Planning for eruption

By Erika Venter

Should Mount Taranaki erupt, the Stratford area would more than likely be in the ash fall zone, says Professor Shane Cronin, who is involved in a project to provide tools for swift economic recovery in the event of a volcanic eruption.

Volcanologists and statisticians from Massey University will work with a market economics team of environmental and ecological economists led by Massey graduate Dr Garry McDonald, and draw upon a decade of research and lessons from the Christchurch rebuild.

The team was recently awarded $250,000 for the project by the Ministry of Science and Innovation's New Zealand Natural Hazards Research Platform, and the Stratford Press talked to Prof Cronin on how this area is likely to be affected and how the model will aid local government and others to keep the economy going.

``Stratford is the more likely area for volcanic ash fall. Typically with a Taranaki eruption there are two major hazards, ash fall that will follow prevailing winds; and flow that will follow the major river systems and Stratford has the Patea. There are several catchments on the eastern side of the volcano that has had lahars in the past.''

But, he adds the mountain is showing no signs of activity and should it erupt it is unlikely it would make the whole province unliveable.

``It is not case of panic and leave the area.''

He says they have worked out a few eruption scenarios looking at past eruptions - some over in a couple of weeks, and others a few years - and what kind of impact they might have.

``The model will look at how communities respond, how the region will be affected and how the community will adapt.''

He says an eruption would have a major impact on dairy farmers, with the effect of ash on animals and pastures.

``Fluoride, one of the components in ash, can cause poisoning in livestock. The whole industry in and around supplying and collecting goods from farms will be affected. ... We will cover everything from infrastructure issues to business viability. The dynamic model will provide answers for government and businesses to help plan for any given situation.''

The project is backed by a decade of research on Mt Taranaki by Prof Cronin's team. Already, a 10,000-year eruption history of the volcano has been published, and now a longer 32,000-year history is being completed thanks to a new core sample taken from a swamp near Eltham.

``It is one of the most detailed records of eruptions from a volcano over that length of time anywhere in the world,'' Prof Cronin says.

He says those records together with samples taken from other areas, including Lake Rotokare, will be used to ``piece it all together''.

The research shows that Mt Taranaki has regular cycles of behaviour.

``It oscillates between periods of smaller, but more frequent eruptions and larger, but less frequent ones,'' he says.

``The cycles last about 1500 years. The mountain is in one of the quiet cycles at the moment, with the last eruption forming the summit dome around 1800AD.''

He says it is expected the model will be available in three years' time, but adds it will always be a work in progress as new and more data are added.-->

- Stratford Press

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