Vulnerabilities to Seismic Hazards in Coastal and River Environments: Lessons post the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence 2010-2012, New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster Of Science
Coastal and river environments are exposed to a number of natural hazards that have the potential to negatively affect both human and natural environments. The purpose of this research is to explain that significant vulnerabilities to seismic hazards exist within coastal and river environments and that coasts and rivers, past and present, have played as significant a role as seismic, engineering or socio-economic factors in determining the impacts and recovery patterns of a city following a seismic hazard event. An interdisciplinary approach was used to investigate the vulnerability of coastal and river areas in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, following the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, which began on the 4th of September 2010. This information was used to identify the characteristics of coasts and rivers that make them more susceptible to earthquake induced hazards including liquefaction, lateral spreading, flooding, landslides and rock falls. The findings of this research are applicable to similar coastal and river environments elsewhere in the world where seismic hazards are also of significant concern. An interdisciplinary approach was used to document and analyse the coastal and river related effects of the Canterbury earthquake sequence on Christchurch city in order to derive transferable lessons that can be used to design less vulnerable urban communities and help to predict seismic vulnerabilities in other New Zealand and international urban coastal and river environments for the future. Methods used to document past and present features and earthquake impacts on coasts and rivers in Christchurch included using maps derived from Geographical Information Systems (GIS), photographs, analysis of interviews from coastal, river and engineering experts, and analysis of secondary data on seismicity, liquefaction potential, geology, and planning statutes. The Canterbury earthquake sequence had a significant effect on Christchurch, particularly around rivers and the coast. This was due to the susceptibility of rivers to lateral spreading and the susceptibility of the eastern Christchurch and estuarine environments to liquefaction. The collapse of river banks and the extensive cracking, tilting and subsidence that accompanied liquefaction, lateral spreading and rock falls caused damage to homes, roads, bridges and lifelines. This consequently blocked transportation routes, interrupted electricity and water lines, and damaged structures built in their path. This study found that there are a number of physical features of coastal and river environments from the past and the present that have induced vulnerabilities to earthquake hazards. The types of sediments found beneath eastern Christchurch are unconsolidated fine sands, silts, peats and gravels. Together with the high water tables located beneath the city, these deposits made the area particularly susceptible to liquefaction and liquefaction-induced lateral spreading, when an earthquake of sufficient size shook the ground. It was both past and present coastal and river processes that deposited the types of sediments that are easily liquefied during an earthquake. Eastern Christchurch was once a coastal and marine environment 6000 years ago when the shoreline reached about 6 km inland of its present day location, which deposited fine sand and silts over this area. The region was also exposed to large braided rivers and smaller spring fed rivers, both of which have laid down further fine sediments over the following thousands of years. A significant finding of this study is the recognition that the Canterbury earthquake sequence has exacerbated existing coastal and river hazards and that assessments and monitoring of these changes will be an important component of Christchurch’s future resilience to natural hazards. In addition, patterns of recovery following the Canterbury earthquakes are highlighted to show that coasts and rivers are again vulnerable to earthquakes through their ability to recovery. This city’s capacity to incorporate resilience into the recovery efforts is also highlighted in this study. Coastal and river areas have underlying physical characteristics that make them increasingly vulnerable to the effects of earthquake hazards, which have not typically been perceived as a ‘coastal’ or ‘river’ hazard. These findings enhance scientific and management understanding of the effects that earthquakes can have on coastal and river environments, an area of research that has had modest consideration to date. This understanding is important from a coastal and river hazard management perspective as concerns for increased human development around coastlines and river margins, with a high seismic risk, continue to grow.