Message from the Director: The Kaikoura Earthquake – Three Months On

My wife will tell you I have never been sentimental about anniversaries, but it is Valentine’s Day today, and because of its significance in the happenings of the last year, I will make an exception. You can think of this as my sad attempt at writing a love letter to New Zealand.  Because not only is this the most romantic (or commercial depending on what side of the fence you sit on) celebration of the year, it also marks two important anniversaries here at GeoNet: it has been three months since the Kaikoura Earthquake and a year since the Valentine’s Day earthquake struck Christchurch.

 I think of the people in Christchurch or in Waiau, Ward, Seddon, Cheviot, Mt. Lyford, Kaikoura and the many small townships affected by the Kaikoura Earthquake and Canterbury aftershock sequence. Earthquakes are deeply interesting to me, as a scientist, but as a human being I’m still overwhelmed with the enormity of their destructive power.  Anyway, I’m sure you are reading this for the science-y bits rather than my feelings about earthquakes. There have been almost 13,000 earthquakes as part of the aftershock sequence from the Kaikoura earthquake; a staggering and sobering number. 

Dr. Ken Gledhill, Director of GeoNet

So, while some people got a break over the holiday period (and we tried to stop our staff working but…its really difficult to stop people who are so passionate about their work!) it has been non-stop since the ground stopped shaking under our feet three months ago. Since that time, our scientists at GNS Science and indeed, universities and other research institutions throughout the country, have scattered out of their offices and into the field, collecting samples, measuring coastlines, and identifying and mapping landslides. We’ve learned a lot since that fateful early morning on the 14 November and we will continue to learn for years to come. 

In the coming months, we are going to be talking a lot more about the evolving scientific understanding of the Kaikoura earthquake as well as improving how GeoNet runs. So today, I’m giving you the heads up about some important projects: 

The improved GeoNet website – now available for testing

Lovingly known internally as our Beta website, we’ve actually been working on this behind the scenes pre-Kaikoura earthquake. We had initially planned the launch the week of the 14 November, but with our improved understanding of the needs of Kiwis regarding our geological hazards, we’ve made some modifications.

I know lots of people have been asking about the website for a long time. Some improved features include more technical information for each earthquake as well as the associated news stories. But for those of you who like volcanoes, we’ve got you covered too. I’ll admit though, our landslide and tsunami sections are still a bit anaemic; but this is a work in progress. You can go to the Beta website here.

And we need your help to make the new website better! Please fill in this survey after you have finishing reviewing the website to give us all your important feedback on what’s working for you with the site and what isn’t. And my team wanted to bring back the Volcano Kitten T-Shirt competition. My apologies to good taste everywhere, but I couldn’t stop them. More on that competition soon. 

It won’t replace the old website until later in the year but we want to test it out early to get all the bugs out of it we can. 

New Zealand’s Science Briefing about Kaikoura – 14 March at 12 noon

One of the really inspiring parts of working on the Kaikoura response during that first few weeks was the science briefings at 9 a.m. every morning. I was privileged to listen to some of the best minds in New Zealand discuss the science of the earthquake. Each and every day, something new was presented that really intrigued me.  We are developing this concept of a science briefing for 14 March because I wanted us to be able to share with you what a science briefing is like, live.

So, we will be streaming our science briefing live, to you, via Facebook. We will also record it and pop it on YouTube for those of you who don’t have Facebook. We are pretty excited about being able to bring this to you. In a few days, we’ll be putting an event on FaceBook where you can pop your questions.


Beta Website and the Volcano/Kitten T-Shirt competition

Enhanced Geological Hazard Monitoring

Just before Christmas there was an announcement by the Ministers of Science and Innovation and Civil Defence to help assist us with increasing the nation’s capacity for geological hazard monitoring. We are working hard behind the scenes with key stakeholders to see how we can better deliver for all of New Zealanders.  More in this space in the coming months.

These are just a few of the major projects we are working on at GeoNet. 

Love for our Duty Teams

I just want to finish by giving a bit of love (following the Valentine’s Day theme) to one of the hardest working teams at GeoNet – our duty teams. GNS Science provides GeoNet with some of the top minds in the world to help us inform New Zealand on urgent geological hazard news. These teams work under the most stressful conditions, putting their own research interests aside for the benefit of the entire country. These teams work throughout the year, on top of their other jobs (many are world leading seismology, volcanology, engineering geology and other types of researchers).

When you are trained as a scientist, there is no class you can take that teaches you how to make split second, complex decisions on very little data, knowing that your decisions can impact many people. It is a heavy load to bear for our scientists and I thank them from the bottom of my geophysicist heart for their absolute dedication to this difficult role. I have been there – I know how hard it is! GeoNet could not run without these vital teams. Thank you.

Thank you everyone for a great start to 2017 for GeoNet. I look forward to us all continuing to roll up our sleeves and getting on with it in the coming year. I wish you a wonderful Valentine’s Day and a quiet Earth!





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