Skip navigation

NZ’s communication of volcanic risk under the spotlight

Ground-breaking research funded by the Earthquake Commission could drive fundamental changes to the way New Zealand agencies communicate and respond to volcanic risk.

Funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), the research will investigate how agencies have communicated risk during times of inactivity, unrest, eruption, and post-eruption in previous volcanic events in this country and globally, to create an effective approach for future events.

EQC Research Manager Dr Natalie Balfour says that communications about any natural hazard are crucial to keep the public safe and informed.

 “This research will ensure that important lessons from the past are not lost and will help us communicate volcanic risks more effectively in the future. New Zealand experiences a range of volcanic activity and eruption styles.”

“The eruptions of Mt Ruapehu (1995/96), Te Maari Crater (2012), and events overseas such as in Tonga, all provide us opportunities to learn. Successful communication of volcanic risk will help the public and other decisionmakers to better plan and prepare,” says Dr Balfour.  

Massey University’s Associate Professor Julia Becker will lead the research and says communication of volcanic risk varies over time, depending on the status of the volcano and the population at risk, and is challenging due to the unpredictability of an eruption.

“We want to learn from our previous responses and use our results to help improve New Zealand’s volcanic preparedness, resilience, emergency management and warnings. Communication about such aspects is essential to inform decision-making and keep New Zealanders safe,” says Dr Becker.

While Dr Becker’s research primarily focuses on volcanic risk communication, the research scope will also include aftershock communication approaches that were useful to agencies and the public during the Canterbury earthquake sequence.

“We want to see whether communication for earthquakes could be transferable to a volcano context. It’s clear that an integrated approach would help to understand the range of ways to effectively communicate volcanic risk and provide advice for decision-making,” says Dr Becker.

Dr Becker is one of 13 recipients of EQC’s 2022 Biennial Grants. She will be leading a research team from Massey and GNS Science, working alongside the Department of Conservation, local iwi and  agencies responsible for volcanic risk management in New Zealand, including Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland (DEVORA).

“We’re funding this project as it fits perfectly with EQC’s vision to create better understanding of the natural hazards we face and how we can better prepare for them,” Dr Balfour says.

Dr Julia Beckermarae at Massey v2