The worst natural disaster risks facing New Zealand
By Joanna Wane
What's the risk of a major earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami or wildfire in New Zealand – and how might it play out?
The next big one
A major Alpine Fault earthquake is likely within our lifetime.
There are only a few places in the world where you can see a major plate boundary naturally exposed above ground. One is at Gaunt Creek, in the foothills of the Southern Alps. You can actually straddle the boundary where the two tectonic plates have collided, and run your hands over a spiky spine of rock that runs like a pistachio-green highlighter along the edge of the Alpine Fault.
Caroline Orchiston was a third-year geology student when she saw it. “It was one of those moments I’ll never forget,” she says. “When it’s described to you what it actually means – where these rocks have come from and the power required for that to happen – it’s quite stunning.”
After five years in the mining industry, that memory led her back to the Alpine Fault and her current role as science lead of Project AF8, in partnership with Civil Defence emergency teams. Three potential scenarios have been modelled of a magnitude-8 shake caused by a rupture along the fault, and agencies throughout the South Island are working on a co-ordinated response plan to cope with what could be a national disaster of almost unimaginable proportions.