This March and April, an international team of researchers will install monitoring equipment inside an active fault zone off the coast of New Zealand, in the Ring of Fire, in the first-ever scientific drilling mission specifically designed to study slow earthquakes.
Feb 13, 2018 - New technology from a student-led research project at Victoria University of Wellington looks set to revolutionise the way geotechnical engineers monitor and predict landslides, potentially helping to save countless lives and cut costs.
Engineering and Computer Science student Jonathan Olds was looking for a research project for his Master’s and his supervisor, Professor of Network Engineering in the School of Engineering and Computer Science Winston Seah, suggested developing and testing an automated solution for the long-term monitoring of landslides. The result of that research is AccuMM, which Jonathan validated with a pilot installation in Taiwan.
image004.png“The holy grail of managing landslide risk is prediction,” says Nick Willis, Viclink’s Commercialisation Manager, Engineering, who is working with the researchers to bring the product to market. “But predictions can only be made if movement—or, more importantly, the acceleration of land mass—can be measured right down to the number of millimetres per day, over a long period of time.”
He says the traditional method of measurement involves sending a surveyor or engineer out into the field each day to measure land movement with theodolites—a manual, costly process. Even the higher tech options involving robots or drones are costly or have their drawbacks.
AccuMM uses low-cost solar or battery-powered wireless GPS sensors together with a unique, cloud-based algorithm to calculate the location of each sensor, relative to a fixed-base station. This enables daily measurements to be taken at multiple points on a landslide without the need for site visits, with no line-of-sight or cabling requirements, and no need for intervention at the site for five or more years.
Following the pilot in Taiwan, the technology is now being trialled closer to home in areas where landslides have occurred, including monitoring the transport corridors in Kaikoura, Kāpiti Coast and Wellington.
“Approximately 66 million people—one percent of the world’s population—are currently in high-risk landslide areas,” says Mr Willis “Add to that events such as global warming, changing rainfall patterns and aging infrastructure and it’s not hard to see the increasing need for this kind of technology.”
Professor Seah says, “By exploiting the similarity in wireless channel conditions between sensors placed in close proximity, we are able to achieve a high degree of accuracy compared with much higher cost systems. We can power the wireless network by energy harvesting, which means our system can operate for long duration to meet the monitoring needs of geotechnical engineers.”
Viclink is targeting the product at geotechnical engineering companies that undertake long-term analysis and monitoring of landslide risk, as AccuMM measures but does not interpret the data or send real-time alerts.
| A Victoria University release || February 13, 2018 |||
An award-winning, pioneering technique for assessing earthquake damage to steel in buildings or bridges will allow engineers to give faster, more reliable information to engineers, with tangible flow-on results for insurers and building owners.
15 Nov 2017 - Ara computing senior lecturer Amit Sarkar interviewed the top decision makers at 30 organisations that survived the Christchurch earthquakes, and found that Information Systems (IS) resilience was a major factor in their continued operation and successful recovery. This held true for large organisations and small organisations, both public and private sector.
Amit’s work impressed participants and jury at the European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Conference on Information Systems (EMCIS), where it was awarded best research paper this year. The paper Governing Information Systems Resilience: A Case Study is co-authored by Stephen Wingreen from UC and John Ascroft from Jade Software. Another paper in this series, CEO Decision Making under Crisis: An Agency Theory Perspective, is co-authored by Stephen Wingreen and Paul Cragg from the University of Canterbury, and was published in the Pacific Asia Journal of the Association for Information Systems (June 2017).
“Information Systems (IS) resilience is fundamental to an organisation’s survival,” Amit says. “In every organisation, if there is downtime in an organisation’s IS then there is a very slim chance that they will survive. Snail mail and paper-based accounting is almost obsolete. So the IS is quite central to the business. If the IS is down, if they can’t receive or send data and they can’t do any transactions, then what are consequences?”
Resilience is widely recognised in related disciplines such as Computer Science, Crisis Management and Safety Engineering, but there had been very little attention paid by Information Systems scholars to IS resilience. Business leaders who Amit interviewed told him that IS resilience was very important, but simply had not been documented.
Canterbury’s computing experts and business leaders have a lot of wisdom to share about business preparedness for disaster and Amit collated this using Q spot methodology to identify not only the most important factors in IS resilience, but also how decision makers prioritise these factors for resourcing.
Successful organisations, he found, had an IS resilience plan and, most crucially, they had practised it, challenged it and embedded it into the organisation.
