Assessment of coseismic landsliding from an Alpine fault earthquake scenario, New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineGeological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Disasters can occur without warning and severely test society’s capacity to cope, significantly altering the relationship between society and the built and natural environments. The scale of a disaster is a direct function of the pre-event actions and decisions taken by society. Poor pre-event planning is a major contributor to disaster, while effective pre-event planning can substantially reduce, and perhaps even avoid, the disaster. Developing and undertaking effective planning is therefore a vital component of disaster risk management in order to achieve meaningful societal resilience. Disaster scenarios present arguably the best and most effective basis to plan an effective emergency response to future disasters.
For effective emergency response planning, disaster scenarios must be as realistic as possible. Yet for disasters resulting from natural hazards, intricately linked secondary hazards and effects make development of realistic scenarios difficult. This is specially true for large earthquakes in mountainous terrain. The primary aim of this thesis is therefore to establish a detailed and realistic disaster scenario for a Mw8.0 earthquake on the plate boundary Alpine fault in the South Island of New Zealand with specific emphasis on secondary effects. Geologic evidence of re-historic earthquakes on this fault suggest widespread and large-scale landsliding has resulted throughout the Southern Alps, yet, currently, no attempts to quantitatively model this landsliding have been undertaken. This thesis therefore provides a first attempt at quantitative assessments of the likely scale and impacts of landsliding from a future Mw8.0 Alpine fault earthquake.
Modelling coseismic landsliding in regions lacking historic inventories and geotechnical data (e.g. New Zealand) is challenging. The regional factors that control the spatial distribution of landsliding however, are shown herein to be similar across different environments. Observations from the 1994 Northridge, 1999 Chi-Chi, and 2008 Wenchuan earthquakes identified MM intensity, slope angle and position, and distance from active faults and streams as factors controlling the spatial distribution of landsliding. Using fuzzy logic in GIS, these factors are able to successfully model the spatial distribution of coseismic landsliding from both the 2003 and 2009 Fiordland earthquakes in New Zealand. This method can therefore be applied to estimate the scale of landsliding from scenario earthquakes such as an Alpine fault event.
Applied to an Mw8.0 Alpine fault earthquake, this suggests that coseismic landsliding could affect an area >50,000 km2 with likely between 40,000 and 110,000 landslides occurring. Between 1,400 and 4,000 of these are expected to present a major hazard. The environmental impacts from this landsliding would be severe, particularly in west-draining river catchments, and sediment supply to rivers in some catchments may exceed 50 years of background rates. Up to 2 km3 of total landslide debris is expected, and this will have serious and long-term consequences. Fluvial remobilisation of this material could result in average aggradation depths on active alluvial fans and floodplains of 1 m, with maximum depths substantially larger. This is of particular concern to the agriculture industry, which relies on the fertile soils on many of the active alluvial fans affected.
This thesis also investigated the potential impacts from such landsliding on critical infrastructure. The State Highway and electrical transmission networks are shown to be particularly exposed. Up to 2,000 wooden pole and 30 steel pylon supports for the transmission network are highly exposed, resulting in >23,000 people in the West Coast region being exposed to power loss. At least 240 km of road also has high exposure, primarily on SH6 between Hokitika and Haast, and on Arthur’s and Lewis Passes. More than 2,750 local residents in Westland District are exposed to isolation by road as a result. The Grey River valley region is identified as the most critical section of the State Highway network and pre-event mitigation is strongly recommended to ensure the road and bridges here can withstand strong shaking and liquefaction hazards. If this section of the network can remain functional post-earthquake, the emergency response could be based out of Wellington using Nelson as a forward operating base with direct road access to some of the worst-affected locations. However, loss of functionality of this section of road will result in >24,000 people becoming isolated across almost the entire West Coast region.
This thesis demonstrates the importance and potential value of pre-event emergency response planning, both for the South Island community for an Alpine fault earthquake, and globally for all such hazards. The case study presented demonstrates that realistic estimates of potential coseismic landsliding and its impacts are possible, and the methods developed herein can be applied to other large mountainous earthquakes. A model for developing disaster scenarios in collaboration with a wide range of societal groups is presented and shown to be an effective method for emergency response planning, and is applicable to any hazard and location globally. This thesis is therefore a significant contribution towards understanding mountainous earthquake hazards and emergency response planning.