The earthquake apocalypse – it’s coming. Probably.

Matthew Wright

Something slightly scary occurred to me the other day. Analysis of the Mw 7.8 quake that ripped through central New Zealand last November suggests it was awesomely complex.

Buildings in Featherston street, Wellington, damaged by the Mw 7.8 quake on 14 November 2016.

We usually imagine quakes being caused when one fault line moves. Or maybe two or three faults, because faults tend to exist in connected systems. And often, that is precisely the case. But with the Kaikoura quake, you know how many faults moved? It was (wait for it) – twenty one. It was, in effect, a multi-epicentre event.

What’s more, that movement bridged several otherwise unconnected fault systems. Seismologists hadn’t known that earthquakes, anywhere in the world, could involve such a widespread systemic movement. Now we know they can, and that’s where research is going to start looking.

This discovery was made, I should add, because…

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