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Liquefaction is a process which causes soil to behave more like a liquid than a solid during, and following, an earthquake. Loose and saturated sands, silts, and in some cases gravel, are considered susceptible to liquefaction. Nelson contains areas with deposits that are considered vulnerable to liquefaction during an earthquake.

Our understanding of liquefaction in Nelson continues to evolve as new areas are assessed and we undertake more detailed studies in areas known to be susceptible to liquefaction. Methodologies for assessing liquefaction also change over time especially in response to recent earthquakes, such as the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Liquefaction studies commissioned by Nelson City Council are described below.

Liquefaction assessments and mapping in Nelson


A preliminary assessment of the liquefaction hazard in the Nelson and Tasman areas was completed by Dr Mike Johnson. The assessment identified areas that may contain soils susceptible to liquefaction based on local geology, geomorphology, and local knowledge. Alluvial valleys and coastal deposits including those in the Tāhunanui area were identified as potentially susceptible to liquefaction.

The council commissioned a study of the liquefaction susceptibility of deposits in the Tāhunanui Area which was undertaken by Tonkin & Taylor. The (Stage 1) assessment confirmed that the Tāhunanui area could be susceptible to liquefaction under a particular earthquake scenario.

Revised Preliminary Assessment of the Liquefaction Hazard in Tasman and Nelson – Dr Mike Johnson, 2013

Tahunanui Area Liquefaction Assessment – Tonkin + Taylor, 2013


A subsequent study by Tonkin & Taylor in 2014 (Stage 2) further assessed the liquefaction potential in the north-eastern part of the Tāhunanui area where the previous (2013) investigation had indicated the presence of surficial gravel deposits and a reduced thickness of sediments with a high liquefaction potential. The findings of this Stage 2 assessment generally supported the findings of the Stage 1 assessment.

Tahunanui Liquefaction Assessment Stage 2 – Assessment of Eastern margin, Tonkin + Taylor, 2014


In 2015 Tonkin & Taylor undertook a desktop assessment of the potential liquefaction hazard at The Glen. The assessment concluded that there is likely to be a generally low risk of liquefaction at The Glen. 

Desk-top assessment of the liquefaction hazard at ‘The Glen’, Nelson, 2015


In 2017, a further assessment of liquefaction was undertaken by Dr Mike Johnston. The previous Stage 1 and 2 reports and community feedback helped to inform this assessment. The assessment identifies an area in Tāhunanui where the risk of liquefaction should be managed at the time of new subdivision and development. This assessment recommended exclusion of the north-eastern part of Tāhunanui.

An Assessment of Areas of Lower Risk of Potential Settlement due to Seismic-induced Ground Shaking, Tahunanui, Nelson City – Dr Mike Johnson, 2017


Updates to the Building Code in November 2019 required local authorities to undertake regional mapping to identify areas potentially susceptible to liquefaction by 29 November 2021. The Building Code updates were made to ensure that new buildings are built safe and strong enough to withstand liquefaction effects and came in because of the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes and subsequent recommendations made by the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

The liquefaction hazard in the Nelson region was assessed in accordance with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) 2017 guidance for planning and building on liquefaction-prone land. The assessment was completed by Beca in 2021 and identifies areas in the Nelson region where ‘liquefaction damage is possible’ and where ‘liquefaction damage is unlikely’ and/or has a ‘very low liquefaction vulnerability’.

The report can be downloaded here:

The map can be accessed here:

View the Geotechnical Hazards Map

The MBIE guidance Planning and engineering guidance for potentially liquefaction-prone land can be found here.

Please note that the data contained within the Nelson Regional Liquefaction Assessment report has been generated at a regional scale (1:25,000) using regional datasets. Site specific liquefaction assessments were not considered. The assessment is indicative of the potential for liquefaction to affect any individual site or property. To determine the specific liquefaction hazard affecting any individual site or property, a site-specific assessment may need to be undertaken.

Further refinements to the geographic extent of the identified area where ‘liquefaction damage is possible’ may occur in the future, for example as the Nelson Resource Management Plan (NRMP) is updated.

How do I know if my property is located within an area potentially susceptible to liquefaction?

Use the link above to the natural hazards mapping webmap to find out whether the 2021 liquefaction assessment indicates that your property may be susceptible to liquefaction.

What if my property is within an area identified as liquefaction damage is possible?

Council is required to update Land Information Memoranda (LIMs) notations with new and updated information relating to natural hazards, including liquefaction.

Liquefaction hazard information may be used in building, subdivision or resource consent processes.

For information on building on land that is potentially susceptible to liquefaction, please go to

In the future, areas of Nelson that may be susceptible to liquefaction are expected to be included into the NRMP, or into a new resource management plan. 

Frequently Ask Questions - click here for a list of FAQs about liquefaction in the Nelson region