Earthquake House - Awesome Forces 

Earthquake House


Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Health and Physical Education

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Science - Planet Earth and Beyond
  • Social Studies - Place and Environment
  • Health and Physical Education - Healthy Communities and Environments 

Key Competencies

Thinking - Students will evaluate classroom and home environments to identfiy possible problem areas and create solutions to earthquake proof their environments.

Managing self - Students will reflect of their own learning to identify and discuss procedures involved in keeping themselves safe in the event of an earthquake.

Levels of achievement

Levels 2-5 

Year group

Years 2-11

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • Disasters
  • Earth science - earthquakes and volcanoes
  • Māori pūrākau (stories) 

How long might this take?

  • Allow 5 minutes - the show is looped and begins approximately every 2 minutes. When you arrive, you may have to wait for the group in front of you to finish. It is best to enter the house before the start of the video, rather than during the show, so that people understand the context for the moving and shaking.

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Where do I find it?

  • Level 2, Awesome Forces.
  • Lost? Ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • Come into the house and feel a simulated aftershock of the Edgecumbe earthquake in 1987. As the house shakes, look at the destruction that could be wrought on your home when the big one hits - leave vowing to go home and quake-safe your house!
  • An immersive experience that drives home the potential damage caused by an earthquake.
  • Will appeal to people that learn by doing.

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What is there to do there?

  • Have a look at ‘What’s shaking’ and ‘Quakes online’, next to the Earthquake House, to see if there has been an earthquake in New Zealand today. ‘Quakes online’ records earthquakes for three locations in New Zealand and is recorded in real time.
  • Have a look at the carved figure of Rūaumoko, the Māori god of earthquakes and volcanoes to see a Māori perspective of earthquakes and volcanic activity. The Māori mythology stories are also told in Papatūānuku, the theatrette just through the hall under Rūaumoko.
  • Have a look at the graphic that shows the two major faults in the Wellington region.
  • Enter the house and let the shaking begin.
  • After the show, try the ‘Get ready for the big one’ interactive behind the Zhang Heng Chinese seismograph in Awesome Forces.
  • Pick up a 'Quake safe your home' pamphlet from the mailbox at the exit of the Earthquake House. 

What should I know about this?

  • Edgecumbe earthquake 1987, 6.6 magnitude. The Earthquake House simulation is an aftershock.
  • Wellington, like Kobe in Japan and San Francisco in the United States, is a city built on an active fault. There’s at least one shallow earthquake recorded under the city every week.
  • There are over 15,000 earthquakes recorded in New Zealand every year.
  • Fault-making: rocks in the Earth’s crust are strained by movements of the plates. They get stretched, squeezed, and twisted. They can stand the strain only so much before they give way and break. They crack and tear to form long fractures called faults.
  • Faults at a stretch - when the crust gets stretched, rocks crack and the block on one side of the fracture will slip down below the other - filling the gap that opens up from the stretching. The one that caused the Edgecombe earthquake in 1987 is called a ‘normal’ fault.
  • Faults in a squeeze - when the crust is squeezed, rocks crack and the block on one side of the fracture gets pushed up over the top of the other. Movement of this kind on the White Creek fault caused the Murchison earthquake in 1929. This is called a ‘reverse’ or ‘thrust’ fault.
  • Faults slipping away - blocks of rock can slide past each other horizontally when they break. These movements make kinks in straight lines - very obvious in places such as roads, old riverbeds, and fences. These are called ‘strike’ slip faults. Faults often show a combination of sideways and vertical movement.
  • ‘P’ waves or (primary or ‘push’) waves are the waves that travel at 20,000 km per hour and are responsible for the low rumbling sound that you may hear just before an earthquake. ‘S’ waves are the (secondary or ‘shear’) waves that travel at10,000 km per hour. They shake the ground sideways and cause the most damage.
  • The Modified Mercalli scale is a way of measuring the observable effects of the shaking on the environment. The higher the earthquake’s rating the greater the damage. The Richter scale is a way of measuring the vibrations of the earthquake to tell how much energy was released at the source of the quake.

