on different earthquake magnitude scenarios for an Alpine fault event. These models will be used in GIS to clearly illustrate the spatial relationship between seismic hazards and key tourism sites within the field area, by generating layers of tourism data including tourist flows, DOC hut and track networks, transport links and others. These maps will offer a unique resource for highlighting the vulnerability of tourism to an Alpine fault event.
Stage Two of the study will focus on the tourism industry by investigating how tourism operators perceive the seismic risks in their region. A postal survey has been designed to gain specific insights into the preparedness and resilience of tourism operators in the event of an Alpine fault earthquake. In addition, interviews will be conducted with key personnel at local and regional councils, and the Ministry for Tourism, to develop an understanding of government policy and preparedness with respect to short and long-term response strategies for the tourism industry in the event of a major earthquake.