New Zealand Targets Drilling of Fault Line to Help Scientists Understand Earthquake Secrets

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | June 25, 2014 5:07 PM EST

A group composed of scientists from around the world has targeted New Zealand's Southern Alps for drilling, in the hopes their study would enable them to understand how earthquakes are produced and set off.

REUTERS/Francisco Alcayaga Mot
Fishermen try to salvage their boats in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern port of Iquique, April 2, 2014. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck off the coast of northern Chile near the copper exporting port of Iquique on Tuesday evening, killing six and triggering the tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves. REUTERS/Francisco Alcayaga Motta

The scientists from the New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) will drill a 1.3-km deep hole on the Alpine Fault between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.

The group is composed of scientists from New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States. They would inspect rock samples from the hole as well as mount sensitive monitoring equipment to record small quakes and measure temperature, pressure and chemical conditions.

The Alpine Fault, according to scientists, moves about 27 metres every 1,000 years. It is very visible from space and extends 650km from south of Fiordland along the spine of the Southern Alps and into Marlborough.

Scientists believed the fault has ruptured 24 times in the past 8,000 years, or every 330 years on average. The last time was in 1717. The ruptures had produced magnitude-8 earthquakes that caused tremors through much of the South Island.

Scientists predict a 28 per cent chance the fault will rupture again in the next 50 years.

John Townend of Victoria University told NZN the project will help scientists develop better models of shaking hazards which engineers and planners can use to forecast how the Alpine Fault will affect New Zealand.

"Ultimately we hope this investigation and ongoing monitoring of conditions within the fault zone will lead to a better understanding of how faults slip and generate seismic waves during large earthquakes, and what specifically is likely to happen in an Alpine Fault earthquake," Townend said.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Francisco Alcayaga Mot / )
Fishermen try to salvage their boats in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern port of Iquique, April 2, 2014. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck off the coast of northern Chile near the copper exporting port of Iquique on Tuesday evening, killing six and triggering the tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves. REUTERS/Francisco Alcayaga Motta
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