Explosive Shortland Street’s 25th Anniversary Show includes a volcanic eruption: is this a thing?

Published: Fri May 26 2017 10:00 AM

Celebrating 25 years of exotic cliff-hangers and plot twists, Shortland Street, a 25-year running New Zealand based soap opera, pulled out all the stops, including a volcanic eruption for its 25th anniversary show.

And what was GeoNet’s part in all of this? Well, six weeks ago our volcano team was approached by a research-writer of the show, asking for some guidance. We played our hand at being consultants on the possibilities and realities of an Auckland volcanic scenario. The producers provided several scenarios but we were not told which one would make it on screen. So, we had some inside knowledge of what was planned to mark the 25th anniversary, but the details of how the story would play out on screen was kept a hot secret.

Because we didn’t know the outcome of the scenario, our duty team was then given an unusual assignment, to watch Shortland Street (some never have!). We admit that our volcanology team were erupting with excitement as they settled in for the 90-minute show. Then, they were given the task to report back on what was fact and what was under “creative license”.

The story line did a great job drawing out several key elements that are related to volcanic events and hazards. Here’s a few points from the team:

  • Earthquakes are a credible part of volcanic unrest that occur before an eruption.

  • There was no lava which is credible at the start of an eruption.

  • Some people might be unsettled or in disbelief (a natural reaction).

  • The phone and power problems (engineering lifeline issues) are very real.

  • It was good to see the gas and ash hazard (it may have been overplayed with deaths/affects) such as people putting table napkins on as masks (bandit style), these will only give a very low level of protection, but in an emergency are better than nothing.

  • The questions regarding ash toxicity were good, this is usually not too much of a health issue, and may cause irritation and inflammation of the eyes and possibly skin. It may also cause more problems for those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses.

  • The story line depicted the risks of trying to work and move in an ashy environment quite well…. best to avoid all travel outside.

  • Ash ingress to buildings is another issue to watch for with doors opening and closing.

A few aspects of the volcanic eruption and hazards were portrayed poorly:

  • Ash density was one issue...it was too light and stayed in the air too long. However, the low visibiity was realistic.

  • The eruption was over quickly; in real life, it would last a lot longer.

  • It seemed like there was a lot of self-evacuation without any official evacuation, which is credible if the volcanic onset is fast. On that note, the story line was very low on official responses, CDEM messages, GeoNet messages, Volcanic Aert Levels etc.

Having viewed the show, ourselves, we think it’s reasonable that you all may be wondering “Could this really happen?” (or maybe some of you aren’t) Regardless, here’s a bit more detail and explanation about the Volcanic Auckland Field.

The Auckland Volcanic Field (AVF) is a unique volcano environment in New Zealand. Rather than the volcano being in a fixed location like Ruapehu or Taranaki, each volcano in Auckland is in a new location. Naturally there is an exception and that is Rangitoto Island. It has erupted 2, maybe 3 times, and the only volcano in Auckland to have done that. The last eruption in the AFV was about 600 years ago.

So aside from the mixed feelings around the quality of acting and portrayal of the volcanic impacts we have, our overall opinion of the Shortland Street episode was an 8/10. It is great to see geological processes becoming a little more mainstream. GeoNet exists to help New Zealanders’ live with the hazards that make our country, well, our country. Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and all the events we experience are part of what makes us Kiwi’s. GeoNet likes to encourage conversations around our geohazards so a full episode on Shortland Street, especially when it’s Dr Chris Warners 50th birthday, blew our expectations.

Quote of the show: “I’ve come from the mountain. This is a cleansing fire, only the strong will survive”

Thanks to the Shortand Street team for talking to us about this project.