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Possible topics for discussion

  • Do you know of any other famous earthquakes around New Zealand?
  • What would be the best materials to build your house out of in an earthquake prone area? Why? Get the children to discuss what materials would be most suitable. Wood is a good material to build your house out of because it is more flexible than concrete or steel.
  • What is the rumbling noise you hear before the shaking begins? Get the children to discuss ‘S’ and ‘P’ waves and the difference. Which waves cause the most damage? S waves shake the ground sideways and cause the most damage.
  • What are the differences between the Modified Mercalli scale and the Richter scale? (Ways of measuring earthquakes and tremors.) Get children to discuss the differences.
  • Do you know what to do if you experience an earthquake at home? At school? Get children to discuss what to do in an earthquake, for example, stand in a doorframe or hide under a table, and so on.
  • What kind of damage occurs during a large earthquake? Get children to discuss what has happened to the chimney outside the Earthquake House and why this damage has occurred. They may also decide on how they could have prevented this damage.
  • Has anyone been in an earthquake? Where? When? What happened?
  • How are earthquakes related to volcanoes and volcanic activity? Get the children to discuss their ideas about this. An earthquake can set off a volcanic eruption and a volcano can set off an earthquake. They can be linked through the earth’s plates and crust. 

Further information

  • The Earthquake House is free.
  • The experience is looped and begins approximately every 2 minutes.
  • The maximum amount of people inside the earthquake house at one time is 15.
  • Wheelchair access is at the rear of the earthquake house (exit).
  • Be aware of other visitors to the Museum.
  • Tai Awatea, Te Papa’s online database.
  • Latest Earthquake Information from USGS 
  • Earthquake Commission. Learn how to be best prepared for an earthquake
  • GeoNet. Find out about the latest earthquakes in New Zealand.
  • Te Aka Matua Te Papa Library and Information Centreon Level 4.
  • Ansell, Rebecca, and Taber, John. 1996. Caught in the Crunch: earthquakes and volcanoes in New Zealand. Auckland: HarperCollins.
  • Williams, R O. 1987. Survey Data from Horizontal Monitoring Across the Edgecumbe Fault Trace, March-June 1987. Lower Hutt: DSIR.
  • Blick, G H. 1987. Survey Data from Vertical Monitoring Across the Edgecumbe Fault Trace, March-June 1987. Lower Hutt: DSIR.
  • Herbert-Gustar, A L. 1980. John Milne: father of modern seismology. Tenterden: Norbury.
  • McGregor, Robert. 1989. The Great Quake: the story of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Napier: Regional Publications.
  • A tour guide for the Fault Finders
    Learn more about the Wellington Fault on this resource developed by GNS Science.

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Related material

  • NatureSpace, Level 2, past Mountains to Sea. Here you can find books on earth science and geology. There is also a collection of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks available to learn about.
  • Bush City, Level 1, outside Te Papa Cafe. Here you can look at the layered rock wall and see the geological forces that shape our lands. You can also observe the volcanic ash layers and a map of the volcanic area of Auckland.
  • Quake braker, Level 1, outside main entrance to Te Papa. Here you can look at the technology (base isolators) that is in place to ensure that Te Papa is protected from a large earthquake. You can also see how this piece of New Zealand ingenuity is being used around the world.
  • Main structural wall of Te Papa - plus the rubber placed between wall panels. Wherever you look in Te Papa, you will be able to see the rubber that has been placed between the wall panels as protection for the building in an earthquake. You can also see the main structural wall that is placed parallel to the Wellington and Ohariu fault.
  • Papatūānuku is a theatre experience that tells the Māori mythology stories, in the hallway between Mountains to Sea and the Māori god of earthquakes and volcanoes, Rūaumoko, in Awesome Forces. Here you can learn about the Māori perspective on earthquakes and volcanoes.
  • You can observe the major fault lines in Wellington from the top of the stairs on Level 4 before you enter Rongomaraeroa, Te Papa’s Marae.
  • Golden Days, Level 4, under the Tiger Moth aeroplane. This experience provides a look back in time to some of New Zealand’s worst disasters, including earthquakes. The show takes about 16 minutes.
  • Awesome Forces student activity trail. Download, print and fold into a booklet that your students can use to explore the Awesome Forces exhibition.

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