Scientists look at how quake information explained

10:04 am on 20 February 2012

Scientists, journalists and others are to meet on the anniverary of the 22 February earthquake to discuss how the science behind it was communicated.

Many of the questions in the aftermath of last year's 6.3 earthquake were fielded by the director of the natural hazards section of GNS Science, Kelvin Berryman.

Dr Berryman says there was little to go on initially because faultlines around Christchurch weren't as well mapped as those in areas like Wellington.

Conveying the risk of another big earthquake to people who wanted certainty was also a challenge.

"Getting across what we do know, but the fact we don't know a lot of stuff, will inherently be unsettling," he says.

He says GNS Science has learnt a few lessons from the earthquake, and if another disaster were to strike tomorrow, more effort would be put into making sure key messages were consistent.

Canterbury University lecturer in tectonics Mark Quigley was awarded the 2011 Prime Minister's Science Communicator Prize for his efforts in explaining the earthquakes.

He knows he needs to be careful when describing the risk of further large quakes.

"Even though I think there are some good signs in terms of the seismicity moving offshore, away from Christchurch city, I've got nothing to gain by saying it's over if we then get another decent-sized earthquake - which is always within the realm of possibility."

A spokesperson for New Zealand Skeptics, Vicki Hyde, says the media made scientists' jobs harder by giving airtime to people claiming they could predict earthquakes.

Scientists, public relations workers and journalists will discuss their role in the disaster at the Science Communicators Association conference in Wellington this week.