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Evaluating volcanic risk for the future

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Volcanologists, earth scientists and natural hazard planners from throughout New Zealand are meeting today in Palmerston North to share research results and develop a research plan for the next two years.

The symposium is hosted by the University's Volcanic Risk Solutions research group, and the researchers will identify new areas of collaboration among national organisations. They will also discuss the best way to coordinate the recent influx of doctoral and masters students across New Zealand, in order to make the most of their thesis research and ensure the present gaps in the knowledge of volcanic hazards are addressed.

Among the Massey scientists presenting today are:

Ian Chapman: Assessing the volcanic risk to the Taranaki energy distribution sector.

A hub of petroleum exploration and natural gas products, the Taranaki region is also overshadowed by the threat of volcanism. Given society's reliance on electricity and natural gas, what impacts would a typical eruption have on the Taranaki energy distribution sector, including the network of Powerco? What practical steps could be taken to mitigate this risk? This analysis extends beyond damage to the electrical network, to include the wider implications to hospitals, critical industry, cell phone towers, gas gates and other essential infrastructure.

Dr Jerome Lecointre:Taranaki Awakens! An emergency management eruption scenario.

An eruptive scenario for Mt Egmont has been developed specifically for Taranaki Regional Council Civil Defence authorities to provide a practical emergency management tool that can be used during a scenario-based exercise. The scenario is based on the development of an eruption over a period of more than 69 days. Its volcanic activity matches geological data covering the last 1,000 years of volcanic activity. It will help decision makers to focus on areas of increased vulnerability and key infrastructure in sectors directly affected by the eruption (dairy plants, pipe lines, petrochemical production facilities, roads and bridges).

Professor Vince Neall: Ascertaining volcanic risk to infrastructure in Taranaki.

The main events in the history of Egmont Volcano are published in a 1:100,000 map. They are now relating this information to understand the volcanic risk to infrastructure in Taranaki. Infrastructure data has been combined into a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database which was cross-referenced to a volcanic hazards map. This analysis was made available to participating local government authorities and key industries, and one result of this analysis was the recognition of a large number of vulnerability points.

Susy Cole: Understanding the internal dynamics of lahars using geophysical techniques.

Lahars, or water-containing mass flows, pose a great threat to communities that live near river channels on volcanoes. The internal dynamics of these lahars are not well known, mostly because it is impossible to see inside a moving lahar. New monitoring or imaging systems to address this were tested earlier this year at Semeru, Indonesia. The fieldwork also allowed for the experimentation of the effectiveness and reliability of the equipment to be installed in the Whangaehu River, Ruapehu. Several problems were highlighted with equipment installation, which will aid preparations for the anticipated lahar at Ruapehu.

Dr Karoly Nemeth: Lessons for volcanic emergency management from the 2005 Ambae caldera-lake eruption in Vanuatu.

After a dormancy of 90 years, Ambae volcano erupted in November 2005. The volcanic lake at the summit, which is five times larger than that of Mt Ruapehu's, threatened to form lahars as a result of the displacement of water and mud. Eruptions did not reach the size needed to trigger lahars, and despite a low level of scientific concern, local authorities organised themselves rapidly and conducted a four-week evacuation of 3,500 people. This was driven by the fear of public and local authorities, along with a lack of recent experience in volcanism, and perhaps also a strong and overbearing interest from international media.

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