Volcano team wins award for prediction research

00:00, Sep 11 2009

An elite team of volcano experts who are helping protect New Zealanders from the threat of volcanic eruptions are among this year's recipients of Massey University's highest award for research.

The Volcanic Solutions team, based in the Institute of Natural Resources at the Manawatu campus, led by Associate Professor Shane Cronin, won the Team Research Medal.

Individual medals were awarded to Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger from the Institute of Advanced Study at the Albany campus and Professor Anne Noble from the College of Creative Arts in Wellington.

The Volcanic Solutions team, which is made up of academics from across the Colleges of Science, Business, and Humanities and Social Sciences, carries out high-profile research on volcanic trends and geology throughout New Zealand, the southwest Pacific and Asia.

It has secured $7.5 million in research funding since its inception in 2004.

Associate Professor Mark Bebbington said there were two key aspects to the team's work. "The first is looking at patterns of events to try and figure out when the next eruption's going to be."

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According to Professor Bebbington, the information on record relating to volcanic activity is relatively recent. The Volcanic Solutions team is undertaking research to more accurately date New Zealand volcanoes and the ash layers around them.

One recent highlight of the team's work has been the discovery of a new age for Mount Ngaruahoe.

"The old age was 2,500 years old and the new age is 4,500," said Anja Moebis, one of the team's members.

The second focus for the team is looking at what an eruption in New Zealand could look like.

"We're not too bad in this country because we don't tend to build on the slopes of volcanoes," said Professor Bebbington.

"But, for example, Taranaki is the centre of the New Zealand dairy industry, so if we have an eruption there, there's likely to be ash over most of Taranaki."

The team has profiled volcanic eruption scenarios for both the Taranaki and Auckland regions. They work with local councils and Civil Defence to develop practice scenarios to prepare for the worst.

Professor Bebbington said that while accurate predictions were impossible, that fact remained that "Mount Taranaki is in an unusually long period of repose".

This meant that although the volcano was not currently active, the region had to be ready for an eruption, he said.

Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Nigel Long said the Massey Medals and awards were a recognition of the excellent research underway at the university.

Manawatu Standard