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Unlocking The Secrets Of Slow Slip

Project Period: December 2017 - Ongoing

Organisations: Imperial College London, GNS Science, Unviersity of Southampton and Cardiff University

Project Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (UK), National Science Foundation (USA), Geophysical Instrument Pool Potsdam (UK) and Environmental Research Institute (UK)

Project Location: Gisborne


Subduction zones are located where one of the Earth's tectonic plates slides beneath another - the boundary between the tectonic plates is called the plate boundary fault. These plate boundary faults are capable of generating the largest earthquakes and tsunamis on Earth, such as the 2011 Tōhuku-oki, Japan and the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquakes.

In the last 15 years a completely new type of seismic phenomenon has been discovered at subduction zones: silent earthquakes or slow slip events. These are events that release as much energy as a magnitude 6 to 7 earthquake, but do so over several weeks or even months and there is no ground-shaking at all.

Slow slip events may have the potential to trigger highly destructive earthquakes and tsunamis on nearby parts of the plate boundary fault, but whether this is possible and why slow slip events occur at all are two of the most important questions in earthquake seismology today.

This research project - NZ3D FWI - involves over 20 scientists across UK Universities as well as scientists from New Zealand. These scientists from from December 2017 to March 2018 scientists will install over 200 seismometers in New Zealand to detect earthquakes and also to listen for sound waves produced by a ship 90 km away from the Gisborne coast.

The sound waves will travel through the plate boundary fault and the time and strength of the sound waves detected by our seismometers will tell us about the rock properties beneath Gisborne and in the slow slip zone.

Scientists will be applying a cutting-edge method called "3D Full waveform Inversion" (FWI) to produce extremely high resolution models of rock properties to depths of 10 km.

In December 2017 and March 2018 the International Ocean Discovery Program will also be drilling offshore and installing instruments that will examine how the Earth behaves in a slow slip event. The offshore part of NZ3D is being conducted by scientists from the US, UK, New Zealand and Japan.

NZ3D #7: A job well done

NZ3D #7: A job well done

9 February 2018

After 32 days at sea on board the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, data acquisition is finally complete. It’s been quite a...

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Research ship visiting Napier Port

Research ship visiting Napier Port

9 February 2018

The US research ship, Marcus Langseth is at Napier Port today (Friday 9 February) after finishing...

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NZ3D Blog #6 Inside the Engine Room

NZ3D Blog #6 Inside the Engine Room

30 January 2018

There are 3 places on board where we can steer the ship. First and foremost is the bridge. This is where either the...

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NZ3D Blog #5: Looking out for marine life

NZ3D Blog #5: Looking out for marine life

24 January 2018

We commonly get asked about marine life when conducting these sort of scientific studies. The environment is very i...

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NZ3D Blog #4: All aboard

NZ3D Blog #4: All aboard

15 January 2018

With all the land seismometers and OBS instruments now in place and waiting patiently for the data to roll in,...

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NZ3D Blog #3: Seismometers come in all shapes and sizes

NZ3D Blog #3: Seismometers come in all shapes and sizes

27 December 2017

Seismometers come in many shapes and sizes. In this project we’re using three types; Guralp 6TDs, GF...

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NZ3D Blog #2: So here we are... But where?

NZ3D Blog #2: So here we are... But where?

22 December 2017

With our seismometers tested, kit assembled and training complete, we split into five teams and hit the road on a m...

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NZ3D Blog #1: We have lift off!

NZ3D Blog #1: We have lift off!

15 December 2017

We have lift off! Years of planning, months of preparation and hours of travelling have culminated in a keen team o...

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