On the job: GNS Science


In the early hours of Monday, 14 November, when a 7.8 earthquake hit Kaikoura, GeoNet – New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring system – proved a vital source of information.

The midnight quakeOn The Job

“It was pretty intense when Kaikoura happened,” she says.

“Most of us were at home in bed or trying to sleep. Knowing the duration and strength of the shaking, we knew it would have a significant impact...when it became apparent it was pretty serious and there was a potential tsunami, I went into work. There was a team of about 15 people already in work by 2.30am responding.” [Initial response was within minutes from the duty officers at home – others mobilised to Avalon within an hour.]

GeoNet’s primary role in a response is “supporting the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management during any geological hazard event,” Gill says. 

Despite the big workload during and after the Kaikoura earthquake, GNS Science staff are passionate about what they do.

“We have field teams trying to capture important data before it degrades as a result of landowners trying to get back to business; members of the public come up to the staff and say they’re thankful for the work we’re doing, which is really nice for our staff,” Gill adds. 

Emergency cute
GeoNet was praised for its use of social media following the earthquake and the new “emergency cute” feature – where pictures of animals are posted with positive messages – was a hit.

“That came out of the response to the Christchurch earthquake,” said Gill, who has a background as a volcanologist.

“A number of studies looked at information that was put out to the public. One of them said people felt comforted getting an early heads up. Even if accurate information wasn’t directly out there quickly, someone was onto it. Post-Christchurch we got very into social media.

“Emergency Cute started a couple of days after the Kaikoura earthquake. It was a way to reassure people with a little humour instead of just being like ‘an earthquake happened here’.”

Looking after ourselves
But it wasn’t just the public that needed to de-stress: Gill had difficulty getting her staff to take time off in the weeks following the November earthquake.

“We had to almost force people to take time off because they wanted to do the best job possible."

“It’s also really interesting science. The scientific brains immediately get into gear, so trying to get people to pause was challenging.”

As a way to help, the SPCA brought in puppies and rabbits to GeoNet. “Little animals can really reduce your stress. It was good to break things up a wee bit.”

Fault science
The science surrounding the Christchurch earthquake six years ago and the recent Kaikoura one differed dramatically, Gill says.

“In the 2011 quake, the fault rupture was right underneath Christchurch. We relied on modelling and interpreting instrument data to provide information.

“The Kaikoura earthquake included 17 different faults (so far), so it was a huge logistical challenge to capture that. For Kaikoura, we’ve been able to use different types of data from lots of different research teams, which has helped to build the picture of what happened.”

By Jess McAllen