Researchers are collecting data in an attempt to piece together an earthquake and tsunami history for Hawke's Bay.

Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Charlotte Pizer is collecting sediment in the Pakuratahi Valley, near Tangoio, to determine when past subduction zone earthquakes and tsunamis had occurred.

"We're specifically looking for layers of sediments that may have been disturbed during an earthquake, or shells that have been carried inland by a tsunami to radiocarbon date," Pizer said.

"Pakuratahi Valley is one of three sites that we'll be investigating in Hawke's Bay, and we will be using the evidence we collect here to compare with evidence in sediment cores that have been collected offshore along the Hikurangi subduction zone".

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The research project is underway on sediment in the Pakuratahi Valley. Photo / Supplied
The research project is underway on sediment in the Pakuratahi Valley. Photo / Supplied

The zone is where the Pacific Plate subducts, or dives beneath, the Australian Plate. Subduction zones are a type of fault that can produce very large earthquakes and tsunamis.

The research, a joint collaborative project between Victoria University of Wellington and GNS Science, forms part of a five-year Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) research programme called Hikurangi Subduction Earthquakes and Slip Behaviour.

The Hikurangi subduction zone has produced large events in the past.

East Coast Life at the Boundary project leader Kate Boersen said the research to refine the Hikurangi subduction record allowed them to better assess the risk of these hazards and their likely impacts, as well as inform others how to prepare for future earthquakes.

Pizer is studying sediment in an attempt to determine when past Hikurangi subduction zone earthquakes and tsunami occurred. Photo / Supplied
Pizer is studying sediment in an attempt to determine when past Hikurangi subduction zone earthquakes and tsunami occurred. Photo / Supplied

"Our understanding of the frequency and size of subduction earthquakes is currently limited to information we can gather from our prehistoric, coastal lowland geological record," Pizer said.

"We want to increase the precision of this record by integrating offshore and onshore evidence of very large earthquakes and understand the tsunami hazard they pose."