Recipients of the Urban Resilience Innovation and Collaboration Hub


In the first half of 2020 the Urban programme established the Urban Resilience Innovation &  Collaboration Hub, a round of contestable funding with the purpose of supporting research and research-related activities that promote urban resilience in New Zealand. The fund provides up to NZD $10,000 for projects that add value to the existing work within the Urban programme of the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge. Projects will run up for up to two years.


Applications closed in July with the final decisions made in August by the Urban Steering Committee and co-opted panel members Josh Te Kani (RNC Vision Mātauranga Knowledge Broker) and Jo Horrocks (EQC). We are pleased to announce that twelve projects have been selected. These projects represent a diverse range of topics and involve researchers representing universities, institutes, iwi, NGOs, schools, and community groups. We are very pleased to welcome them into the RNC Urban programme waka.

A list of the twelve funded projects, with primary investigators (PI), project titles, and associated organisations is below.


PI Name(s) Project title Organisation(s)
Siautu Alefaio Talanoa Podcast: Educating and strengthening resilient communities in Manurewa Massey University and Roscommon School
Carel Bezuidenhout Impacts of an urban shock to local food supply chains Massey University
Denise Blake Sex work for Māori: Covid-19 and beyond Massey University, The University of Auckland and New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective
Edward Challies; Frances Charters Assessing co-benefits of blue-green infrastructure for urban social-ecological resilience University of Canterbury
Kaye-Maree Dunn I-Hono ki te Hapori Making Everything Achievable Limited
Jenny Lee-Morgan Urban Marae Responses to COVID19: Creative Pikitia Series Nga Wai a Te Tui – Unitec Institute of Technology NZ
Jesse Grayman The Role of Faith-Based Institutions in Auckland’s Disaster
Resilience During and After Covid-19
University of Auckland, Faculty of Arts
Tom Logan Multi-criteria spatial optimisation for guiding long-term land use planning for resilience and sustainability University of Canterbury
Steve Ronoh; Loic Le De Good and Ready New Zealand New Zealand Red Cross and Auckland University of Technology
Finn Scheele Development of a population exposure model for New Zealand GNS Science
Marion Tan CRISiS Lab Education and Outreach Project Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Massey University
Civil and Environmental Engineering, and The University of Auckland
Sophia Tsang Living with hazards and risks in Auckland: Which locations in Tāmaki Makaurau do we value the most? University of Auckland

Impact case studies for 2019-20


Responsive science for national emergencies

In 2019-20, through an eruption, flooding and a pandemic, we’ve been able to add significant value by linking and coordinating across the science system, supporting the direct input of science into decision-making during emergencies.



Partnership as the pathway to impact 

Interdisciplinary science is an approach well suited to natural hazards research. Multiple perspectives and diverse knowledge must be integrated to facilitate change and achieve impact. In 2019-20, we have been able to work across boundaries and organisations to improve resilience at a local and national level.  



Science for resilience policy and practice

In 2019-20 we saw examples of direct application of our research into policy and practice, including recommendations for reducing climate change risk to existing communities, a methodology for planning the retreat of coastal infrastructure, and better integration of iwi and hapū mātauranga into natural hazard planning 



Models and tools for decision-making

Central to the Challenge delivering on our mission to accelerate natural hazard resilience is the development of new models and methodologies to quantify hazards and impacts in more realistic way, providing better assessments of resilience options to decision makers.


Impact case study:

Model and tools for decision-making


How did Resilience Challenge research have an impact in 2019-2020?


Central to our mission to accelerate natural hazard resilience is the development of new models and tools to quantify hazards and impacts in more realistic ways, providing better assessments of resilience options to decision-makers.

Development of new models is iterative, requiring repeated testing and validation, and their application usually comes at the end of an extensive period of development. RNC is driving meaningful enhancements and innovations in this area, building on work in Phase 1, the Natural Hazards Research Platform, and leveraging existing New Zealand tools such as RiskScape and MERIT.

