Natural Hazards and RisksNgā Matepā me ngā Tūraru ā Taiao

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GNS Science has a national leadership role in monitoring and researching the causes, risks and consequences of geological hazards in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Aotearoa, a nation of hazards

Aotearoa New Zealand is a unique place on the Earth’s surface. It is positioned along the collision zone of two of the Earth’s major tectonic plates – the Pacific plate and the Australian plate. The forces that have created our dramatic and beautiful landscapes also make New Zealand extremely prone to natural hazards, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunami and landslides.

Natural hazard events can cause damage and disruption across our nation. At the same time, the impacts of hazard events are intensifying through population growth and ageing, increased urbanisation, and business vulnerabilities associated with fast-moving consumer goods and just-in-time supply chains. Risk is increasing, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s ability to manage future impacts from natural hazards is being tested.

Ngā Matepā e ngā Tūraru ā Taiao | the Natural Hazards and Risks Theme is the largest science theme within GNS Science.

The purpose of our research is to generate important scientific knowledge and tools for the benefit of New Zealand that can be used to improve resilience to natural hazards at national, regional, business, community and individual levels.

Hazards we research

Fundamentally, if we understand more about the size, frequency and location of our geophysical hazards and what triggers geohazard events, we will be better prepared for the future, have more effective responses when they do occur and will recover more quickly from them.

The main natural hazards we research are:


Much of our science is underpinned by GeoNet, an extensive hazard monitoring network owned and operated by GNS Science. As an integral component of GeoNet, Te Puna Mōrearea i te Rū | The National Geohazards Monitoring Centre provides active monitoring of Aotearoa New Zealand’s geological hazards, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is New Zealand's most trusted and referenced source of geohazard knowledge and public information.

Reducing risk and building resilience

Resilience has many dimensions: societal and infrastructural, built and natural, cultural and economic. Our impact, risk and social science research seeks to understand how people, communities and society can plan for, respond and adapt to the threats we face. 

Our science is used to inform the development of a national picture of risk, which enables informed decisions to be made about disaster risk reduction. Our science is also enabling a societal conversation about what is acceptable risk – and then what we need to do to manage that risk and determine who is responsible for decision-making.

We cannot deliver the best science without working with others. We have strong strategic partnerships across the natural hazards risk management system and with other research organisations, government agencies and international collaborators.

Ruapehu Volcanic Unrest Update #4 - 06 July 2022 – GNS Science Natural Hazards and Risks Theme Leader Gill Jolly gives an update on the recent decrease in Alert Level at Mt Ruapehu and what future activity at the volcano might look like. transcript
In March Mt Ruapehu entered a period of moderate to heightened unrest, and as a result we increased the volcanic alert level to level two.  New crater lake chemistry data, volcanic tremor levels and a stable lake temperature all indicate to us that volcanic unrest has dropped to a lower level.
As a result, we changed the volcanic alert level to level one and the aviation color code to green. Since our last update in June, the temperature of Crater Lake (Te Wai a-moe) has dropped to about 24 to 25 degrees centigrade. We also managed to collect water samples from the lake and analyse those in the laboratory,
and these are indicating to us that magma has not reached a very very high level in the hydrothermal system underneath the lake.
The levels of volcanic tremor that got very high in March and April have now dropped down to the background level again. This indicates to us that the magma has stalled underneath the volcano. On a recent gas monitoring flight, our measurements showed that the levels had dropped to a background level as well. When we look at all these data together, it is consistent with a much lower level of volcanic unrest underneath the volcano and this is why we've changed the volcanic alert level to level one.
Over the last few months, while we've been having this heightened unrest, we're inferring that magma has been rising up inside of the volcano. Now that the monitoring indicators have dropped, we're suggesting that the magma has stopped moving. 
Whilst this means that the current unrest is much reduced, the fact that we've had magma high up in the volcano does increase the likelihood of an eruption in the short term. So the possibility of an eruption happening in the next short while is higher than when we were last at volcanic alert level one. The most likely outcome of the current level of unrest is either no eruption or possible small eruptions, and they will be most likely to be contained within the lake basin on the summit of the volcano or possibly small lahars down the Whangaehu river.
We're continuing to monitor the volcano and we'll keep you posted with volcanic activity bulletins on the Geonet website.
If you're planning on visiting Mount Ruapehu and the area around the volcano in the upcoming school holidays, please visit the doc Tongariro website and their Facebook page for the latest information on volcanic risk and visiting Tongariro National Park.
Ruapehu is an active volcano and can erupt with little or no warning. Please do look at NEMA's Get Ready website for more information on how to get prepared for volcanic eruptions.

Ruapehu Volcanic Unrest Update #4 - 06 July 2022

GNS Science Natural Hazards and Risks Theme Leader Gill Jolly gives an update on the recent decrease in Alert Level at Mt Ruapehu and what future activity at the volcano might look like.

  • Our tohu (icon)

    Our tohu (icon) – named Moko – for this theme is a combination of a koru, a well-known symbol of growth and development in te ao Māori, and a close-up look at the skin of mokomoko (lizards/skinks). Lizards are an icon of caution throughout the Pacific, and represent being alert and paying attention to the many signals and signs nature can offer us. Together these designs embody our goal to develop and further our ability to detect, understand and prepare.

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