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Research to aid volcanic warning for Auckland

Will Aucklanders have enough time to evacuate before a volcanic eruption?

That’s what a team of researchers want to help find out, thanks to $67,315 funding from the Earthquake Commission (EQC)’s Biennial Grants Programme.

A team of researchers from the University of Auckland are investigating how long it will take for magma to rise up from the earth’s mantle before erupting on the surface of the Auckland Volcanic Field.

Researchers can work out how long it takes for magma to rise by looking at crystals in the deposits thrown up by previous eruptions, Auckland University research co-ordinator Dr Marco Brenna says.

“The distribution of trace chemical elements in these crystals results from variable burn times. This indicates how long the crystals spent floating in the magma, and hence how fast the magma travels to the surface,” Dr Marco Brenna says.

While the field is relatively calm at present, any signs of an impending eruption would be identified via a series of field seismic sensors that are already in place, he says.

“Overseas research shows it might take days or weeks for the magma to rise, but this is not necessarily applicable to the Auckland Volcanic Field, so that’s why our locaised research is so important,” Dr Brenna says.

The research is also part of the Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland (DEVORA) project, which aims to provide advice to emergency planners who are preparing the city for future eruptions. DEVORA is funded primarily by EQC and the Auckland Council.

All of Auckland’s 53 volcanoes are thought to have erupted only once (apart for Rangitoto, which has erupted at least twice) over the last 250,000 years, indicating that the next one will likely erupt in a new location.

“It’s still unclear where it might happen, but our research will at least give some scope to advising Aucklanders of how much time they’ve got before a volcano erupts,” Dr Brenna says.

This research is one of 15 projects which have received $1 million in funding from EQC’s 2016 Biennial Grants Programme. The Programme is part of $16 million granted by EQC each year to high quality research that builds knowledge about NZ’s natural disasters.

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