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New monitoring network will be world-class - 19/06/2002

Measuring the forces building up under New Zealand is the focus of the GeoNet project - a 10-year, $80 million programme to upgrade and sustain the equipment that monitors earthquakes and volcanoes in New Zealand.

Parts of New Zealand have moved by as much as 3 meters since the last major lethal jolt - the 1931 magnitude 7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

An inevitable consequence of movement, or ground deformation, of this scale is the periodic release of huge amounts of stored energy in the form of an earthquake, and volcanic eruptions in parts of the North Island.

" The past 60 years only partly reflects the story of New Zealand's vulnerability to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. There have been fewer big on-land earthquakes and eruptions in the past half-century than scientific research would suggest is normal for New Zealand," GeoNet project manager Hugh Cowan said today.

Developed regions, notably the western United States and Japan, have installed comprehensive monitoring networks in the wake of deadly earthquakes and eruptions.

" Our hope is to have a world-class monitoring network in place before the next major earthquake or eruption occurs in New Zealand."

With the first batch of equipment already installed, higher quality seismic and geodetic (ground movement) data are being collected from many parts of New Zealand. Much of the information is arriving continuously and in real time at data centres in Wellington and Wairakei.

" We're only one year into the project, but already some of the gains that GeoNet has enabled us to make have been substantial and hold great promise for the future," Dr Cowan told guests at a function to mark the opening of the GeoNet Operations Centre at Gracefield, Lower Hutt.

" In 1994 it took us about three months to produce a map showing ground-shaking intensities in New Zealand following a major earthquake. Within the next two years we'll be able to produce the same map within a few minutes of an earthquake.

" The GeoNet project is on schedule and on budget and gathering pace as it moves into its second year."

Seismic instruments for measuring earthquakes and GPS instruments for measuring ground deformation will continue to be deployed throughout New Zealand for several years under the project.

The GeoNet website will be developed further so a wider range of geological hazard information will be available at no charge to New Zealanders and the international research community.

GeoNet is a non-profit, public good initiative. To get it up and running will cost $30 million in capital and $5 million-a-year in running costs over the next 10 years. The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is providing 66 percent of this funding and has contracted the GNS Science Limited (GNS) to design, install and run the new networks.

The Foundation for Research Science & Technology is contributing an additional $800,000-a-year for the first three years.

GNS is seeking partners to cover the balance of the set-up costs. Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) has made a commitment to fund a continuously-recording GPS reference network in the North Island.

The LINZ reference network represents about 10 percent of the total effort required for deformation monitoring under GeoNet and is expected to deliver significant long-term benefits. One of these will be the ability for LINZ to account for the on-going distortion of New Zealand's mapping and cadastral system.

GeoNet is unique internationally in that it combines five disciplines in the one operation. "Integrating seismology, volcanology, geochemistry, engineering geology, and geodesy (measuring ground deformation) is an advantage of our small size and already an acclaimed feature of the project internationally.

" The integration of effort not only delivers operational efficiencies, but also offers research opportunities that are hard to achieve when monitoring disciplines are funded and operated by separate organisations, which is common overseas," Dr Cowan said.

Hugh Cowan,
GeoNet Project Manager,
Ph: 04-570-4888

John Callan,
Communications Co-ordinator,
Ph: 04-570-4732,
or 025-402-571