New research into how ash clouds from a large volcanic eruption under Lake Taupo would affect the country could help with managing the disaster if it occurs.
Auckland University's Dr Simon Barker is using a $60,000 grant from the Earthquake Commission's Biennial Grants Programme to map out eruption scenarios from Lake Taupo.
A computer modelling system developed by the United States Geological Survey will be used incorporating modern-day meteorological data with geological data from previous eruptions for the first time.
"The modelling will effectively allow us to see in 3D where the ash clouds would travel depending on climatic factors including seasons and wind directions. This will allow us to forecast how thick the resulting ash deposits would be around the North Island. We'll be able to model ash fall for different sized eruptions from the Taupo caldera," said Dr Barker.
Lake Taupo was formed after a super-eruption 25,400 years ago with 28 eruptions occurring since then around the lake area. The most recent, in approximately 232AD, was large enough to decimate the central North Island and the effects of its ash and debris were noticed around the world.
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Displaced magma from these eruptions created large underground pockets, facilitating the collapse of the surface, and generating what is known as a caldera volcano.
There is no predictable pattern of when the next one will occur but recent research published by Dr Barker in the journal Geology has shown that the Taupo volcano is capable of rapidly moving into a new eruptive cycle.
"But using this 3D programme, if there were an eruption in the area, the data could quickly be brought up to model the likely ash cloud scenarios which would be invaluable for emergency services and planning and response authorities," Dr Barker said.
"The next stage of this research will allow us to set the scene for integrating our findings with other planning organisations and Metservice."
This research is one of 15 projects which have received $1 million in funding from the Earthquake Commission's Biennial Grants Programme. The programme is part of $16 million granted by the EQC each year to high quality research that builds knowledge about NZ's natural disasters.