The Need for GeoNet
New Zealanders live on the edge. Depending on their location, it might be the edge of the Australian Plate or it might be the edge of the Pacific Plate. The active Pacific-Australian Plate boundary passes through New Zealand producing earthquakes, volcanoes, steep terrain and active deformation. In places the active boundary between the interacting plates is quite narrow, for example the Alpine Fault and Southern Alps in the central South Island. In other regions, such as most of the central and eastern North Island, it is a broad zone of deformation.
Nowhere in New Zealand is immune from the possibilities of damaging earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions could distribute ash anywhere over the North Island. A major event almost anywhere in the country would affect the whole society and economy because of the small size of the country and the interdependencies of infrastructure, logistics and business.
When GeoNet was conceived, New Zealand had not suffered major social disruption or serious economic setback due to geological hazards since the 1930s and early 1940s, a period in which large shallow earthquakes struck repeatedly. However, historical evidence and scientific research convincingly showed that risk to the population and economy from geological hazards was significantly greater than the experience of those 'quiet' years would indicate. When the first of the Canterbury earthquakes struck in September 2010, GeoNet was ready. It provides information to people and data to researchers to help us all live in this active land.
How it all began
Five years of equipment trials and formal reviews by GNS Science culminated in a plan presented in 2000 that would provide high quality and timely data and information for emergency management and research. A further 12 months of deliberation by the Earthquake Commission and other agencies included an international technical review, a science policy review, a financial review, and consultation with end-user groups and two parliamentary select committees (Education and Science, and Finance and Expenditure).
In March 2001 the Earthquake Commission announced it would provide NZ$5 million a year for 10 years, sufficient to launch the GeoNet project and meet 60% of the required long term funding. The major focus of the first three years was the upgrading of the old national earthquake monitoring system for strong and weak-motion recording, the addition of data communication links, the modernising of data management practices and the introduction of new initiatives for volcano surveillance, landslide response and earth deformation monitoring. Formal reviews by international panels of experts would regularly set the direction for the project thereafter.
Funding levels were increased in 2005, and a further 10 year contract from July 2010 commenced, one year before the end of the previous agreement.
What we do now
The GeoNet equipment networks and specialist computer applications support three geohazards duty teams, with each providing an on-call person for one week at a time. The three specialist areas are: earthquake/tsunami, volcano and landslide.
The Data Centre
The GeoNet Data Centre supports both monitoring and research. It is responsible for the capture of all geophysical data streams from our field instruments or third party sources, the basic processing of raw data and the maintenance of secure archives. Its services are supported by an application support duty team 24/7.
The GeoNet website provides public access to hazards information, including earthquake reports and Volcanic Alert Bulletins. It also allows the retrieval of fundamental data sets, such as GPS Rinex files, earthquake hypocentres and instrument waveform data. These data are made freely available to the research community.
Additionally, feedback is sought on the effects of felt earthquakes through an online form, which adds to our data collections and contributes to a better understanding of these hazards.