Teacher Ruth Baldwin holds a pamphlet she has written to
raise awareness about the Alpine Fault and New Zealand's
tectonic plate boundary. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Few New Zealanders realise their country would be under
water without the titanic geological clash of two tectonic
plates, which also formed the Southern Alps, scientists say.
A ''severe'' 6.2-magnitude quake, centred near Eketahuna at
3.52pm on Monday, is also believed to be linked to this major
plate boundary, in the North Island.
Scientists throughout the world recognise the Southern Alps
as a vast ''natural laboratory'', which provides ready access
to the fault boundary between two huge tectonic plates - the
Pacific, and to the west, the Australian Plate.
But University of Otago geologist Dr Virginia Toy is also
keen to boost wider public awareness of the Southern Alps and
the plate boundary's significance.
''It's really important for understanding the source of our
Dr Toy is also one of three principal investigators in a
major international scientific drilling project, the Deep
Fault Drilling Project, which might help clarify the
likelihood of a future massive earthquake on the Alpine
The project is due to resume late this year. An initial round
of drilling, involving scientists from several countries,
took place at Gaunt Creek, near Whataroa, on the West Coast,
Dr Toy said visitors to the West Coast saw attractive
forests and glaciers, but most remained unaware of the major
Alpine Fault system and its wider significance.
As well, many New Zealanders did not realise that the plate
boundary was also responsible for keeping New Zealand above
water, much of the continent of Zealandia remaining beneath
Dr Toy, who is a lecturer in geology, said she had last year
been ''ably assisted'' in her awareness-raising aims, by
working with Ruth Baldwin, a teacher who held a Primary
Science Teacher Fellowship, administered by the Royal Society
of New Zealand. Mrs Baldwin, who teaches at Kaitangata
School, said the fellowship had provided her ''most valuable
learning experience'' since she began teaching in 1985.
She had created a pamphlet and a poster to provide a factual
background for West Coast resident Gray Eatwell and other
family members, to undertake guided tours of the plate
boundary and the drilling site, at Gaunt Creek.
During the fellowship, Ms Baldwin also took Otago geology
classes, and undertook professional development in