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GeoNet The power of natural hazards in your pocket

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Wed, Jul 7, 2021 11:42 a.m. Press Release: Earthquake Commission

Twenty years ago, New Zealand’s natural hazard monitoring sprang from weeks-long waits for information on earthquakes to near real-time data streams via the GeoNet network that now falls under all the science of natural hazards and emergency management, writes EQC’s Head of Resilience and Research Dr. Horrocks.

This month we celebrate 20 years of GeoNet, the natural hazard monitoring platform created in 2001 by EQC, GNS Science and LINZ, which now includes more than 700 sensors nationwide and a 24/7 National Geographic Hazard Monitoring Center. Powered by MBIE.

Streams of near-instant data on earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and volcanoes are critical to helping us better understand our natural hazards and better manage and mitigate their impact.

GeoNet is EQC’s largest research investment each year and is used by scientists, emergency managers, government decision makers, insurance companies, pilots, members of the public and many more. EQC funding helps keep GeoNet data free for everyone.

In 2021, it is difficult to imagine New Zealand, and especially its scientific community, without this constant flow of data from the Earth’s crust through the GeoNet network.

In 2001, our earthquake monitoring relied on analog seismometers using tapered paper that could take weeks to analyze.

Monitors were often placed on farms in remote locations, and a “rapid” assessment after an event meant that a GNS scientist telephoned the farmer to ask them to kindly walk into their paddock to examine the paper and submit a report.

Fast 20 years of progress and nearly instant updates on location and strength of any seismic activity are standard, both for scientists and for everyday New Zealanders via the GeoNet app and website.

While some New Zealanders may lose a bit of interest between major events, geologists, seismologists, volcanologists, engineers, risk strategists, scenario planners, disaster recovery experts, and insurance analysts are constantly sifting through the millions of bits of data that GeoNet provides.

After all, even when you feel calm, the ground beneath it is constantly moving – GeoNet detects between 20,000 and 30,000 earthquakes annually. Most are small, but between 1 and 2 percent are large enough to be felt.

For scientists, owning 20 years of GeoNet data is a goldmine. In addition to a greater long-term understanding of New Zealand’s natural hazards, we are seeing the development of innovative models of seismic activity that can give us a better view of the future. These models can now be tested extensively against years of real data.

The investment of EQC taxpayer dollars in GeoNet has been significant, reaching nearly $190 million over the past 20 years. But the return on this investment is great.

GeoNet not only provides raw data for nearly all research on hazards that can affect New Zealand, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides or tsunamis – it also informs a wide range of research projects in mitigation initiatives, such as better engineering solutions for buildings and so that they can bear the implications of the risks we face.

Geonet data and associated science also help create risk models that the EQC uses to predict the financial impact of various natural hazard scenarios. EQC uses this modeling to secure reinsurance for New Zealand homeowners in international markets.

Today, Geonet has become a part of our daily lives, with hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders having this power of data in their pocket on their phones.

When there is news of a shaking, volcanic disturbances or the threat of a tsunami, New Zealanders turn to where the data is – the GeoNet app or website – and through “concrete” reports of their experiences, they make their own contributions to the power of GeoNet data.

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