The Alpine Fault runs right through the heart of New Zealand’s glacier county on the country’s south island. The fault line is where the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates meet, and produce infrequent, yet extremely powerful, earthquakes.
New research has found that a magnitude eight earthquake has a 30 percent chance of occurring in the next 50 years, and scientists have pinpointed where it is likely to hit.
The small town of Franz Josef is just 5 kilometres (3 miles) from tourist hotspot Franz Josef glacier in the Southern Alps.
Scientists from the AF8 project, a collaboration between the New Zealand Government and researchers, have been working to identify where the quake might hit in order to develop a better response plan for when the massive quake eventually hits.
According to Michigan Tech, a magnitude eight quake “can totally destroy communities near the epicentre.”
New Zealand earthquake: ‘Totally destructive’ magnitude eight tremor ‘expected soon’
Radhika Goyal of the Earth Institute at Columbia University said: “An Alpine Fault rupture could produce one of the most destructive earthquakes since European settlement of New Zealand because of its geologic characteristics.
“The fault is a strike-slip boundary in which the Australian Plate and the Pacific plate are moving horizontally past each other.
“However, the plates are locked and when they overcome these barriers, they produce large but infrequent earthquakes.
“The fault has ruptured 27 times in the last 8,000 years, every 300 years on average. With the last rupture in 1717, another major earthquake is expected soon.”
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The town of Franz Josef has only 441 residents (according to the 2013 census), but because it is so close to some stunning alps, it draws in more than a million visitors a year.
To make matters worse, the city centre, including its petrol station, police station, motels and many businesses, are situated right on the faultline.
Many of the residents have been resistant against suggestions they should leave their homes and relocate to prepare for the disaster, which is why experts are putting plans in place now.
Ms Goyal continued: “Through road shows in the Southern Alps and teaching modules on physical geography for middle and high school students, AF8 aims to increase public awareness of natural hazard risk so that communities might develop a resilience and adaptation plan down the road.
“Building resilience strategies to effectively respond to the next Alpine Fault earthquake might be the only option for communities that have lived along the fault line for decades.”