A study into the risk posed to New Zealand's Antarctic presence has identified Mexico as the most likely source of earthquakes capable of generating tsunamis that could reach Scott Base.

Antarctica New Zealand commissioned a tsunami hazard study ahead of a planned redevelopment of Scott Base, New Zealand's Antarctic research station, located on Ross Island.

The pilot study, conducted by GNS Science, looked at how sensitive Ross Island was to Pacific tsunamis.

GNS Science's senior geophysicist, Dr William Power, said they found that the island was "particularly susceptible to tsunamis caused by large earthquakes on the coast of Mexico".

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Dr Power said that due to Scott Base's remote location, GNS Science took a cautious approach to understanding what effect a large tsunami might have.

Allowing for sea level rise and other variables, they estimated that the maximum plausible tsunami run-up height was eight metres above the current day high-tide level.

The proposed design of the Scott Base Redevelopment would place the main living and working quarters approximately 10 metres from the current-day high-tide levels.

The preferred redevelopment option would see the existing base transformed into three large interconnected buildings, with a separate helicopter hangar. Image / Antarctica NZ
The preferred redevelopment option would see the existing base transformed into three large interconnected buildings, with a separate helicopter hangar. Image / Antarctica NZ

"Fortunately, Scott Base is on the far side of Ross Island, making it relatively sheltered from the Pacific," said Dr Power.

A key driver of the Scott Base Redevelopment project is to address the health and safety issues of the existing base, said Antarctica New Zealand senior project manager Simon Shelton.

"We intend to create a safe, modern, and fit-for-purpose facility that will support New Zealand's scientific research and strategic interests well into the latter half of this century.

"As we progress through the design phases of the redevelopment project, we will consider a range of scenarios and extreme events which could put people or the base at risk and adapt the design accordingly."


SCOTT BASE

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• Scott Base, New Zealand's only Antarctic research station, perches on a low volcanic headland called Pram Point at the southern end of Ross Island. It is 3800km south of Christchurch and 1350km from the South Pole.

• From October to February, Scott Base is a bustling hub of scientists, staff and visitors. Up to 86 people can be accommodated at any one time; during the summer season, more than 300 people stay on base.

• The coldest temperature ever recorded at Scott Base was -57C, in September 1968. Throughout winter, it's common for the mercury to drop into the mid-40s.