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High-profile landslides, high-tech expertise

GNS Science’s landslide expertise was called on in two high-profile events this year: the Cape Kidnappers cliff collapse in Hawke’s Bay and the Kaiwhata landslide dam in Wairarapa.

Scientists measuring landslide. Photo: Margaret Low

High-tech data helps scientists show the impact and volume of landslides. Photo: Margaret Low

In January 2019 our landslide team collected data about the collapse of cliffs along a beach track to the Cape Kidnappers gannet colony. The team put together a ‘change model’ using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) data to show the impact and volume of previous collapses. Our work enabled Hastings District Council and the Department of Conservation to maintain public safety, and prepare a long-term risk management plan. 

In June 2019 a large landslide blocked the Kaiwhata River close to Wairarapa’s east coast. A lake with more than 500,000m3 of water formed behind the landslide dam, posing a significant hazard to residents and landowners down-river. 

GNS Science worked with Greater Wellington and the Masterton and Carterton District Councils to monitor the landslide dam and model what would happen if it failed rapidly. This advice helped the community develop a risk management plan. 

Two weeks later, the landslide dam did fail suddenly — behaving exactly as we had forecast. Data gathered from this event will help prepare for future events.