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EQC grant unites earth and social sciences

Wednesday 1 July 2020 9:34am

Mark Stirling at the Hyde Fault 2020 image
Professor Mark Stirling working on the Hyde Fault near Middlemarch.

Southland could be New Zealand’s largest area of incomplete seismic fault information, but University of Otago researchers can now fill in the gaps after receiving a new EQC grant.

The $375k grant over three years will connect the tectonic and social science disciplines of Professor Mark Stirling and Dr Caroline Orchiston, from the University’s Department of Geology, and its Centre for Sustainability respectively.

Their research will address seismic hazard and preparedness in Southland due to its classification as a region of low seismicity, and will be a case study for similar low seismicity areas such as Auckland and Waikato.

While areas like Wellington and the Alpine Fault have traditionally been the focus for funding of seismic work, Professor Stirling says this opportunity to undertake work in Southland is crucial for building a picture of seismic hazard, risk and preparedness for the entire country.

“As an example, the northern front of the Hokonui Hills potentially defines a long fault system stretching from Mossburn to Nugget Point on the coast, which if released could result in a significant seismic event,” Professor Stirling, Otago’s Chair of Earthquake Science, says.

Recent studies of Otago’s Akatore and Hyde Faults have also shown that markedly irregular earthquake occurrence is another characteristic of low seismicity regions.

Dr Orchiston’s part of the research will investigate the perception of local government stakeholders and other users of the Building Act (including the Earthquake Prone Building legislation), to understand how they are implementing the Act in their core business.

“For example, earthquake prone buildings are meant to be identified and added to a register, but councils in lower seismic hazard zones have been slow to complete their work which isn’t surprising given that timeframes for retrofitting earthquake prone buildings are more than three decades into the future,” says Dr Orchiston.

The Deputy Director at the Centre for Sustainability says that taking interdisciplinary approaches to problems like earthquake risk are needed to understand the ways that we can get better prepared to face those challenges.

“The combination of research skills on this EQC funded project will enable us to look at this problem from a number of important angles,” Dr Orchiston says.

“Then we can make some recommendations that will hopefully be transferable to other lower seismic hazard zones in New Zealand and beyond.”

For more information, contact:

Professor Mark Stirling
Otago Earthquake Science Group
Department of Geology

Dr Caroline Orchiston
Centre for Sustainability