Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland: The DEVORA Programme

[Author’s note: this article was published in the latest version of LAVA News, a newsletter aimed at LAVA members. LAVA (Learned Australasian Volcanologist Association) and LAVA NZ are specialist subgroups of the Geological Society of Australia and the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, respectively, and are composed of Australasian-based volcanologists and volcano enthusiasts.]

by Elaine Smid

Articles in a previous edition of LAVA News (v. 27; Blake, 2015; Fitzgerald & Williams, 2015) focused on ash fall impacts on roads and volcanic ballistics in Japan. These research projects, among many, many others, are actually a part of a New Zealand-based, volcanic risk research programme known as the ‘DEVORA’ programme. Now that you’ve heard a little bit about our research, I thought it might be time to talk more about the research programme.

What is DEVORA? DEVORA stands for DEtermining VOlcanic Risk in Auckland. It is a long-term, multi-agency, multi-disciplinary collaborative research programme aiming to improve the volcanic hazard outlook and risk assessment for Auckland, New Zealand. The project is co-led by Drs Graham Leonard (GNS Science) and Jan Lindsay (University of Auckland), with additional support and funding from the Earthquake Commission and Auckland Council.


Figure 1. Map of the Auckland Volcanic Field and its deposits. Figure created and provided by Bruce Hayward.

To describe it in practical terms: as many of you know, the city of Auckland (pop. 1.5 M) is built upon the Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF; Fig. 1), a dormant basaltic volcanic field containing ~53 volcanic centres (depending on how you count them, of course). Recent seismic tomography of the mantle in the area reveals a low-velocity zone located 70-90 km beneath Auckland, interpreted to be one of the partial melt mantle sources feeding the AVF (Fig. 2; Horspool et al., 2006). As the last eruption in the field occurred roughly 550 years ago and ash fall from eruptions from Central North Island volcanoes has frequently affected Auckland in the past (e.g. Ruapehu 1996), it is clear that we need to prepare the city (and country) for future volcanic events, both local and distal. This is the overarching goal of the DEVORA programme.


Figure 2. A low-velocity zone (green oval at ~80 km depth directly underneath the MKAZ station) was detected in the mantle underneath the Auckland Volcanic Field. The low velocity zone was interpreted to be a region of partial melt. Figure from Horspool et al. (2006). Triangles represent the location of data stations for this study, while black bars represent the location of volcanic fields (AVF = Auckland Volcanic Field).

How do we do this? Research in the initial project phase was divided into three main themes: Geology, Probabilistic Hazard, and Risk and Social Impacts.

The first step involved collating findings from decades of piecemeal and ad-hoc research on the AVF, identifying research gaps, and formulating a 7-year work plan designed not only to fill those gaps, but to deliver a tool useful for risk managers (particularly Auckland Council’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management) in the event of a volcanic eruption. That tool is called RiskScape.

Riskscape was originally developed and used by GNS Science and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) to examine the impacts and economic effects of natural hazard events in New Zealand. Although its original focus was estimating damage from flooding and earthquake hazards, it was decided that the platform should be expanded and overhauled to include volcanic hazards. DEVORA is a major contributor to and driver for that expansion.

Where are we now? The first seven years of the project concluded in June 2015. Due to the success of the project and the work still remaining, research continues through a new phase which we are calling ‘DEVORA 2020’ or ‘DEVORA 2.0’. While geological and hazard research, eruption scenario development, and RiskScape improvements will continue, many of the desired outcomes from DEVORA 2020 revolve around translating research findings into usable formats that can inform public policy, be used to formulate risk mitigation strategies, and help communicate important hazard and risk information to the public. Essentially, we want to bridge the gap between scientific findings and the practical application of that knowledge. Work in this arena has been ongoing throughout the project; DEVORA works closely with Auckland Council Civil Defence and Emergency Management as well as lifelines organisations to keep them current on research findings and to nurture the critical relationships needed during a crisis.

Major Accomplishments

Through DEVORA, New Zealand scientists and their collaborators from all over the world have produced over 200 publications (130 of which are journal articles) to date, with 225 presentations at local and international conferences.

DEVORA has gained significant recognition as a successful programme within New Zealand as well as internationally. For example, in 2015, volcanic risk was included in the UNISDR’s Global Assessment of Risk report for the first time. DEVORA researchers wrote several of the case studies included in the technical reports supporting the main document, one of which focused on DEVORA itself (See:,%202014a.pdf).

The planned release date for RiskScape 1.0 is October 2016 [Author note: the current release date is now planned for sometime in 2017]. Currently, all building asset information for Auckland has been placed into the database. Lifelines (electrical lines, roads, telecommunications routes, wastewater mains, etc.) and critical infrastructure (hospitals, police, refuge centres, etc.) are in the process of being added. Eight eruption scenarios to run in RiskScape 1.0 are also being developed. When this is all complete, we will be able to directly compare the loss from different sizes and styles of volcanic eruptions in Auckland to one another, and to those created by other natural hazards (e.g. tsunami, flood, earthquake), for the first time ever.

Want to know more? We encourage all those interested in monogenetic(!) small-volume volcanism, volcanic hazards, and/or volcanic risk and impacts assessment to check out our website and ‘like’ us on Facebook to keep up with our latest research findings and events.


Blake, D. (2015). Ash impacts on roads: Lessons from Kagoshima, Japan. LAVA News, 27, 7.

Fitzgerald, R. & Williams, G. (2015). University of Canterbury and GNS Science ballistics impacts study trip to Japan. LAVA News, 27, 8.

Horspool, N. A., Savage, M. K., & Bannister, S. (2006). Implications for intraplate volcanism and back-arc deformation in northwestern New Zealand, from joint inversion of receiver functions and surface waves. Geophysical Journal International166(3), 1466-1483.

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