GeoNet Funded for Next Decade

Disaster Insurer EQC has agreed to continue its funding of the GeoNet project for a further ten years.

Wednesday 3rd February 2010

In July 2001 the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences collaborated with disaster insurer EQC to run GeoNet, a project to build and operate a modern geological hazards monitoring system for New Zealand. With IGNS operating the GeoNet project and EQC providing most of the funding, work began in earnest to develop real-time monitoring, data collection and research into earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides.

Initially, work focussed on replacing and upgrading seismic instruments, building a data network, developing and enhancing a public website, and automating data acquisition and processing. The brief included making data available to both the scientific community and the public either in published form (as presented on the website) and through searchable databases.

The project has been through a number of reviews and the early successes allowed the initial brief to be expanded. This resulted in website enhancements, the addition of a tsunami monitoring network and providing advice based on data such as the likelihood of a tsunami or eruption event.

The latest review, which considered the future of GeoNet, commenced in October 2008 with a strategic review of the project by six New Zealand and overseas experts. Its findings were that GeoNet supported world-class research in New Zealand and that EQC’s approach to long-term funding was successful in providing the GeoNet environment which encouraged other parties to provide or obtain funding for their own enhanced work in the field. Effectively, the GeoNet project was achieving its aims and had positive spin-off effects by encouraging work outside its brief.

The panel proposed a number of extensions to the project to allow GeoNet to enhance its ability to detect and respond to major events, as well as technical and relationship improvements to expand dialogue and investment. The formulation of long-term strategic plans for natural hazard research, response and preparedness began during 2009. These plans formed the basis for EQC’s commitment to fund the project for a further ten years, commencing July 2010. The agreement between GNS Science and EQC was signed just before Christmas.

The commitment of new funding boosts GeoNet to maturity. The ground-breaking concept of scientific hazard monitoring project with a strong public focus has been shown to be both popular and successful, and similar initiatives have sprung up in other countries. The change from shorter-term funding which carried the GeoNet project through from a concept to the initial build and subsequent enhancement will allow the project to move in new directions.

The future direction is not clear from the media release, but will provide an opportunity to improve New Zealand’s disaster preparedness and response. Budget and responsibility for studying earthquake and volcanic activity, analysing events and preparing a response is spread across a number of government departments and agencies including the Department of Conservation, GNS Science, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, regional and local authorities, Land Information New Zealand, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, amongst others. The renewed GeoNet funding could result in some rationalisation of these roles and formalising of responsibilities.

The agreement between GNS Science and EQC provides funds of about $9 million per year over the next five years. Funding levels for the second half of the 10-year contract are to be negotiated toward the end of the initial funding period.

[Compiled from data provided by the GeoNet project and its sponsors EQC, GNS Science and FRST; and GeoNet News, Issue 12, January 2010.]

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