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Slow-Slip Earthquakes and Fluid Flow at the Hikurangi Subduction zone

Project Period: At sea for January and February 2019, collecting data until 2021

Project Funders: U.S National Science Foundation

Organisations: University of Washington, Oregon State University, GNS Science, NIWA, University of Otago, University of Auckland, and Macquarie University

Project Location: East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand


Scientists from the US and New Zealand will be examining the physical conditions along the Hikurangi subduction zone to understand what fluid conditions generate earthquakes. Fluid conditions affect the likelihood and type of earthquakes that occur at faults.

The Hikurangi subduction zone is where the Pacific plate subducts or moves under the Australian plate and is New Zealand’s largest fault. It extends along the length of the East Coast of the North Island.

In one area, the subduction zone is locked meaning no pressure is being released whereas in others pressure is being released via slow slip earthquakes. Slow slip earthquakes are different to normal earthquakes as they occur over days to weeks rather than the seconds it takes for a normal earthquake to occur.

Scientists want to compare each of these areas to uncover what processes might control the locking or slipping along the subduction zone. They will be collecting data over a month long period on board the Rodger Revelle, a US research vessel. 

This scientific voyage will involve:

  1. deploying instruments that will monitor the conditions of the fluid contained between the spaces in sediment, pore sediment over the course of several years 
  2. collecting sediment and pore water samples, 
  3. taking temperature measurements along the seafloor 
  4. using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason

Once the data is collected scientists will begin to analyse and make sense of it before releasing their findings in 2021. 

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Revelle Blog #15 One Final Stop

28 Feb 2019

Alec Yates is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently working and reporting on the research occurring along the Hikurangi subduction zone on board the US...

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Revelle Blog #14 Past the Halfway Mark

26 Feb 2019

Alec Yates is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently working and reporting on the research occurring along the Hikurangi subduction zone on board the US...

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Revelle Blog #13 Communicating With Our Instruments

24 Feb 2019

Alec Yates is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently working and reporting on the research occurring along the Hikurangi subduction zone on board the US...

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Revelle Blog #12 The what and the why

22 Feb 2019

Alec Yates is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently working and reporting on the research occurring along the Hikurangi subduction zone on board the US...

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Revelle Blog #11 Preparing for Round Three

21 Feb 2019

Alec Yates is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently working and reporting on the research occurring along the Hikurangi subduction zone on board the US...

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Robots help scientists study hazards posed by the Hikurangi subduction zone

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An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Jason is helping an international team of scientists study the Hikurangi subduction zone, where the Pacific Plate dives down beneath the east coast...

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Revelle Blog #9 Flow meter instruments

17 Feb 2019

Fluid flow meters are the foundation of this research project. These are instruments that we install on the sea floor to collect pore water and measure the rate of water flowing into and out of the seafloor over several years.

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Revelle Blog #8 Seeps

15 Feb 2019

We have been using all of our scientific equipment and ingenuity to hunt for seeps. They form where there are cracks or vertical faults that allow water to flow to the surface.

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Revelle Blog #7 Seafloor stakeout

14 Feb 2019

Every aspect of the research we are doing, and all of the samples we are collecting are vital to our understanding of the subduction zone. An extremely unique portion of the research is our use of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Jason.

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Revelle Blog #6 Seafloor sampling

11 Feb 2019

A critical mission for this research project, is to get samples of sediment deep beneath the seafloor to track deep fluid flow through the Hikurangi subduction zone. Fluid conditions affect the likelihood and type of earthquakes that occur at faults.

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Revelle Blog #5 How do we get pore water?

09 Feb 2019

We collect samples of sediment called cores from the seafloor using a giant straw shaped cookie cutter or by taking small 'hand held' cores using Jason, a high tech robotic submarine.

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Revelle Blog #4 Mapping the ocean

02 Feb 2019

Mapping is the first thing we do at every location. We are mapping the ocean to locate bubbles, because bubbles will lead us to sites on the seafloor that have fluid flow, or seeps. We do this so when we take cores, measure heat flow and deploy instruments we know...

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Revelle Blog #3 What is pore water?

01 Feb 2019

One of the main goals of this voyage is to measure and study pore water to figure out trapped water’s role in allowing slow slip earthquakes to occur. Slow slip earthquakes is when movement between the tectonic plates occurs slowly across the subduction zone, over a period of weeks to...

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Revelle Blog #2 Why come all this way?

22 Jan 2019

We are on the New Zealand subduction zone to study the causes of earthquakes in the region. A subduction zone is where one tectonic plate subducts, or is forced below, another. They are also where the biggest earthquakes and tsunamis occur.

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Revelle Blog #1 To sea we go

18 Jan 2019

We have finally departed Wellington aboard the US research vessel Revelle, on its second of three voyages studying the Hikurangi subduction zone. A subduction zone occurs where one plate dives under, or subducts below, another plate.

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US research ship kicks off summer of science

16 Dec 2018

The US research ship Roger Revelle will be leaving CentrePort today for the first of three scientific voyages from December to February to study the Hikurangi subduction zone.

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