Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Quake ingenuity: Introducing the 'spade-tenna'

GNS Science technician Andrew Cowie with the now-named spade-tenna temporary communications tower. Photo / GeoNet
GNS Science technician Andrew Cowie with the now-named spade-tenna temporary communications tower. Photo / GeoNet

GeoNet technicians working in Kaikoura's earthquake zone have swapped number eight wire for spades to reach new heights of Kiwi ingenuity.

In a blog post, GeoNet spokeswoman Sara McBride described the challenges that have been facing her colleagues as they've tried to install temporary communication sites across the Kaikoura mountains and the Southern Alps following this month's 7.8 quake, which damaged cell towers.

"Now, when our techs go out into the field, they can only take the most important items with them due to limited space on the helicopters," she said.

The technicians were dropped off "into the middle of nowhere" with few supplies to make these temporary sites.

"Think Survivor but with a radio, seismographs and a couple of muesli bars - our techs are able to put in these temporary sites in a matter of hours."

The lack of space aboard the helicopters has made the crews more creative in their use of tools, she said, and in one case a team fashioned a miniature communication tower from a spade.

"Recently, they realised their antenna needed more height to communicate with base," McBride explained.

A crew sets up a site near Lake Tennyson in south Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet
A crew sets up a site near Lake Tennyson in south Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet

"They cleverly repurposed a spade - used to dig out ground to place the site in - and used electrical tape to put the antenna on the spade.

A monitoring site near Lake Tennyson, in South Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet
A monitoring site near Lake Tennyson, in South Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet

"Boom: instant communication tower."

GeoNet's new self-named "spade-tenna" was designed to elevate the antenna and increase cellular signal strength in remote locations.

A site at Glen Orkney, in Marlborough's Awatere Valley. Photo / GeoNet
A site at Glen Orkney, in Marlborough's Awatere Valley. Photo / GeoNet

"This means we don't lose contact with these sites."

They quickly put up nine temporary sites since the earthquake - including four with the clever spade-tenna.

Setting up a site in a field in Seddon, Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet
Setting up a site in a field in Seddon, Marlborough. Photo / GeoNet

"Tim McDougall, one of our techs, said they were proud of their latest innovation but that they are now running out of spades."

- NZ Herald

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