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Eruption or Catastrophe: Learning to Implement Preparedness for future Supervolcano Eruptions

Project period: 2017 - 2022

Organisations: Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University and GNS Science

Project Location: Taupō Volcanic Zone


TVCNew Zealand’s central North Island hosts a huge supervolcano system, the most active of its kind on Earth. It erupts every few hundred years on average and sometimes it will erupt in small events and at other times it will erupt in large events, devastating much of the country. Scientists know that this system will reactivate in the future, to become restless or erupt, yet their understanding of what occurs during these events is limited.

As the East Coast lies many kilometres from any active volcano it will be spared many of the highly damaging near-source effects of a volcanic eruption, except in the event of a very large eruption from the Taupō Volcanic Zone. However, the region is vulnerable to volcanic ash-falls and their associated hazards, because the prevailing winds in the North Island are from the west and south.

Twenty nine scientists from a number of different organisations will investigate the underground roots of the Taupō volcanic system to identify what conditions cause it to become restless or erupt. They will see if they can identify a tipping point between unrest and eruption and use this new knowledge to advise how best to monitor the supervolcano system.

Scientists will also model possible future eruptions to better understand the impacts of any future events and design strategies to reduce uncertainties about future unrest or eruptions scenarios.The more we understand the behaviour of this supervolcano system the better prepared we can be.

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