eCoast scientists working to reduce tsunami risk in New Zealand

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(Above) Modelling by eCoast shows how Whangamata could potentially be inundated by a tsunami.

Efforts in tsunami hazard mitigation by eCoast Marine Consulting and Research are in-line with recommendations found in a recent report produced by the New Zealand Earthquake Commission.

Key findings from the EQC-commissioned report ‘Tsunami risk facing New Zealand’ released earlier this month include the need to complete evacuation planning, improve early warning and communication systems and provide better information for decision–makers during tsunami events.

eCoast director and senior consultant Dr Jose Borrero and his team have studied tsunamis for over 20 years and have been working on these issues both in the Waikato region and nationwide for a number of years.

Dr Borrero explains “Our efforts in the Waikato Region include computer modeling of ‘worst-case’ tsunami events for the purposes of evacuation planning. For these studies, we are assuming that a ‘Japan-sized’ earthquake occurs on the large fault line running to the east of New Zealand.”

“This is not fanciful thinking; this kind of earthquake has happened before and could very well happen here. The waves from such an earthquake would reach the Coromandel coast in less than an hour and produce substantial inundation and potential devastation throughout the region,” he adds.

However, eCoast’s studies are not limited to these extreme, yet relatively rare local events. Dr Borrero and eCoast have recently completed a multi-year research project focusing on the more commonly occurring Pacific-wide tsunamis and how they affect New Zealand’s economically vital ports.

Dr Borrero explains that currents caused by a tsunami from across the Pacific can damage or destroy a port without causing any substantial flooding. “This occurred in California after the 2011 Japan tsunami. The Port of Crescent City was destroyed, yet the waters never rose above the high tide mark,” said Dr Borrero.

“Using detailed computer models, we can identify areas within a port or harbour that are particularly vulnerable to tsunami induced currents. We can also determine when these currents will commence and how long they might last – and in most cases, because of the long travel time across the ocean, this can be done before the tsunami arrives on New Zealand shores. This provides ample time for a warning or evacuation order and minimizes the chances of a false alarm.”

Dr Borrero will be presenting some of his findings at the upcoming Coasts and Ports Conference to be held at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland from 16-18 September 2015.

West Coast field work

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(Above) Surveying Awakino Estuary.

Field work is under way for the Waikato west coast estuary study!

eCoast researchers have been busy collecting data at Mokau, Awakino and Marokopa as part of the first phase of the Waikato west coast estuary project. Focus will soon be placed on Port Waikato, Raglan, Aotea and Kawhia Harbours for the next phase.

The work which is due to be completed in April 2016 aims to understand harbour circulation patterns, how water enters from rivers and gets exchanged with the open ocean and how this impacts water quality. This will help to identify areas of the harbours particularly vulnerable to pollution from rivers, sewage spills or other sources of contamination.

eCoast senior consultant Dougal Greer, who is leading the project, notes that this is the first time that research has been undertaken for many of the harbours on the west coast of the Waikato.

“Historically research has been focused more on east coast harbours, so it is great to see some attention focused on the west coast and it’s exciting to be a part of it. As part of this project we have been consulting with local communities based around the harbours and they have all been very supportive of us doing this work”.

The study involves mapping the sea floor in and around the harbours and measuring oceanographic data such as currents, sea level, water temperature and salinity. A second component of the study will involve creating computer models of each harbour to simulate tidal and wind driven circulation patterns. Ultimately this will be used to understand how different parts of each harbour are flushed by ocean water.

While it is well known that the water quality in harbours is strongly affected by river inflows which is in turn affected by land use activities upstream, the link between how the harbours are affected by land use is poorly understood and Mr Greer says this study is a big step towards changing that.

“Some of our preliminary results were quite surprising. We found that when it comes to faecal coliform contamination, the effect of recent sewage spills in Raglan Harbour was almost negligible when compared to what enters the harbour from rivers and storm drains after a heavy rain. This is not to downplay the effect of a sewage spill, but it is also important to understand what else flows into our harbours on a regular basis”.

Greer and colleagues from eCoast present results from this study at the bi-annual Coasts and Ports Conference being held from 16-18 September in Auckland.

eCoast Marine Consulting and Research is a small, independent marine and freshwater research consultancy based in Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. As well as being life-long and passionate surfers and ocean enthusiasts, the company’s directors and employees all hold Ph.D.’s or other postgraduate qualifications in coastal science, oceanography, engineering, marine biology and mathematics. The group strives to be a world leader in sustainable coastal development and science based decision making in the coastal zone.

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Ed gathering depth measurements upstream at Awakino.

