Editorial: Earthquakes - the new normal

17:17, Jan 20 2014

The new normal. It's a phrase that's become popular in recent years, and it has a clear application for New Zealand.

It's fairly self-explanatory, referring to a significant change in a particular circumstance that becomes the norm, for an individual, a family, a society.

For we Kiwis, the new normal, seemingly, is a significant earthquake every few months.

Not that we hadn't been aware of the quake risk New Zealand faces long before this.

We are, after all, on the Pacific ring of fire, and seismic activity is all too common.

But until 2010, our awareness of the risk of big quakes was somehow less real than it is now.Of course, there was the knowledge of the devastation to hit Napier in 1931.


You couldn't live in New Zealand without quickly becoming aware of that historic tragedy.

Anyone who has visited the Awesome Forces room at our national museum will have been clearly reminded of that deadly event, as well as the powerful quake that rocked the Bay of Plenty in 1987.

Not forgetting Gisborne's destructive 6.8 in 2007.

I've not been back to that room for a few years, but I expect it will have undergone some updating since September 2010.   

Because that's the date - September 4 to be precise - when our national quake awareness moved on to a new footing.

Officials had long warned of ''the big one'', with Wellington the likely location.But early that Saturday morning, mercifully when most people who might have been out on the town had drifted home, a big shake hit Christchurch.

The 7.1 Richter Scale reading is still the highest magnitude on that particular measurement system to hit our shores in the last few years. 

The point is, if we've had a six-month period without a 6-plus quake since then, somewhere in New Zealand, we've been lucky.

There was the most devastating one of all, the February 22, 2011 quake, which measured 6.3 but was much more powerful than the September 4 quake on other scales, and left more than 180 people dead.

Quakes with magnitudes of 6 or more have become a regular occurrence since, around Christchurch, Seddon at the top of the South Island, and yesterday near the east coast of the lower North Island, in the Wairarapa.

If you look at the list of quakes on the GeoNet website, selecting severe as the strength, there have been a significant number in the past year.

While it's not a particularly palatable new normal, all this activity seemingly doesn't make a ''big one'' more likely, but there's no doubt it should make us more aware and better prepared.

The Timaru Herald