Updated hazard map for Whakapapa skifield. Credit: GNS Science

Earlier this year, Volcano programme research was integrated into updated hazard posters  for Turoa and Whakapapa skifields, as part of a collaboration with the Department of Conservation. Researchers were also commissioned by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts to produce a technical report on potential lahar hazard in the Whakapapa ski area. A new lahar simulation model, calibrated to previous lahars, was used to estimate the lahar footprint and impact for a range of scenarios. Results of the report have been used to develop safety measures for the new Sky Waka gondola.



Dr Nicky McDonald and colleagues from ME Research produced economic modelling utilising the MERIT (Measuring the Economics of Resilient Infrastructure Tool) capability developed in Phase 1, to assess the economic consequences of fuel outage scenarios following the Auckland-Marsden Point fuel pipeline failure. MERIT was applied to five disruption scenarios, which were then evaluated with and without mitigation options to better understand the impact of disruption and potential value of mitigation actions for New Zealand. The report was prepared for MBIE and findings also contributed to the Board of Inquiry into the 2017 Auckland Fuel Supply Disruption.

As part of our Coastal Flooding project led by Prof Karin Bryan (University of Waikato) and Dr Scott Stephens (NIWA), Dr Shari Gallop and Masters student Akuhata Bailey-Winiata (Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) carried out a summer project to determine the proximity of coastal marae (located within 2km of the coast) to coastal and river waterbodies. They found that 93% of coastal marae are located in the North Island; over 45% of coastal marae are within 200 meters of the coastline; and approximately 70% of coastal marae are located below 20 meters elevation relative to mean sea level. Data will be used as a baseline for determining risk and vulnerability of coastal marae to coastal hazards and sea-level rise. Akuhata’s research was recognised by the New Zealand Coastal Society who awarded him with a Māori and Pacific Island Research Scholarship in July 2020. 

Our Built Environment programme has completed new hazard maps for Bay of Plenty marae (showing fault lines, flooding, geothermal, liquefaction, and tsunami zones) using data from Rotorua City Council and Environment Bay of Plenty. The maps were provided to Te Arawa Lakes Trust collaborators, and are intended to be used to catalyse conversations with marae regarding adaptation and preparedness planning.

Part of our Weather and Wildfire programme involves the modelling of credible ‘what-if’ scenarios. What if the path of ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook (which did much damage in eastern Bay of Plenty in 2017) had been further west and hit our biggest population centre, Auckland? Weather scenario modelling at such fine-grid resolutions is a first for New Zealand, and allows detailed impact modelling to be carried out for a variety of coincident weather, flood, and landslide hazards, building a credible worse-case impact scenario for Auckland and surrounding districts. The early modelling is highlighting the potential for extreme impacts in Auckland, and in other areas well away from Auckland such as the higher elevations of the Kaimai ranges.


New modelling shows what could have happened if ex-TC Cook has tracked over Auckland. Credit: Ian Boutle, 2020

The primary goal of our Earthquake-Tsunami programme is to generate synthetic earthquakes using computer models. Big earthquakes and tsunamis (thankfully) don’t happen very often. A downside of this infrequency is that limited information from past earthquakes makes the job of forecasting future earthquakes and tsunamis challenging. One way of getting over these limitations is to generate synthetic earthquakes over millions of years using computer programs.

The team, led by Dr Bill Fry and Prof Andy Nicol, now has a first iteration of a synthetic seismicity model for New Zealand that incorporates all of the faults used for the National Seismic Hazard Model. This is a successful proof of concept. Further, through extended international collaboration, they have produced basic ground motion predictions from this model. This is an exciting and important stepping-stone in a programme of work that aims to improve future earthquake, tsunami and landslide hazard models in New Zealand.


This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2019-2020 annual reporting. 


Impact case study:

Science for resilience policy and practice


How did Resilience Challenge research have an impact in 2019-2020?


In 2019-20 we saw several examples of direct application of Resilience to Nature’s Challenges (RNC) research findings into policy and practice.

