Scientists are preparing for the cataclysmic prospect of one of Auckland's dozens of volcanoes erupting by firing rock 'missiles' at the roofs of Kiwi homes.
Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland (DEVORA) researchers are hopeful the impacts caused by the rocks, which they're calling "volcanic ballistics", will help them ascertain how disastrous such an eruption would be.
The city sits on a cluster of 53 volcanic cones, known as the Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF). The most recent eruption of one of these cones was Rangitoto, a natural disaster estimated to have occurred about 600 years ago.
Thomas Wilson, a Professor from the University of Canterbury who is leading the research, says the chance of an eruption in our lifetime is somewhere between 5 and 15 percent - a "fairly unlikely" scenario.
However he says an Auckland volcano will almost certainly erupt at some point in the future - "we just aren't sure when or where".
"If it did happen, the impacts would be so large that it is well worth the emphasis we are putting on the planning for potential evacuations, insurance exposure, and critical infrastructure resilience with our partners in the public sector," Prof Wilson explained.
"A volcanic eruption could create multiple hazards; not just ashfall, but also lava flows, ballistic projectiles, hot ash and gas surges, shockwaves, landslides or even a tsunami, so it is important to build reliable impact assessment models for all possible events."
The high-speed firing of volcanic ballistics at roofs is one of a number of experiments the team will be running to simulate what may happen to buildings exposed to a future AVF eruption.
The hope is that by testing the strength of roofs, researchers will be able to determine how many homes could be damaged in eruptions and what can be done to protect them.
"This may also help inform how much protection New Zealand buildings provide to people caught in an erupting volcano, and if they can provide a useful place to shelter," PhD student Nicole Allen, who will be firing the rocks, said.
Prof Wilson says DEVORA's research will be used by the Earthquake Commission and other insurers to forecast potential damage, help local authorities mitigate the impact of an eruption, and predict whether essential services will remain intact.