Research examines Chathams' tsunami risks

7:56 am on 20 August 2017

Research from the University of Canterbury shows low-lying and isolated communities on the Chatham Island could be at extreme risk from tsunami.

Near the main township Waitangi, Chatham Islands, University of Canterbury student Kristie-Lee Thomas is “GPS-ing infrastructure and collecting asset attributes for the impact assessment” for her disaster risk and resilience thesis.

Near the main township Waitangi, Chatham Islands, University of Canterbury student Kristie-Lee Thomas is “GPS-ing infrastructure and collecting asset attributes for the impact assessment” for her disaster risk and resilience thesis. Photo: Supplied / University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury PHD student Kristie-Lee Thomas, who grew up on the Chatham Islands, is conducting research on the islands including speaking to locals and collecting oral histories about previous tsunami impacts on the island.

The Chathams would be the first place in New Zealand to be hit by a tsunami generated from an earthquake on the South American subduction zone, which is the most frequent source of tsunami for New Zealand.

Ms Thomas looked into where tsunami have inundated the islands in the past, including in 1868, 1924, 1946, 1947 and 1960.

She said the research had uncovered information about the destructive 1868 tsunami which had not been included in previous tsunami hazard and risk reviews and studies.

"By better understanding the impacts of previous tsunami, it better informs what likely impacts future tsunami may have."

The research will be used to develop evacuation planning and risk reduction initiatives for the Chatham Islands.

Ms Thomas said the project was helping researchers understand which areas were exposed to tsunami, their vulnerabilities, and what impact the waves could have on isolated communities.

She said the information about areas impacted in the past would be shared during a community workshop.

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