The devastating earthquake that tore through the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Tuesday is the thought to be caused by a new fault line in the Earth’s crust that seismologists were unaware of until now.
New Zealanders have long known that their mountainous country has always been vulnerable to tectonic movements. Major fault lines dissect the country, snaking up the western coast of the South Island before splitting in two slightly south of the capital Wellington.
For those charged with the unenviable task of trying to predict where the next major quake would strike it was always the capital, Wellington, that generated the most concern because of a prominent fault that is expected to produce a major earthquake in the next few decades and runs directly through the city centre.
In comparison to Wellington, seismologists were more relaxed about Christchurch. Until six months ago, Christchurch was thought to lie more than 80 miles away from the nearest known fault line.
“Wellington has always been considered much more at risk because it straddles the plate boundary,” explained Australian Seismological Centre director Kevin McCue.
However, the two major earthquakes and hundreds of aftershocks that have devastated Christchurch in the space of five months have sparked a change in thinking.
Seismologists now believe that a brand new fault, one which might have lain dormant for thousands of years, has sprung back into life with devastating consequences.
“It’s not a new fault in the sense that it has only just been created but it is a new fault that has only just been discovered,” claims Dr Roger Musson, head of seismic hazards and archives at the British Geological Society.