Paekakariki near Wellington. Credit: Margaret Low, GNS Science

The GNS Science report Reducing risk through the management of existing uses: tensions under the RMA  by Emily Grace, Ben France-Hudson and Margaret Kilvington, was primarily funded by our Phase 1 contestable fund. The report looks at how the RMA can be used to reduce the risk to existing communities from natural hazards and climate change, including enabling the movement of communities from at-risk areas. The report filled an important research gap, because addressing risk to established communities means addressing people’s existing use ‘rights’ – rights that are so entrenched in planning practice that modifications, even to reduce risk to lives and property, face significant challenges. A recent example of this is Matatā in the Bay of Plenty, where there has been a protracted effort by Whakatāne District Council to manage retreat from the Awatairariki fanhead, the location of a devastating debris flow in 2005. 

The report, which took an interdisciplinary approach by teaming up a planner, a lawyer, and a social scientist, was awarded the New Zealand Planning Institute’s John Mawson Award of Merit for 2020. The Award is made in recognition of a meritorious individual or one-off contribution to the theory or practice of planning. It is also stimulating strong interest from councils and central government, and in June 2020 some of its key recommendations were picked up in New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand, the report of the Resource Management Review Panel.

As part of our Coastal programme, Masters student Rick Kool (supervised by Dr Judy Lawrence and Dr Rob Bell) used the Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathway (DAPP) approach trialled in Phase 1. Rick applied adaptive pathways to understand how a retreat of ‘two waters’ might be managed in Petone, Lower Hutt where wastewater and stormwater infrastructure is at risk from sea-level rise and increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, and Wellington Water and Hutt City Council are faced with maintaining levels of service as these impacts worsen over the coming decades and beyond. 

The research used DAPP to frame retreat over different sea-level rise increments. The research conceptualised how this could be managed spatially across the study area, and a workshop with experts helped identify impact thresholds and consider possible adaptation options. Water sensitive urban design options were integrated into adaptation portfolios to extend retreat thresholds and create amenity for the community by repurposing the area after retreat is initiated.  


Schematic, Petone DAPP case study. Note: MR is managed retreat, AT = adaptation threshold, SLR = sea-level rise. Source: Kool, R.; Lawrence, J.; Drews, M.; Bell, R. Preparing for Sea-Level Rise through Adaptive Managed Retreat of a New Zealand Stormwater and Wastewater Network. Infrastructures 2020, 5, 92.

This scenario-based, spatially phased approach to two waters infrastructure retreat resulted in a research methodology and framework which are available for use in other retreat settings. In Petone, it provides a basis for community conversations with service providers about how retreat could be sequenced and what adaptation measures may be used and funded in the future.

 A project focusing on the role of Iwi and Hapū Management Plans (IHMPs) in reducing natural hazard and climate change risk to Māori communities was funded by our Phase 1 Governance and Mātauranga Māori programmes, led by Māori researchers Dr Wendy Saunders and Lucy Kaiser.

IHMPs are legislative documents under the RMA, and can play a key role in contributing to natural hazard management. They are prepared by an iwi, iwi authority, runanga or hapū as an expression of rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga of local natural resources. They are designed to be strategic documents which outline priorities for iwi and hapū and provide cultural context and preferred processes of engagement for local authorities.

Research published by Dr Wendy Saunders and Lucy Kaiser in August 2019 and presented to the NZPI 2019 conference explores the role of IHMPs in natural hazard risk management in the Bay of Plenty. The researchers made a number of recommendations, including that councils and national agencies better embed IHMPs in their processes. As a result, researchers, planners, and many central government agencies are more aware of the plans, and the important role they play. This has been reflected in the inclusion of them in the many new strategies and policies, such as Arotakenga Huringa Āhuarangi – A Framework for the National Climate Change Risk Assessment for Aotearoa New Zealand.

In these examples, we can see RNC research and recommendations being delivered at the right time, in the right form, to the right stakeholders, and being taken up in policy and practice developments that improve local and national resilience to natural hazard risks.


This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2019-2020 annual reporting. 


Impact case study:
Partnership as the pathway to impact


How did Resilience Challenge research have an impact in 2019-2020?


Interdisciplinary science is an approach well suited to natural hazards research. It is almost never the case that an exclusively engineering, social, or geological research output is the solution to a resilience need. Multiple perspectives and diverse knowledge must be integrated to facilitate change and achieve impact. The coordination necessary for success requires leadership by those willing to work across the boundaries of their discipline or organisation, and agencies that are willing to partner with others with shared aims.

