Our Science

Explore our science - science that is happening right now at our very own natural LAB

There is a lot of research underway by New Zealand and international scientists on the Hikurangi tectonic plate boundary and how it can affect us. They are trying to answer many questions including these six questions:


1. How do subduction zones behave?

Scientists are trying to understand how subduction zones behave. Subduction zones are plate tectonic boundaries where two plates converge, and one plate moves beneath the other.  It is this process that can create natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. The largest earthquakes on Earth occur at subduction zones and these are called the ‘megathrust’ earthquakes. 



2. How often do earthquakes occur?

Scientists are trying to figure out how often earthquakes occur. They usually have a pretty good idea of where an earthquake might occur but they cannot predict exactly when an earthquake will happen. Scientists can, however, calculate the probability of an earthquake of a certain size, based on scientific data.

New Zealand has a short historical record of earthquakes, so we know very little about the previous earthquakes on the Hikurangi tectonic plate boundary. 

3. What type of earthquakes occur at the boundary?

An earthquake is the shaking and movement of the ground. These movements are measured by seismographs. However, scientists have discovered something called a slow slip event and these movements don’t show on seismographs. A slow slip event is a slow and silent movement of the earth. Scientists are researching these different earthquakes.



4. What secondary hazards occur as a result of earthquakes?

Secondary hazard occur as a result of a natural hazard event e.g. ground shaking, liquefaction, and tsunami. The impact of these secondary hazards will depend on the location and the size of the earthquake. 


5. How do natural hazards impact us?

A natural hazard event is not a disaster, but it can cause a disaster to occur. Scientists are researching how different natural hazard events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions can impact us. They look at the size and the location of the potential hazard and use computers to model how this can affect us.  If you are interested in learning more, then have a look at your regions hazard maps.

6. How do coastal hazards and climate change affect us?

Scientists believe that climate change will not create any new coastal hazards, but will intensify existing hazard problems, such as coastal erosion and flooding. How large these impacts will be depends on a number of factors, such as the shape of the coast, local climate and even the impact that we have had or are having on the coast. Scientists are figuring out what the impact of this will be on us.

Researchers checking out the recently retrieved Ocean Bottom Seismometers as part of the HOBITTS research trip.