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New research aims to uncover earthquake risks for the recently discovered Waikato Fault

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Thursday February 18, 2021 12:15 p.m. Press release: Earthquakes Commission

GNS Science experts have embarked on a research project to determine the earthquake hazards of a recently discovered fault in Waikato.

This is part of an effort to better understand earthquake risk in parts of New Zealand that have been traditionally seen as safe from earthquakes.

Thanks to improved aerial mapping tools, scientists recently discovered the Te Puninga fault, 27 kilometers from Hamilton, which could generate a magnitude 6.7 earthquake.

Dr. Pilar Vilamor, a seismologist at GNS Science, is leading an EQC-funded project to study the fault, about 3 kilometers from Morrinsville.

Dr Villamor says researchers estimate that the fault could generate a magnitude 6.7 earthquake based on its 25 km length.

“If it rips,” she says, “it is possible that Morrisville will suffer the same level of vibration in Christchurch during the 2010 Darfield earthquake.”

“And you’ll be relatively strong in Hamilton, too.”

Dr Villamore says her team is digging trenches across the fault to uncover layers of soil that have been displaced in previous earthquakes over the past 20,000 years and take samples from each layer. Samples will be dated by experts at the University of Waikato and in Spain.

This will tell us how many times the fault has ruptured, and how many earthquakes it has caused.

“This information, in turn, will help us understand the risks of future earthquakes in the region and how to prepare for this risk,” she says.

The Research Director for the Earthquakes Commission, Dr. Natalie Balfour, says the research is extremely important for the communities in the Hauraki Plains, which were traditionally considered a low seismic zone, unlike the Canterbury region prior to 2010.

“We are funding this project and similar work in other parts of the country to get a better idea of ​​the risks in areas New Zealanders generally believe are safe from earthquakes.

“Research shows us that many of these areas have been hit by major earthquakes in the past, and detailed historical data will help in understanding what might happen in the future,” says Dr. Balfour.

“This will help communities make decisions about how to better prepare for future events.”

Dr. Vilamor is grateful to the local community for their support to enable the team to conduct this research, including the local Iwi Ngati Hawa and Ngati Hakuo who provided knowledge for the project, the Waikato Regional Council, and local landowners to access their properties and allow trenches to be dug.

EQC invests $ 17 million annually in scientific research and data to reduce the impact of natural hazards on people and property.

Click here to download an informative video on this story.

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