Natural Hazard Research Centre

Natural Hazard Research Centre

About the Centre

The Natural Hazard Research Centre is based in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Department of Geological Sciences has strong research programmes in natural hazards, particularly in active tectonics and earthquakes, landslide hazard and mitigation and volcanic surveillance of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Staff and postgraduate research projects have continued to attract increasing levels of funding from external organisations, including the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST). Collaborative links with other New Zealand and overseas research groups have continued to strengthen. The Department is now recognised both nationally and internationally in terms of its published research contribution, as well as participation in conferences and workshops, and in terms of increasing public awareness and education.

Our goals

As a consequence, the Natural Hazard Research Centre was established in 1997 to:

  • promote and undertake high quality research in the broad field of natural hazards, including physical process, hazard assessment and mitigation;
  • develop and foster national and international collaborative links, and promote data exchange;
  • enhance teaching and research in natural hazards at the University of Canterbury;
  • and increase public awareness and education about natural hazards and their effects on the New Zealand economic and social environment.

Much of the research in the Natural Hazards Research Centre is of a collaborative nature involving staff or groups of staff working with postgraduate students, senior fellows and research associates within and outside the Department. There is significant external collaboration with international colleagues, local and federal government agencies, and other research institutions. This pattern of working has come about from the recognition that a multifaceted or multidisciplinary approach provides a more powerful tool for geological research.

Pyroclastics and power: Quantifying the Vulnerability of High Voltage Electrical Distribution Systems Exposed to Volcanic Ashfall Hazards

Wardman, J., Wilson, T., Cole, J., Bodger P., Johnston D

High voltage electrical transmission networks are vulnerable to interruption during explosive volcanic eruptions. Several problems arise from high voltage transmission equipment exposed to volcanic ashfall hazards. Depending on variable conditions, the most common problems arise from supply outages due to insulator ‘flashover’, controlled outages during ash cleaning, line breakage and tower collapse and the breakdown of air conditioning/ cooling systems/ diesel generators in substations and other types of housing caused by air intake blockage and corrosion.

While ample anecdotal accounts and information exists (Johnston, 1997; Tuck et al. 1992; Narajo and Stern, 1998; Durand et al. 2001), little quantitative data has been gained from research of this kind. Research at the University of Canterbury is currently investigating the properties most significant in causing the electrical breakdown of insulators a phenomenon better known as ‘flashover.’

Dry volcanic ash is highly resistant to the flow of electricity, however this resistance drops rapidly with increasing input from influential parameters. The major parameters being explored include grain size, ionic content, moisture content, and compaction. Results show that under testing conditions electrical resistance is minimal with increasing grain size, ionic content, moisture content and compaction rates. Ash composition together with the type of ions made available from attached soluble salts have proven to be inconsequential while other controlling factors are undergoing further analysis.

Future endeavours include a characterisation of insulator adherence properties subsequently followed by live testing of high voltage insulators exposed to volcanic ashfall. This project will ultimately look to resolve some of the uncertainty involved in defining the parameters that allude to volcanic ash being a major hazard to high voltage electrical distribution systems.

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