Improvements in information and technology since the creation of previous exhibition spaces has seen GNS and GeoNet work alongside Te Papa staff in updating Te Taiao | Nature.

Graham Leonard, Senior Scientist within the Earth Structures and Processes Department at GNS, talked us through the task facing their team and Te Papa’s writers and designers. They needed to simplify very complex theories into formats which could be understood by visitors who now experience this in 2 main elements – the floor projection of Zealandia Continent, and Active Land.

Hands-on exhibits let them play with push-pull techtonics to see how mountains are made, and with creating tsunamis to demonstrate how flat and steep land are differently affected. The idea for how they could work the tsunami tank came to Graham on a family holiday visit to an overseas institution.

Graham, whose particular interest is the Taupo super volcano complex, said that ‘achieving caldera literacy’ in that part of the exhibit was a big win for him. One proposed version of the wall display explanation needed 32 corrections from the science team. We really got a feel for the level of co-operation, reviewing, and testing processes needed to achieve the final displays.

Caroline Little, Science Systems Development Manager within the Data Science and Geohazards Monitoring Department at GNS Science, explained that understanding hazards and what to do about them was Geonet’s role. She said that it was a great experience working with the Te Papa development team. One of their first tasks was to record the shaking of the ever popular Earthquake House to see what kind of tremor it was giving occupants!

A new digital display shows earthquakes in real time. These average one every half hour but most are much smaller than we can feel. Caroline explained how the GeoNet Project transforms data from hundreds of seismographs around the country into the catalogue of earthquakes that museum visitors can explore. One of their Strong Motion instruments is in the basement of Te Papa, alongside the base isolators.

Caroline echoed Graham’s words when she said that while scientists are all about the detail, exhibition information needed to be simple and understandable. They are still looking to improve this even now. Progress was shared with visitors as it was developed by asking them to look at displays on a tablet – once this was handed back with the explanation “I don’t like earthquakes”.

This new space encourages the public to identify and make plans for personal risk. Graham said that the single biggest thing to take from the exhibition is to evacuate after a long or strong earthquake, out of the tsunami zone, as quickly as possible, while Caroline reminded us about the Geonet App. We were left with a new appreciation of how much effort goes into providing museum visitors with a memorable experience.

Sharon Taylor-Offord
Committee, Friends of Te Papa