Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christchurch Earthquake 2

More on the Christchurch earthquake, also known as the Canterbury earthquake or  the Darfield earthquake...

After much emailing on my husband's part, he and I travelled to Christchurch on Wednesday 8 September to help install sensors to measure accelerations caused by earthquakes in the aftershock sequence following the 7.1 earthquake on 4 September. The project is part of the Quake Catcher Network run from Stanford ( the Rapid Aftershock Mobilization Program in New Zealand ( A Ph.D. Student from Stanford had arrived in Christchurch that morning with 200 sensors in her luggage.

People volunteer to have a sensor in their home for a period of 4-6 weeks. The picture shows one of the sensors. It is secured to the floor using duct tape and glue for a hard floor and duct tape and Velcro for carpet. The cable plugs into a USB port on a computer which has to have BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing)  installed to manage data transfers to the server. Between 8 September and 14 September up to five teams of people from GNS Science, Stanford and the Universities of Auckland and Wellington installed nearly all of the 200 sensors around Christchurch and the surrounding region.

Different parts of the city were affected differently by the shaking. Driving in from the south, we saw very little damage until we reached the central city area where a number of older brick or masonry buildings had been badly damaged. In fact, the three main types of damage were chimneys that either collapsed or became unsafe, older brick or masonry buildings that partially collapsed and problems due to soil liquefaction. When we arrived on 8 September many streets in the central city area were cordoned off. In fact, the serviced apartments where we were staying were inside a cordoned area and we had to be escorted to reception by a soldier. By the time we arrived, water and power had been restored over most of the affected area, though not in some of the most badly affected neighbourhoods and in rural areas. The biggest inconveniences for us were that for the first few days we were not allowed to use the lifts and the internet connections to the rooms were not working properly, possibly because aftershocks were loosening the ethernet cables. By Monday 13 September much of the city was  functioning normally, though a few streets were still closed due to unsafe buildings or continuing demolition.

The response of Christchurch residents to the call for volunteers to host a sensor was amazing. Even those whose houses were undamaged had still had an extraordinarily stressful experience, plus the additional stress of on-going aftershocks, including one of magnitude 5.1 on the morning of 8 September (before we arrived) that caused additional damage.

The GeoNet website has more information about the earthquake, including a video montage of the fault trace reconnaissance and some more on aftershocks. The GNS Science website has more information as well. There is an animation of the aftershock sequence at

We also recommend the Nobanno Bengali restaurant on the corner of Armagh and Colombo Streets in Christchurch. The food is excellent.

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