The Alpine Fault earthquake preparedness and planning programme AF8 (with science support from RNC’s Rural programme and co-funding from CDEM and QuakeCore) continues to be a very effective cross-boundary collaboration. It provides an effective direct pathway for RNC to connect multiple strands of resilience research into practical initiatives to build community-level resilience, and facilitate sector planning and preparedness.

This year the AF8 scenarios, including RNC’s network infrastructure disruption work, have been used by agencies including Fire & Emergency New Zealand, Ministry for Social Development and MBIE in their emergency planning for an Alpine Fault earthquake. For MBIE this includes the development of plans for temporary housing following a national-scale emergency, filling what was a critical gap in national emergency planning.

In September, AF8 hosted the inaugural Tourism Forum in Te Anau, attracting over 100 participants including emergency managers and tourism stakeholders. RNC researchers Prof Tom Wilson and Mat Darling presented on the AF8 science scenario, and tourism and disaster risk research. Minister Peeni Henare (Minister of Civil Defence and Associate Minister of Tourism) attended and is very supportive of AF8’s work.

RNC knowledge of infrastructure network vulnerabilities to multiple natural hazards was integrated in the updated  New Zealand Critical Lifelines Infrastructure National Vulnerability Assessment, published in May 2020. Our Built Environment science leader Assoc Prof Liam Wotherspoon is named as a contributor in the report, along with science leaders Dr Rob Bell and Prof Tom Wilson.


Orewa, the most exposed community to tsunami in the Auckland region

We’ve also seen partnerships delivering greater resilience at a local level. A team of RNC researchers including Dr Emma Hudson-Doyle, Dr Caroline Orchiston, Dr Julia Becker, Lisa McLaren, and Prof David Johnston worked with Rotary and Auckland Council in Orewa, the most exposed community to tsunami in the Auckland region. The citizen-science initiative sought active participation from schools, families and the wider community. Researchers co-designed a survey to understand perceptions of tsunami risk, how prepared the community were for a tsunami, and what they were likely to do in a tsunami event. They then carried out a tsunami evacuation exercise with two schools to observe how long it took for the students to get to high ground, and the factors affecting evacuation times. The community-led initiative was successful at engaging and motivating the residents of Orewa to improve their knowledge and awareness, so that they will be quicker to react following the next long, strong earthquake.

In another tsunami-prone community, Napier City Council have used RNC research to inform the three phases of their Hill Hosts project. The project aims to raise awareness about tsunami risk, and the need for evacuation to Napier Hill following a long or strong earthquake. Hill residents were encouraged to prepare and plan for evacuees; and the council also identified infrastructure and services improvements that would support evacuation. Napier City Council CE Wayne Jack wrote to the research team acknowledging their contribution to the council’s planning and preparedness process.

2019 research co-authored by Scion social fire scientist Lisa Langer  describes wildfire experiences and actions by predominantly Māori residents during the 2011 Karikari Peninsula wildfire, and preparedness before and after the event. Researchers gathered information through semi-structured interviews and a focus group, and found that experiencing the fire encouraged a majority of residents to become better prepared. Whānau and marae also helped to inform and support residents during and after the wildfire.

The paper provides useful recommendations for improving preparedness for wildfires and encouraging safe fire use in rural communities across New Zealand. The success of this study led to Scion social and kairangahau Māori researchers conducting a study with a hapū in the Hokianga to explore what a resilient hapū would look like and to contribute towards planning with Māori communities to reduce natural hazard risk. The Karikari study also helped shape other Scion-led social fire research on targeted protection against extreme fire. The combined research has helped inform Fire & Emergency New Zealand’s Māori engagement policy and contributed to their work with tangata whenua to build resilience of Māori communities.


This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2019-2020 annual reporting. 


