New Zealand Hit by Deadly Earthquake

On February 22, 2011, an earthquake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand, the largest city of the country’s South Island. During the lunch hour, when the downtown area was busy with shoppers and diners, the ground suddenly heaved, and buildings crumpled. In the following days, more than 166 people were confirmed dead, while some 230 more were missing. The tectonic activity in New Zealand is caused by the clashing of the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates.

One factor that made the quake so severe was what is called the peak ground acceleration, or PGA. Unlike the Richter scale, which measures the total amount of energy released by a quake, PGA tells how violently the earth shakes in a given geographic area. The Christchurch quake was much more severe in terms of PGA than even the massive Haiti earthquake of January 2010. According to New Zealanders’ eyewitness reports, the earthquake literally tossed people into the air. The PGA of the Christchurch quake was so extreme that had the same quake hit in many other locales, cities would have been totally flattened, causing much greater loss of life. However, the city of Christchurch has strict building codes, so damages were limited.

Another factor that created big problems in Christchurch was soil liquefaction, a condition in which soil or sand loses its stiffness and acts, or moves, like a liquid. Some 180,000 tons of sand are reported to have moved in this way.

Related Links

  • Christchurch Earthquake 2011
    The Web site of The Press, a Christchurch newspaper, has extensive coverage of the earthquake, including links to stories on the quake in Canterbury in September 2010.
    (Source: The (Christchurch) Press; accessed March 8, 2011)
  • Christchurch Quake Map
    This Web site includes video showing the depth and areas affected by the recent earthquake and its aftershocks in the Christchurch, New Zealand, area.
    (Source: University of Canterbury Digital Media Group; accessed March 8, 2011)
  • Soil Liquefaction web site
    This site from the University of Washington provides details about soil liquefaction.
    (Source: University of Washington; accessed March 8, 2011)
  • Background Note: New Zealand
    This Web page provides basic information on New Zealand from the U.S. State Department.
    (Source: U.S. State Department; accessed March 8, 2011)
  • Map of New Zealand
    Christchurch is located on the South Pacific Ocean coast of South Island; besides the two main islands, New Zealand’s territory includes smaller islands such as Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.
    (Source: University of Texas)

Other Issues in the Region

Aboriginal Land Claims

After practicing what is often called “institutionalized racism” against its Aboriginal peoples a century ago, Australia is now struggling to improve the lives of Aborigines. Despite legal changes and efforts at fighting racism, many Aborigines still experience a lower standard of living, including poverty, health problems, unemployment, and violence.

Environmental Change

Many scientists are convinced that climate changes today are not part of a natural cycle, but a result of human activity. They argue that the unbridled use of fossil fuels to power automobiles and airplanes and to produce electricity and manufactured goods is adding too many greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

For decades, the industrialized nations have contributed to this pattern. As more and more of the world industrializes, the problem may become much worse. Some scientists believe that global warming is not only causing sea waters to rise, but may also be contributing to changing wind and rain patterns. They report that severe weather disturbances, such as storms, floods, and droughts in many parts of the world appear to be associated with such changes.

  • King Crabs Invade Antarctica
    Some experts believe that the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula are warming, causing a king crab invasion. The crabs are moving up from the deep ocean and preying on the creatures living in shallower waters, changing the ecosystem. Other scientists agree there are rapid changes underway, but argue that not enough is yet known to pin the sudden appearance of king crabs in the area on climate change. (Source: Washington Post, March 20, 2011)

Industrialization Sparks Change

Two main changes brought by industrialization are human migration to find jobs, and the need for natural resources. The growth of industry in Southeast Asia has produced positive results such as new jobs and higher wages. But it has also led to overcrowded cities and pollution.

In the face of industrialization, there is concern that such rapid change will not only harm the environment, but also trample and erase the cultural traditions of Southeast Asia.

  • Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region
    A new United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs study analyzes migration in Asia, focusing on six areas: migration to Western countries, contract laborers’ movement to the Middle East, international labor migration within Asia, movement of high-skill workers, mobility of students, and refugee migration.
    (Source:, July 2009)


  1. emma leisure says:

    this is a very very very long story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  2. Alexis W period1 says:

    This just gives them a chance too learn and do better and save more lives and study the earthquake more so they can make or try to make buildings withstand another one in the future.

  3. Tahlia Raine says:

    well its a good story.

    • Rama says:

      Not surprisingly, I’ve been getitng contacted by concerned folks back home, too, and I posted everywhere I could think of to say we were okay (including a blog post, of course). It’s really handy being able to let a lot of people know all at once that we’re safe, isn’t it?One small thing: ” on the North Island”? Didn’t the immigration people tell you that it’s always “IN the North Island”? 😉

      • Halil says:

        Glad to hear you are OK, thanks for poitsng this to let us know. A lot of my family have just come back from living in NZ (Auckland), but one is about to head back out there later this month. You can’t help but worry.

    • Michelle says:

      I don’t recall heanirg about this in the states. Then again, I’m not very good at keep up with news. It breaks my heart to see what happened.I hope you, your family and friends were safe.Here is to hoping things will get better and better.Jackie

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