Royal Commission hearings into the Canterbury earthquakes will open this afternoon with a welcome address read out in the nine different languages of people killed in the February disaster.

The inquiry hearings will dissect the cause of building collapses and loss of 182 lives - including more than 70 foreign nationals - in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck Canterbury on February 22.

The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission will open at 1pm at St Teresa's Parish church in Riccarton, Christchurch, with a welcome by chair Justice Mark Cooper in English and Maori.

Translators will then read out Justice Cooper's address in the nine other languages of people who died in the earthquake, followed by two minutes silence in a tribute to the victims.

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GNS Science natural hazards director Terry Web will take the stand as first witness to explain what seismic activity had been expected in the area, what actually happened, and the implications for other areas.

He will also explain how the shaking that occurred compared to that allowed for in building design standards.

The second witness is expected to be University of Canterbury scientist Professor Jarg Pettinga who will speak on active faults and historical data.

The commission is set to hear evidence until next March before presenting its findings to the government.

The commission is scheduled to hear evidence on the collapse of the PGC building, where 18 people died, from November 28.

Evidence on the collapse of the CTV building, which killed 115 people, is down to be heard in March.