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At the local community level, measures could include planning for the care of the elderly and young if the community is isolated, and identifying skills and equipment helpful in a disaster.

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Dr Kelvin Berryman “There is considerable interest in these new results given that earthquakes on the Alpine Fault pose a threat to large parts of the South Island,” said project co-leader Kelvin Berryman of GNS Science.“On a national scale, we can now base our modelling on knowledge of the timing of 24 earthquakes compared to the four that were known prior to this investigation.

The investigation found the mean interval between large earthquakes on the fault is 330 years and two thirds of the intervals were between 260 and 400 years.

As with many natural systems, there was a spread of intervals with the longest being about 510 years and the shortest about 140 years.

The Alpine Fault extends about 600km along the spine of the South Island between Milford Sound and Marlborough.

When it ruptures, it produces an earthquake of about magnitude 8.0.