Impact case study:
Responsive science for national emergencies


Resilience to Nature’s Challenges (RNC) has a unique role among National Science Challenges, with obligations under the National Civil Defence Management Plan (2015) to enable coordination of post-event research activity. As we have demonstrated in 2019-20, we’re able to add significant value by linking and coordinating across the science system, and supporting the direct input of science into decision-making during natural hazard emergencies.

In December 2019, six days of heavy rain caused the Rangitata River to overtop its banks, causing extensive flooding of farmland and roads. The event had significant national consequences, cutting off State Highway 1 and disrupting the national electricity grid. Our Built Environment team collected empirical data alongside other agencies to better understand the impacts of such an event, and University of Auckland postgraduate students supervised by Assoc Prof Liam Wotherspoon are developing a case study database in collaboration with affected network owners. This will inform other RNC projects by adding to the wider database of case history evidence of infrastructure component performance.

In Southland in February 2020, a month’s rainfall in a single day washed out roads and bridges and caused flooding and landslides. Fiordland was hit hard, with hundreds of tourists trapped in Milford Sound and on tramping tracks. The Rural programme’s science leadership in the AF8 (Alpine Fault magnitude 8) programme contributed to the Fiordland Hazards Group planning for disruptive events over several years prior to the floods. The flooding response was enhanced by these existing relationships, and the response planning efforts already in place. The evacuation of Milford Sound was the largest ever conducted in New Zealand. The Rural programme is leading innovative research to understand tourist risk exposure using geospatial tools, which will continue to support emergency managers in effective response planning.  


Road damage in Fiordland. Credit: Milford Road Alliance

The tragic Whakaari eruption on December 9th was the start of an unexpectedly busy period for a number of RNC researchers; including Prof Tom Wilson, Assoc Prof Jon Procter, and Prof Shane Cronin. Our researchers assisted with the eruption response, providing regular expert commentary in the media, supporting GeoNet with risk assessments and risk communication, working with local iwi, providing specialist advice to agencies such as NEMA, MOH and MPI, and coordinating the identification of science and research priorities.

COVID-19 has been a significant event for many of our programmes. We mobilised early to provide integrated advice to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of their strategic recovery planning, compiling short summaries of lessons from past natural hazard events to identify a set of issues that could be anticipated in medium-and longer-term recovery planning. 

RNC programmes also mobilised to contribute to the COVID-19 research effort. Our Resilience in Practice co-leader Dr Nick Cradock-Henry and colleagues identified the convergence of winter/spring flood risk and COVID-19 economic impacts in rural communities as a driver for increased social inequities, providing targets for stimulus investment. This analysis has been applied to consideration of investment in enhanced flood protection schemes through the ‘Shovel-Ready’ government stimulus, supported by the DIA Community Resilience Programme. This modelling capability is now being drawn on by Te Punaha Matatini to integrate social and economic impact modelling into overall COVID-19 scenario modelling.

RNC researchers have been active contributors to the national dialogue about priorities for the COVID-19 recovery stimulus. In numerous opinion pieces and media appearances, Prof Iain White and Prof Ilan Noy advocated for transformative change that boosts our local and national resilience to future disruptive events including climate change.

The multiple dimensions of the pandemic and economic recession are also informing our natural hazard resilience research, in the areas of multi-hazard modelling, consideration of livelihoods, the political dimensions of risk, and adaptation to multiple stressors. Several RNC programmes have brought an additional COVID-19 dimension to their work through new funding from MBIE, the Health Research Council, and Te Punaha Matatini.

Our Phase 2 Rural programme, as designed, featured a strong focus on tourism and disasters. COVID-19 has now extinguished the international tourist market for the foreseeable future, rapidly shrunk a sector that was set to be a key partner in our research programme, and exposed its vulnerability to international events. Rural programme researchers Dr Joanna Fountain, Dr Caroline Orchiston and others have been part of an emerging dialogue about the need for a ‘reimagined’ tourism system that will lead to a more sustainable and resilient industry.

The agility demonstrated in these examples is possible because of the collaborative network of researchers committed to the RNC mission, and well-established relationships with research users and decision-makers.   

This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2019/20 annual reporting. 

Charting risk governance trends in New Zealand


How can we chart the future by unpacking what has influenced us to date?


