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New Zealand's Greatest Historic Earthquake: Just how big was it?

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  • UserDr. Anne Hinton, Visiting Scientist, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge
  • ClockMonday 06 November 2006, 18:15-19:30
  • HouseI4 Corpus Christi College.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Francis Lucian Reid.

In 1855 the then fledging settlement of Wellington was shaken by a ‘Magnitude 8+’ earthquake. Recent work at Victoria University of Wellington has extended the maximum associated horizontal ground movement beyond that originally recognized by Harold Wellman and Rodney Grapes. Other research this century, by the author, suggests that the maximum vertical component of movement was not as great as had previously been estimated.

A tsunami, reaching up to 9 to 10 metres above normal water levels, was recorded in association with the 1855 earthquake. This inundated parts of the south coast of the North Island, washing through low-lying land in and around Wellington, including the present location of the capital city’s airport. Landslides disrupted communication for a time, although the elevation of much of the land in the vicinity of Wellington eased the construction of tracks along the sea shore.

Loss of human life was not as great as in smaller magnitude earthquakes and other disasters of the twentieth century elsewhere in New Zealand. However, the 1855 earthquake was the second major quake to affect Wellington within a decade. As such it had the potential to affect further migration to New Zealand and it has been suggested that news about the earthquake was down-played at the time for political reasons.

This talk is part of the University of Cambridge, New Zealand Studies Seminar Group series.

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