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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Tom Robinson

Robinson, T.R. & Davies, T.R.H. Review Article: Potential geomorphic consequences of a future great (Mw = 8.0+) Alpine Fault earthquake, South Island, New Zealand. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science. 2013;13:2279-2299.

Author(s) from Durham


The Alpine Fault in New Zealand's South Island has not sustained a large magnitude earthquake since ca. AD 1717. The time since this rupture is close to the average inferred recurrence interval of the fault (~300 yr). The Alpine Fault is therefore expected to generate a large magnitude earthquake in the near future. Previous ruptures of this fault are inferred to have generated Mw = 8.0 or greater earthquakes and to have resulted in, amongst other geomorphic hazards, large-scale landslides and landslide dams throughout the Southern Alps. There is currently 85% probability that the Alpine Fault will cause a Mw = 8.0+ earthquake within the next 100 yr. While the seismic hazard is fairly well understood, that of the consequential geomorphic activity is less well studied, and these consequences are explored herein. They are expected to include landsliding, landslide damming, dam-break flooding, debris flows, river aggradation, liquefaction, and landslide-generated lake/fiord tsunami. Using evidence from previous events within New Zealand as well as analogous international examples, we develop first-order estimates of the likely magnitude and possible locations of the geomorphic effects associated with earthquakes. Landsliding is expected to affect an area > 30 000 km2 and involve > 1billion m3 of material. Some tens of landslide dams are expected to occur in narrow, steep-sided gorges in the affected region. Debris flows will be generated in the first long-duration rainfall after the earthquake and will continue to occur for several years as rainfall (re)mobilises landslide material. In total more than 1000 debris flows are likely to be generated at some time after the earthquake. Aggradation of up to 3 m will cover an area > 125 km2 and is likely to occur on many West Coast alluvial fans and floodplains. The impact of these effects will be felt across the entire South Island and is likely to continue for several decades.