By Prof Iain White


Climate change challenges how policy agents imagine and manage risks in space and time. The impacts are dynamic, uncertain and contested. In this paper, we use riskscapes as a lens to analyse how New Zealand has perceived and mediated natural hazard and climate risks over time.

There’s a lot of research looking at how individuals perceive and respond to natural hazard and climate risks and how this changes in response to signals, we wanted to do the same for a country. So how does a nation change its perception of natural hazard risks over long time periods? How do they respond to new concepts, science and international signals? What legacies do previous eras and approaches exert when trying to govern climate change?

We identify five different ‘riskscape’ eras in New Zealand using a historical timeline, which have changed as global risks cascade into national and sub-national governance. We show how each still exerts an influence in the current period. We see the lags and tensions in trying to incorporate new science and ideas about the complex nature of risk into established territories, policies, and governance systems.

We find that while there has been a major effort to reflect the dynamic and systemic language of risk theory in national policy, a significant challenge remains to develop appropriate governance and implementation strategies and to shift from long-held ways of doing and knowing.


The full article by Prof Iain White and Dr Judy Lawrence, ‘Continuity and change in national riskscapes: a New Zealand perspective on the challenges for climate governance theory and practice’ was published in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and can be found here.


High resolution ex-tropical cyclone modelling


What if ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook had hit Auckland?


By Dr Richard Turner

Many of the objectives of the Weather and Wildfire programme are highly dependent on creating ultra-high resolution, multi-hazard weather models. Part of the work involves the modelling of credible ‘what-if’ scenarios such as what if the path of ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook (which did much damage on the eastern Bay of Plenty coast) had been further west and hit Auckland.

To do this scenario modelling at such fine grid resolutions has not been done before in New Zealand and it will allow detailed impact modelling to be done for a variety of coincident weather, flood, and landslide hazards – building a credible worse-case impact scenario for Auckland and surrounding districts. 


Model images by Ian Boutle, 2020

The example plots above are some early results for Auckland, with the centre of ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook clearly evident offshore to the west of Auckland. It is interesting to note the extreme gust speeds in other areas well away from Auckland such as the higher elevations of the Kaimai Ranges – simulated to be well over 250 km/hr. For some more detail on the background to the ex-tropical cyclone modelling project there is an interesting NZ Herald article from January 2020 that is well worth a read.

At a recent workshop, presentations on the weather scenario (cyclones, fire, and winter storm) methodology, weather models, flood models, RiskScape (impact modelling) and data-sharing protocols were provided to interested researchers and modellers (coast, flood, landslide, and i-tool developers) within the Weather and Wildfire programme. For more information on the weather scenario modelling, contact Richard Turner.




Student profile: Wagner Costa



Predictors for estuarine flooding in New Zealand




A bit about me

I am currently in my first year of my PhD in Earth Sciences at Waikato University’s Coastal Marine research group, supervised by Professor Karin Bryan and two co-supervisors: Giovanni Coco (The University of Auckland) and Scott Stephens (NIWA). I’m from an island in the southern part of Brazil, called Florianopolis, surrounded by beautiful beaches and coastal lagoons. I think this proximity to the sea was responsible for my interest in nature, water sports and also for the choice of my career: Oceanography.

Traveling and science are another two of my passions. Through my professional path I have had amazing experiences in my home country and abroad. After finishing my undergraduate degree in my hometown, I did my Master’s degree in Coastal Engineering at Universidad Cantabria, Spain. I also completed an internship at BRGM (Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières) in France. These experiences provided me with a good background in numerical and statistical modelling for storm surges/coastal flooding, which led me to here.

Receiving a PhD scholarship from the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges programme allowed me the opportunity to further explore my interest in coastal flooding prediction and assessment, particularly regarding climate change. In addition, to be living in New Zealand is a pleasure, with such a beautiful and interesting variety of landscapes in a relatively small area.