“Good process means you are taking it seriously and practising it, trying to find the loopholes and debating, learning from the drills what went wrong and how to improve, so that when the real thing comes you are super ready. That cannot happen from reading the plan on the day. The plan goes out the window when the disaster strikes, so this is significant.”
Often basic preparation included migrating data to the cloud – something the city council fortuitously completed just four hours before the first, September 2010, earthquake struck. When there is no physical access to servers, then the cloud becomes essential for retrieving stored data.
Diversity and complementarity within the company was important to testing resilience plans for many eventualities and for practising problem solving. When a range of thinking styles was employed, IS resilience plans were more thoroughly tested. IS resilience is as much about people as it is about technology, Amit says.
“All the companies that survived put people in the centre. There is a huge emotional toll that happens and every single organisation in the study, including Ara, took care of the people, by making sure salaries are paid, checking on employees and so on. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If you look after your employees, they will look after your technology and processes.”
Not only did organisations need to be resilient themselves, but they had to choose partners carefully to ensure they were also resilient. Having robust systems would be pointless if the supply chain collapsed because other organisations were not prepared. This also applied to overseas partners.
An in-depth case study on Jade Software in Christchurch has now evolved into a proposal to develop an app to periodically check organisations’ resilience status. This could create a valuable tool that can be used in different countries and cultures, Amit says.
Scientists are working hard to determine the how, why and when of earthquakes, but getting answers is a complex team effort, says a Victoria University of Wellington geophysicist.
image004.jpgIt’s 30 years since John Townend recalls first experiencing a big earthquake—the magnitude 6.5 Edgecumbe earthquake, which struck in March 1987 less than 100 kilometres from his high school in Rotorua.
The Professor of Geophysics and Head of Victoria’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences has been studying the physics of earthquakes ever since.
The last few years have seen Professor Townend called on many times for his expertise, most recently following the magnitude 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 when he provided expert commentary in the media explaining what had happened and what was likely to come.
As he will discuss in his upcoming inaugural professorial lecture, recent observations of large and small earthquakes in New Zealand and worldwide have hugely expanded geoscientific knowledge.
“The basic problem is that the big earthquakes we’re concerned about as a society and which we most want to understand occur infrequently, whereas the little ones don’t have much effect but occur often enough to test and refine our ideas,” says Professor Townend.
“To really understand how the earthquake machine operates, we need to combine measurements and theory spanning many orders of magnitude. Working out what is happening is a community effort—many different types of observation and scientific expertise are required.”
In his lecture, Professor Townend will discuss what faults look like at different scales, and what we do and don’t know about how earthquakes are generated and how they interact.
“Projects like the Deep Fault Drilling Project, which drilled nearly 900 metres into the South Island's Alpine Fault, are helping us understand the health of a major fault—the temperatures, pressures, and stresses it’s subjected to—before an expected large earthquake occurs,” he says.
The Alpine Fault produces earthquakes of around magnitude 8 approximately every 300 years and last ruptured in 1717 AD, says Professor Townend, so understanding what processes control the rupture and reloading of the fault is an urgent scientific and societal challenge.
eanwhile, data collected during and after the Kaikoura earthquake reveal to seismologists just how finely balanced some faults are.
“The Kaikoura earthquake triggered earthquakes and deep slow slip extending hundreds of kilometres along the Hikurangi subduction zone, below the east coast of the North Island. It’s important that we improve our understanding of what factors make different faults susceptible to slip and what factors control the sizes of the earthquakes that result,” says Professor Townend.
“In a country as geologically young and complex as Aotearoa, earthquakes provide a regular and sometimes devastating reminder that the Earth is in motion.”
A collaboration by scientists who drilled nearly 900 metres into the South Island’s Alpine Fault has revealed surprisingly high temperatures and the potential for large geothermal resources in the area.
The site was drilled by a team of more than 100 scientists from 12 countries, who were working to understand how earthquakes occur on geological faults.
The team identified the Whataroa site as the best place in the world to understand what a fault looks, feels, and sounds like just before an earthquake occurs. The Alpine Fault is known to rupture in magnitude 8 earthquakes approximately every 300 years, plus or minus 90 years.
The results of the project, published today in prestigious international journal Nature, discuss the site’s geothermal gradient—a measure of how fast the temperature increases going deeper beneath the Earth's surface.
The project team discovered water at 630 metres depth that was hot enough to boil. Similar geothermal temperatures are normally found at depths greater than three kilometres.
Lead scientist Victoria University’s Professor Rupert Sutherland says the geothermal conditions discovered are extreme by global standards and comparable to those in major volcanic centres like Taupo—but there are no volcanoes in Westland.
