Rate of Auckland volcanic eruptions increasing, scientists say

Auckland is built on a dense volcanic field, with more than 50 vents dotted around the city.
AUCKLAND COUNCIL

Auckland is built on a dense volcanic field, with more than 50 vents dotted around the city.

Scientists are filling in the gaps of Auckland's temperamental volcanic past.

In studies published this month, a team of researchers from Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland found the Super City has had a complex and episodic eruption history.

The oldest eruption, Pupuke, was about 200,000 years ago, while the most recent, Rangitoto, was a mere 500 years ago.

A graphic showing eruptions across Auckland's volcanic field. The eruptions range from the oldest, in blue, to the most recent, in red.

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However, the time in between eruptions was inconsistent and unpredictable, the scientists found.  

Somewhat alarmingly, more than half of Auckland's total eruptions have been in the past 60,000 years.

The researchers said that indicated the rate of eruptions has been increasing, although there had also been quiet periods of up to 10,000 years.

GNS Science senior scientist Dr Graham Leonard, who led the research team, said some eruptions flared up after what was, "geologically speaking", a short period of time.

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"For example, there can be six to 10 volcanoes erupting within a 4000-year timeframe.

"On the other hand, the volcanic field has also gone quiet for up to 10,000 years in the last 60,000 years, which is quite a long gap."

Leonard said the new research was "exciting" because "it has allowed us to further define when eruptions have occurred which has helped us flesh out an eruption timeline".

Craig Glover, head of strategy and Planning at Auckland Civil Defence, said the research showed that Auckland's volcanic field was "unpredictable.

"We all need to be prepared and while it might seem daunting, planning for a volcanic eruption is no different to planning for any other disaster – have a talk with your loved ones and make a plan."

Natalia Deligne from GNS Science previously said researchers had "no idea" when, or where, Auckland's next eruption would be.

They were "pretty confident" there would be another eruption, but when it would come was anyone's guess, she said.

Auckland's volcanic field is the most densely populated field of its type in the world.

Each of its volcanoes has erupted at least once since Pupuke blew about 200,000 years ago.

In April, researchers from the University of Canterbury said a volcanic eruption could bring Auckland to its knees, crippling transport networks and displacing almost one-third of its population. 

In March, GNS Science released a report saying the region's next eruption would likely come from a volcano that doesn't exist yet.

 - Stuff

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