Florianopolis, Brazil

My project

In recent years, increasing concern about climate change and sea-level rise has led to improvements in estuarine flooding prediction. However, predicting flooding in estuaries is particularly challenging due to the uncertainty of future climate scenarios and limitations on representing local physical processes in models. Therefore, the overarching objective of my thesis is to identify the main physical drivers of estuarine flooding in order to make improved prediction of these events in New Zealand. This will be accomplished through (1) developing novel predictive techniques that allow the sensitivity of a wide range of variables to be explored at low-computational cost in a benchmark case (Tauranga Harbour) and validating these with in-situ data, and (2) applying the best predictors and techniques for the rest of the estuaries in New Zealand as well as for future climate projections.


At the entrance to Tauranga harbour


Next steps

My next steps will be to develop a model with which we can do more accurate predictions of flooding events in New Zealand estuaries. This will be accomplished by testing different approaches like statistical and numerical modelling, and machine learning.  During this process I hope to produce interesting databases at a national scale, for example: satellite-derived bathymetry, reconstructed historic storm surge, and future projections. I believe this work can be very useful in assessing the impacts of present and future coastal flooding, and providing more knowledge to society and decision makers to better manage and adapt the coastal areas of New Zealand.



Student profile: Finn Scheele



Modelling post-disaster habitability and population displacement




A bit about me

Beginning my life in the geologically active environment of Hawke’s Bay likely had an influence on my path leading to writing this profile. Living in Napier, I have strong memories of the frequent earthquakes we would experience, reminding us of the destructive earthquake of 1931. I was also fascinated by the eruption of Mt. Ruapehu in 1995/6 and remember our garden being coated in ash. My earliest schoolbooks, in which we had to draw a picture and write a sentence or two about any topic, are filled with entries of my house being destroyed by various processes such as fire, lightning or lava. A move to Christchurch led to living through the Canterbury earthquake sequence and the associated impacts, an experience that reinforced my interest in natural hazard risk and resilience.

I majored in Geology for my undergraduate degree, and Hazard and Disaster Management for my Master’s. After completing my thesis, I worked as a yoga teacher for a few months, before relocating to Wellington and joining the Ministry for the Environment focusing on natural hazards policy. Since 2017 I’ve been working at GNS Science as a risk scientist and have recently started my PhD part-time through the University of Canterbury, supported by a scholarship from the Resilience Challenge Rural programme.

Much of my free time is taken up trying to remain fit enough to keep up with my border collie, Tui. At the time of writing, my partner and I have a lockdown baby on the way, which is one of the few times in my life I’ve done something on-trend. My priority now is getting as much done on my PhD before the inevitable baby-related tiredness sets in.


My project

To plan and prepare for future events we need to have a good understanding of the impacts to communities. This means going beyond physical damage assessments to examine the impacts to individuals and households. My project will develop models to measure the impacts of natural hazard events to residential habitability and associated population displacement. Important questions include: What are the factors that lead to loss of habitability and population displacement? How long will people be out of their homes, and where will they relocate? What preparation, response and recovery actions could help keep communities together?

Answering these questions will require complex modelling techniques, data collection and analysis. It is essential to account for the variability in natural hazard event types, built environment impacts such as building damage and utility outage, and the variation of community and household characteristics. For example, a major earthquake affecting a city will have different impacts to a flood affecting a rural community. I will be examining the experiences from past events in New Zealand and internationally to gather insight into the important factors to incorporate in the modelling. The models will be agent-based, to account for individual and household decision-making, as well as test the influence of different actions (e.g. increasing household preparedness or providing various temporary housing options).


Next steps

There’s lots of exciting sub-projects that I’m involved in that will contribute towards this research. The first is developing a population model for New Zealand, in which individuals and households are synthetically created to reflect the statistics of an area, including the number of people, their demographics and household composition. I’ll also be looking at adding animal companions to households, to help account for decision-making regarding pets, particularly when choosing alternative accommodation.

Secondly, I’m working on multiple projects examining the impacts of recent events on households in terms of population displacement. These include the Canterbury earthquakes, the 2017 Edgecumbe flooding and the 2020 Southland flooding.

Building on previous work, I’m piecing together the models and learning more about agent-based modelling techniques. I’m looking forward to sharing the draft results in the coming year and working with decision-makers to ensure they’re as useful as possible.