“The geothermal environment is created by a combination of tectonic movement and groundwater flow. Slippage during earthquakes has uplifted hot rocks from about 30 kilometres deep, and the rocks are coming up so fast that they don't get a chance to cool properly.
“Earthquakes fracture the rocks so extensively that water is able to infiltrate deep beneath the mountains and heat becomes concentrated in upwelling geothermal fluids beneath valleys. River gravels that are flushed by abundant West Coast rain and snow dilute this geothermal activity before it reaches the surface.
"Nobody on our team, or any of the scientists who reviewed our plans, predicted that it would be so hot down there. This geothermal activity may sound alarming but it is a wonderful scientific finding that could be commercially very significant for New Zealand."
The discovery could transform the economy and resilience of Westland, and provide a significant and sustainable clean energy resource that could be developed using local people and equipment, says Warren Gilbertson, Chief Operating Officer of Development West Coast.
"The location of geothermal activity and its possible benefit and association to the dairy and tourism sectors provide real opportunities from an economic perspective.”
It is still too early to say just how big and how hot the geothermal resource might be, says Professor Sutherland, and additional exploration and drilling will be needed to assess the economic potential.
Novel technologies were used to gather the data, including precise temperature and seismic measurements that were made using lasers and a fibre-optic cable installed in the borehole. Ongoing work, supported by the Marsden Fund managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand and led by Professor Neil Broderick from the University of Auckland, aims to develop these technologies and use the existing borehole to monitor subtle changes and search for new earthquake-related phenomena over coming years.
Overall, the Deep Fault Drilling Project fell short of achieving all of its technical goals as the fractured and strongly-layered rocks and extremely hot temperatures provided engineering challenges.
However, many scientific measurements were made and the borehole continues to provide interesting data, says Victoria’s Professor John Townend, a co-leader of the project.
"In scientific research, unexpected is just another word for really interesting. The findings reinforce the need for the international science community to better understand conditions that prevail around earthquake-generating geological faults."
| A Victoria University of Wellington release || May 18, 2017 |||
Experts from New Zealand and around the world will attend the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering’s annual technical conference in Wellington this week.
Conference convenor Dr David Whittaker says about 500 earthquake engineers and scientists will meet to exchange knowledge on a range of topics, including the impacts of the Kaikoura Earthquake and how to make building structures more resilient to large earthquakes.
Dr Whittaker says around 100 international delegates will present papers and updates from the United States, Japan, China, Taiwan and Turkey.
NZSEE President Peter Smith says the conference is a chance to share the latest thinking about seismic isolation and other technologies to protect buildings from earthquakes.
“Following the Kaikoura Earthquake, the community is asking important questions of earthquake engineers about seismic risk, adequacy of codes and seismic resilience.
“At the conference, engineers will be sharing what we have learned and listening to what overseas experience can teach us, as we work towards better seismic resilience in our buildings and infrastructure.
This conference is being held jointly with the Anti-Seismic Systems International Society’s (ASSISi) 15th World Conference on Seismic Isolation.
The conference runs from Thursday 27 April to Saturday 29 April.
Inquirers back off one step short of the Supercat Issuers
The arrival of Erin Brokovich (pictured) in Christchurch and her call for those at the wrong end of insurance compensation to “speak up” about the injustice of it all is a further reminder of the obscure role in the earthquake aftermath of the global re-insurers.
Among the most powerful forces force in reinsurance is Berkshire Hathaway. It is considered within the industry to be the leader in supercats which is the category of reinsurance involved in major disasters such as the Christchurch earthquake.
Berkshire Hathaway sells sell policies that insurance and reinsurance companies purchase in order to limit their losses when mega-catastrophes strike.
The company is therefore the major reinsurer of reinsurers.
Though Mr Buffett in New Zealand is frequently the subject of admiring, some might say, adulatory, media coverage the matter of his involvement in these supercats is ignored out of either ignorance or out of fear. Or both.
The matter has similarly been too complex for politicians to contemplate at least openly.
Hurricanes and earthquakes are the two primary factors in the probabilities of supercats.
It is said that Mr Buffett’s supercat exposure can weather at any given time the eventuality of the calculable risk of up to four such eventualities.
Supercat insurance shares with the rest of the insurance sector one quite literally priceless advantage. Payments are received prior to the issue of the policy. In other words, cash up front.
This payment-in-advance gives the industry its cash float which in the case of the supercat sector is immense.