 

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Left to right, Ed Atkin, Dr Shaw Mead and Dr Tim Haggitt preparing to retrieve an instrument and download the data at Awakino.

 

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Reggie the field dog assesses the incoming rain at Marokopa while Ed finds shelter for the laptop.

eCoast wins major research grant

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eCoast Marine Consulting and Research has been awarded a major research grant to study New Zealand’s famous surf breaks.

As part of a consortium led by the University of Waikato, funding was awarded from New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment as part of its 2015 Science Investment programme.

The three-year project entitled ‘Remote Sensing, Classification and Management Guidelines for Surf Breaks of National and Regional Significance’ will gather baseline data on seven of New Zealand’s most iconic surf breaks. This includes remote camera imagery, underwater topography, wind and wave conditions, and detailed user information.

This data will then be used to create detailed descriptions of how the surfbreaks work from both a physical and scientific viewpoint as well as from a social and cultural perspective. Ultimately, the study will support New Zealand’s Coastal Policy Statement, which calls for the protection of New Zealand’s Surfbreaks of National Significance.

eCoast director and University of Waikato PhD candidate Ed Atkin says the project is ground breaking and a world first.

“New Zealand is the only country in the world to recognise in legislation the importance of surf breaks as important social and economic resources that should be protected. Yet there is essentially no baseline quantitative information on which to base any management decisions. This project will change that and serve as a model for others to follow in terms of surf break protection and the protection of recreational resources in general,” Atkin says.

Surf breaks to be studied include Piha Beach near Auckland, Raglan’s famed left hander at Manu Bay, ‘The Bar’ at Whangamata, ‘Pines’ at Gisborne’s Wainui Beach, Lyall Bay in Wellington, and Aramoana and Whareakeake (also known as Murdering Bay) near Dunedin.

eCoast managing director Dr Shaw Mead says each of the surf breaks is either world famous or important to the local community as a recreational resource.

“Several of these breaks have been the subject of contentious debate resulting from developmental pressure. This research will help community members and decision makers to be better informed about what is really important with regards to how surf breaks work,” he adds.

eCoast Marine Consulting and Research is a small, independent marine and freshwater research consultancy based in Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. As well as being life-long and passionate surfers and ocean enthusiasts, the company’s directors and employees all hold PhDs or other postgraduate qualifications in coastal science, oceanography, engineering, marine biology and mathematics. The group strives to be a world leader in sustainable coastal development and science based decision making in the coastal zone.

 Raglan Manu Bay
Photo: Raglan’s famous left hander at Manu bay is one of seven nationally significant surf breaks to be studied.

 

Internship Positions at eCoast

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We are looking for individuals to undertake internship positions at the eCoast office in Raglan, New Zealand. Applicants should have a background in either environmental science, computer science, physical science or engineering disciplines. Feel free to email us on info@ecoast.co.nz and attach a cover letter, CV, university transcripts of grades, and any other relevant information.

Northeast Fiji reef inspection

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Dr Tim Haggitt inspects a bleached coral reef in far northeast Fiji.

The island of Maqai was hit by tropical cyclone Tomas in 2010.  The result was widespread devastation both on land and below the waterline.  eCoast’s biologists frequently visit this remote location to monitor the increasing health of the reefs.

Coromandel data collection

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As part of an ongoing project to understand sand movement in and around Whangamata, eCoast were asked to deploy multiple oceanographic instruments and collect bathymetric data over the course of a month.  To collect bathymetric data, eCoasts survey vessel, ‘Red Rocket’ was used.  The jet ski is fitted with a through-hull transducer and RTK GPS.  The jet ski was chosen over our larger survey and dive platform because of the skis unmatched manoeuvrability, stability and reliability in the surf zone, and capacity to access extremely shallow areas.

Appearance on National Geographic TV

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In March, 2013 eCoast director Jose Borrero traveled to Banda Aceh, Sumatra to film a segment for a National Geographic Television documentary entitled ‘Top Ten Natural Disasters’. The segment focused on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This was the first time Dr. Borrero had been back to Banda Aceh since immediately after the tsunami in 2004 and on a follow up survey in early 2005.

The program is currently airing in the USA and worldwide on National Geographic television we were able to get a copy of the segment which can be seen at the link below.  The show was produced by Pioneer Productions from the UK, a company that specializes in high end science and educational television. A lot of what you see on Discovery or National Geographic is produced by the folks at Pioneer. The show was directed by Jeremy Turner who is also very experienced in these sorts of productions. Of course the production show a lot more than what ended up in the final edit, but nevertheless, we are very happy with the final production.

Appearance on National Geographic TV ‘Top Ten Natural Disasters