Message from Dr. Ken, GeoNet Director: This is how New Zealand creates itself!

With the changes in the coastline off the eastern South Island, New Zealand has new land.  The scientist in me is excited but I also feel deeply for the people affected by the quake. I’m impressed by the hard work and effort that everyone is putting into this response. Well done to the whole New Zealand team! I'm going to talk a little bit about the science so far but also about something we deal with a lot at GeoNet: stress!


Stress and the earthquakes

Now, I can’t tell you what to feel or how to respond to the earthquakes. But I’ll just share with you what helps me deal with anxiety or nervousness.

1. Understanding the science. Knowing as much as I can about the phenomena comforts me. I try to learn as much as I can.

This leads me to getting to talk about my favourite thing: numbers! Especially measurements (that is data). This earthquake is astounding, with movement along at least 5 separate faults extending around 150 km up the east coast of the South Island with land changes of up to 11 m horizontal and 5 m vertical. Maximum ground shaking of at least 1.3 times the force of gravity at Ward in Marlborough.  The tidal gauge that recorded the 2.8 m tsunami at Kaikoura, was uplifted by 90 cm. We recorded the tsunami up to m height at Little Pidgeon Bay. Since the earthquake occurred we have recorded more than 5,500 aftershocks. And these numbers are only a few of the large number of measurements of this earthquake.

And then there are the numbers of regarding the probabilities and further aftershock maps we are publishing. It’s natural to feel anxious about these numbers. Our scientists develop these to understand the potential future. We couldn’t do this even 10 years ago.  The ability to have some kind of knowledge about what is possible can help us plan and move forward, as individuals and as a nation.

There is a lot of very good science information going out about this earthquake and not just from GeoNet and GNS Science. The Science Media Centre, QuakeCore, Victoria University of Wellington, NIWA, Massey University, University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, University of Otago, Waikato University, and many others are contributing to the ongoing science response. I want to acknowledge and thank all the scientists working hard around New Zealand right now.  It is a great team effort and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Just a quick side comment about the science community and transparency. Anyone can take our data and develop their own models, they don’t have to come to us or other parts of GNS Science.  EQC has paid to ensure our data is freely available to anyone who wants it. This means we are completely open about our data. Any praise for GeoNet should also be reflected onto our most steady and supportive funder - EQC, who had the foresight to develop the open data policy at the start of GeoNet in 2001.

So, those are just the quake numbers. Let’s talk about GeoNet numbers. We’ve had 1,300,525 unique visitors to our website and 169,028,688 earthquake notifications have by our app. We thank Fastly, Urban Airship, and AWS for helping us deliver this performance.

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. What makes me feel more comfortable is being prepared. I know I do feel better if I am prepared.  We have emergency supplies (my new house has 10,000 litres of water storage for example). While not everyone can store that much water, there are simple things that everyone can do.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) are the preparedness experts and we support their message fully. We can’t stop nature from doing its thing and it may not give us notice about what’s going to happen next. BUT we can control how ready we are to respond to nature and bounce back after the event.

During this sequence, we’ve already had two large gales hit central New Zealand. Being prepared comes in handy during storms, floods and all other manner of emergencies too.  Please visit Our friends at MCDEM (and we are very good friends, having worked so closely together over many years) have put together some great resources on how to be prepared.

Together, let’s make New Zealand the most prepared country on the planet.  Let’s be the people who are ready for anything.

3. Focus on the really important things: relationships. I came home for the first time since the earthquake on Saturday evening, and my cat, Poppy, greeted me at the door with very loud meows. Poppy put her furry face in my shoes for a big whiff (I don’t know why she’d find that comforting) and then demanded cuddles for five minutes.  Her small, purring presence helped remind me what is important in life: it’s my relationships. Further, the comfort and support I’ve received from my wife and three daughters, as well as my staff, help me keep all this into perspective. I thank them for their unwavering support.

Are earthquakes scary? They certainly can be. I’m not trying to downplay tragedies or anxiety. I encourage us all to consider what we can do about it. We can’t stop the earth from shaking; more earthquakes will come. If not now, someday. New Zealand’s beautiful mountains were created by earthquakes and uplift. Earthquakes are why, in part, our country exists.

Numbers are great but it's still about people

One more word about our staff. They are tired and they have really worked amazingly hard. Like so many other people working for Civil Defence agencies, the Defence Force, the Police, USAR teams, council workers, infrastructure managers…we are all working very hard for New Zealand, and for you. I need to remind them, and myself, that we are working under extreme conditions with the world still moving underneath our feet.  They have my thanks and gratitude.

I just want to share one small anecdote before I sign off.  Starting in the early hours of Monday 14 November, our field techs quietly got gear ready, booked helicopters, and were out the door to service and install extra sensors so we could get a better understanding of this quake.  Our tech ‘ninjas’ quietly did their jobs.  They rarely get the spotlight but our techs are champions. Without them, we wouldn’t have GeoNet.

Thanks guys.  

Dr. Ken Gledhill

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