Unveiling the Hidden Effects: Researchers Unearth the Impact of an Ancient Earthquake

by Santiago Fernandez
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earthquake impact

Researchers from the University of Otago have made a significant discovery by revealing a previously unknown coastal uplift zone in Rarangi, Marlborough. Through the ingenious use of LiDAR mapping and kelp genetics, they shed light on a region that had remained concealed for ages.

By harnessing the complementary powers of genetics and geology, a team of researchers from the University of Otago has brought to the surface a coastal uplift zone in Rarangi, Marlborough, which had gone unnoticed until now.

This undisclosed area, resulting from an earthquake, was unveiled using a combination of cutting-edge data obtained from laser mapping and the study of kelp genetics.

Co-author Professor Jon Waters, from the Department of Zoology, explains that this study provides fresh insights into the transformations in New Zealand’s landscapes and the recent history of seismic events.

“In a country like New Zealand, which has been thoroughly studied in terms of geology, there is still much to be learned about our earthquake history and how it has shaped our changing landforms,” he states.

Published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the research employed LiDAR mapping, a remote sensing technology that models ground elevation, along with genetic analysis of bull kelp found in the uplifted coastal region.

The team identified a previously unrecognized uplifted rocky coastline, forming a bench located approximately 1 meter above sea level. Furthermore, they discovered a genetic anomaly in the kelp below this bench. The genetic analysis revealed that the kelp species had become extinct in the area following an earthquake, only to be recolonized by kelp drifting from 300 kilometers south.

The raised “bench” above the waterline in Rarangi was originally at sea level but was elevated due to seismic activity. Credit: University of Otago

The researchers estimate that the earthquake responsible for this event occurred approximately 2000 to 3000 years ago, highlighting the potential of kelp to serve as a record of geological disturbances.

“While the area is close to a well-known active fault, and previous significant earthquakes have been extensively studied by other researchers, this specific coastal uplift zone had remained unknown. The evidence supporting its existence is now remarkably clear, thanks to our closer examination. It’s noteworthy that Rarangi, the location of this uplift, is a popular summer swimming spot rather than an obscure or remote area. The evidence of coastal uplift was right in front of us,” Professor Waters emphasizes.

This research represents the latest findings from the group’s Marsden-funded project, which aims to assess the impact of earthquakes on coastal species.

“Our work combines genetics and geology, and it is truly exciting that this integrated approach has enabled us to pinpoint a previously undiscovered site of coastal uplift in New Zealand. This study further underscores the dynamic nature of our country and how the lasting imprints of earthquake uplift are embedded in our coastal species,” adds Professor Waters.

Reference: “Integrating kelp genomic analyses and geological data to reveal ancient earthquake impacts” by Felix Vaux, Ceridwen I. Fraser, Dave Craw, Stephen Read, and Jonathan M. Waters, May 17, 2023, Journal of The Royal Society Interface.
DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2023.0105

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about earthquake impact

What did the researchers from the University of Otago discover?

The researchers from the University of Otago discovered a previously unidentified coastal uplift zone in Rarangi, Marlborough, through the use of LiDAR mapping and kelp genetics. This zone was a result of an ancient earthquake.

How did the researchers uncover the coastal uplift zone?

The researchers utilized LiDAR mapping, which is a remote sensing technology used to model ground elevation, and conducted genetic analysis of bull kelp found in the uplifted coastal region. This combination of methods allowed them to identify the hidden coastal uplift zone.

What were the findings of the study?

The study revealed a 1-meter above sea level uplifted area in Rarangi, Marlborough. Additionally, the researchers identified a kelp species that went extinct in the area following the ancient earthquake and was later recolonized by kelp from 300 kilometers south.

How old is the earthquake responsible for the uplifted zone?

Based on their estimates, the researchers believe that the earthquake responsible for the uplifted zone occurred approximately 2000 to 3000 years ago.

What is the significance of this research?

This research highlights the lasting impact of seismic activities on coastal landscapes and species. It demonstrates how earthquakes can leave long-lasting signatures on coastal species and provides new insights into the history of earthquakes and changing landforms in New Zealand.

More about earthquake impact

  • University of Otago: Link
  • Journal of the Royal Society Interface: Link
  • LiDAR Mapping: Link
  • Genetic Analysis: Link
  • Geological Disturbances: Link

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