Kermadec Earthquake

In our program today, we interrupt our regular flow of topics here in Wavescan in order to present instead a topic on the radio scene in the Kemadec Islands, that recently underwent a quick series of massive earthquakes, one of which was measured at 8.1 on the Richter Scale. According to the United States Geological Survey, the most intense earthquake in modern times was measured at 9.5.

On Friday March 5 2021, the strongest of three major earthquakes in the Kermadec area was centered underwater near the island chain which is located in the South Pacific half way between New Zealand and Fiji. The first two earthquakes in this series were measured at 7.3 and 7.4, and the third and largest at 8.1 struck the same area just before 8:30 am on the Friday morning.

Initially a warning of possible tsunamis was issued for many Pacific countries, though these were later cancelled due to the fact that all three of the closely timed major earthquakes were deep under water. The Kermadec Islands were shaken, though with very little damage. On the exposed areas of the North Island of New Zealand, seaside citizens fled to higher ground, though the arrival of a small tsunami caused virtually no damage there either.

Read more analysis of these quakes on the Wild Land blog:

According to the United States Geological Survey, the world’s most intense earthquake, measured at 9.5, struck the Pacific Coast of Chile in South America in 1960. In a comment from Professor Jennifer Eccles at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, she stated that the 8.1 event near the Kermadec Islands was just about “as big as it gets”.
There are four major islands in the Kermadec Islands, together with half a dozen islets and exposed rocks, all of which form a lengthy arc of volcanic underwater mountains. In 2012, an underwater volcanic eruption produced a new small island in the Kermadecs now identified as Havre, together with a large raft of floating pumice stone that caught the attention of scientists around the world.

The largest and only inhabited island in the Kermadecs is the irregularly shaped Raoul Island which measures 5 miles by 4 miles. However the only people on this island these days are a small cluster of official personnel, anywhere up to a dozen or so, who are engaged in nature conservation, together with weather and radio officers.

Simon Nathan, ‘Kermadec Islands – Raoul Island’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 July 2020)

In ancient times, the Kermadec Islands were settled on occasionally by Polynesian peoples, and at times by a few scattered Europeans. During World War 1, a German raider ship, the Wolf, used Raoul Island as a temporary base for repair and overhaul. Politically, these empty islands form an integral part of New Zealand itself.

In May 1937, a party of survey personnel aboard the New Zealand government ship Maui Pomare visited Raoul Island for the purpose of establishing what they called an Aeradio Station, for aviation and navigation across the Pacific. The property of a loner, Mr. Alfred Bacon, was confiscated for the new radio station, though with due compensation, and Bacon himself returned to New Zealand on the same ship, the Maui Pomare.

A low powered Morse Code station was installed on Raoul Island and it was first noted in the United States around August 1938. The callsign was ZME, and the shortwave operating channel at that time was at the top end of the 40 metre amateur/broadcasting band.

This new communication station was sometimes referred to under the callsign ZME, and sometimes as ZMEF, both of which we would presume were accurate. We would suggest that ZME was the basic licensed callsign for the station, and that ZMEF indicated the particular shortwave channel in regular usage (9520 kHz).

Station ZME was taken into regular service during the early part of the following year 1939, and many DX reports in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States indicate that the station was indeed on the air. However, many of those monitoring reports in various radio magazines back in the middle of the last century were copycat reports from other contemporary radio magazines.

Raoul Island radio station c1940s. Photo:

Station ZMEF sent weather reports and local information four times daily back to New Zealand, generally to station ZLD in Auckland. Originally this station, on an isolated and lonely island, was also intended to form part of the radio communication network across the Pacific for the new Pan American Airways (PanAm), but World War 2 ended that project.

A contemporary monitoring report in the NZDXRA magazine Tune-In back then indicated that ZME changed from Morse Code operation to voice communication early in the year 1940. During the Pacific War, this station also served with the New Zealand version of the Coast Watch Service. The main operating channel back then was 500 kHz.

Station ZME is still in regular communication service to this day. Several of the meteorological and radio personnel stationed on Raoul Island have themselves been amateur radio operators. In addition there have been a few amateur radio DXpeditions to Raoul Island, such as ZL1ABZ in 1958, ZL8RI in 1996, and ZL8R in 2006.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of March 21, 2021

Read more in our 2006 feature “Shakey Raoul Island”:

Explore more about ZME on the Maritime Radio website:

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