Therefore the following questions need to be asked:-
1. Who are the Christchurch reinsurers?
2. Who reinsures them?
3. Are the ultimate reinsurers solvent?
4. If so why are they not compensating the Christchurch home owners?
Instead the various debates have circled around the role of the primary insurers, the known insurers.
Erin Brokovich, formerly a California legal clerk, and the centrepiece of the eponymous film that starred Julia Roberts is roving ambassador for an Australian-based legal compensation practice.
As an environmental advocate she transcends the routine geomantic abstract preoccupation with global warming/carbon levels and by her presence fixes it upon the unpleasantness of ordinary people in the face of ambitions of big business.
Can Miss Brokovich now force into the light the identities of the entity or entities that hold the supercats over Christchurch and who decline to pay out on them?
| FRom The MSCNewsWire reporters' desk || Tuesday 11 April 2017 |||
An EBSS report ‘Don’t mention the law’, on MBIE’s proposed regulations and methodology for identifying earthquake prone buildings, shows that the Chief Executive, David Smol, intends to flout a landmark Supreme Court decision.
The law provides that the earthquake prone building test is against performance in a defined moderate earthquake. The Supreme Court, in a 2014 decision, ruled that the test earthquake must be a moderate earthquake, and not any more severe event. This ruling has been ignored in the methodology, where the effective test is some undefined severe earthquake.
“This ‘severe earthquake’ test and other manipulations means that buildings can be designated as earthquake prone when they clearly are not”, said Ian Harrison Chair of EBSS. “Engineers were told in their briefing document that assessed seismic ratings should never match the actual capacity of the building”.
The report recommends that engineers be required to sign an attestation that an earthquake prone building meets the specific performance test required by law.
“MBIE’s regime is grossly over engineered,” said Harrison. “There is an issue with unreinforced masonry buildings in more seismically active areas, but the real risks can be addressed quickly and relatively cheaply. We don’t have to do tens of thousands of potentially rigged assessments and then spend billions strengthening reinforced concrete and wooden buildings that are known to perform well in earthquakes”.
MBIE does not know how the regime will work and whether it will deliver consistent results, because it has not been tested. The methodology development process fells well short of minimum testing and validation standards, let alone best practice.
The report shows that the public has been systematically mislead about the real risk of so-called ‘earthquake prone’ buildings.
The New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering risk grading system, which is being promoted by MBIE, describes buildings as high risk, and very high risk, when they can be thousands of times safer than everyday activities such as driving or flying. Older reinforced concrete buildings performed as well as modern buildings in the Christchurch earthquake. The Wellington City Council’s website states that earthquake prone buildings can be expected to collapse in a moderate earthquake. Wellington was hit by a moderate earthquake in November 2016, but only two of nearly 700 ‘earthquake prone’ buildings had structural damage, and none collapsed. It was the modern buildings that were the big problem.
EBSS believes that engineers have breached the Fair Trading Act by making misleading statements about the need for services, and making unsubstantiated statements about risk. EBSS will be making a complaint to the Commerce Commission under the Act.
Engineers are concerned about the risk that earthquake-prone buildings pose to public safety in the Wellington region, and fully support the Government’s move to compel building owners to secure facades.
New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE) President Peter Smith says during this period of increased earthquake risk in Wellington, Lower Hutt, Marlborough and Hurunui, it’s important to secure facades and speed up remedial work.
"These facades need to be secured, particularly because many of them are in popular retail areas like Cuba Street, Riddiford Street and Jackson Street.
"Engineers are very conscious of the lives lost when facades collapsed in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Thirty-nine people were killed and more than 100 people injured as a result of masonry falling onto footpaths and roads."
Structural Engineering Society (SESOC) President Paul Campbell says that while shorter, stiffer earthquake-prone buildings weren’t affected by the Kaikoura earthquake, they still pose a significant risk to public safety.
"Every earthquake is different - and earthquakes don’t test all buildings equally.
"On 14 November, as the earthquake waves travelled through rock away from Kaikoura, high frequency waves dissipated as heat.
"But low frequency waves experienced less resistance and reached Wellington. These low frequency waves created resonance in mid-height buildings, causing severe shaking.
"The next earthquake could be quite different and it’s important that earthquake-prone buildings are dealt with."
Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene says engineers’ key concern is public safety.
"We welcome the Government’s announcement that it will establish a fund to support building owners.
"If there is an aftershock centred closer to Wellington, securing the facades could save many lives.
"Since 14 November, there’s been fantastic industry and regulator collaboration.
"We are all working hard to improve resilience and make Wellington more prepared for whatever might come next."