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Major earth science book gets anniversary update - 14/12/2015

Reviewed by Simon Nathan. Since its initial publication in 2008, A continent on the Move has been reprinted twice, to become the most popular book on New Zealand geology currently available.

Continent on the move cover

This encyclopedic book is a synthesis of the knowledge of the geology of New Zealand, and how it fits in with the rest of the world. As the time approached for a new reprint, the Geoscience Society and GNS Science decided to produce a completely revised edition, incorporating the results of recent research.

2015 is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the New Zealand Geological Survey, and this volume is a fitting way to mark the anniversary, but is also an effective way to demonstrate just how much our understanding of the New Zealand region has advanced in the last seven years.

New Zealand has a huge variety of spectacular landscapes, including fiords, glaciers and volcanoes, which are wonderfully illustrated in this volume. It includes many unique aerial images taken by former Geological Survey photographer Lloyd Homer.

The front cover is one of his images, showing the ash plume from the eruption of Mount Ruapehu in 1996. At one level this is a coffee table book for browsing – indeed a table is needed to hold the weight of almost 400 pages – but it also has a well-written text explaining the geological features and processes for the interested non-scientist.

The book follows the pattern of the first edition, with 13 chapters covering all facets of earth science from fossils to meteorites, with a final chapter looking at New Zealand as a natural laboratory.

Although only seven years have passed since initial publication, there has been substantial revision of almost every chapter, with new information added on topics including gas hydrates, dinosaur footprints, deep ocean mapping, exploration of the Kermadec ridge, groundwater contamination, slow earthquakes, and the use of Lidar imagery in mapping faults.

Above everything else, the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11 dominate the geohazard research carried out in recent years. The earthquake sequence is the most expensive natural disaster in New Zealand’s history, with an estimate of about $40 billion to completely rebuild Christchurch city.

As well as building damage and surface fault rupture, the earthquake caused widespread liquefaction, rock falls and landslides, and the implications in all these areas are discussed in different sections of the book.

The back cover shows two features of the Canterbury earthquakes – the dust cloud over the central city after the earthquake in February 2011, and the ground rupture along the Greendale fault that moved in September 2010.

Chapter 11, ‘Climate swings and roundabouts’ gives a synthesis of a rapidly changing topic. It is now apparent that the climate record in New Zealand provides some unique clues about the extent and nature of past climate fluctuations.

The final two pages give a 2015 view of the way in which humankind can respond to the challenges posed by present day climate change.

In finishing this review, I must admit to a minor involvement as the author of a short two-page section. But as there are another 149 contributing authors, there are few experienced earth scientists in the country who have not been part of this enormous project.

The whole text has been expertly welded together by Chief Editor Ian Graham and editorial assistants, and the layout and colour printing is first class. The support of GNS Science and other sponsors have made it possible to produce this volume at an affordable price.

Highly recommended for those interested in the latest ideas on the geology and landscape of New Zealand. It is available from GNS Science for $64.99. Contact us here.