Managed retreat – by whom and how?


By Gavin McCleave, science communications intern

Many communities around Aotearoa New Zealand are faced with increasing risks from storm surges, flooding, rising sea levels, and the prospect of being forced to leave behind their homes, land and community. In recognition of this, the Government recently announced a new Climate Change Adaptation Act will form part of the planned legislative framework replacing the Resource Management Act (RMA).

While managed retreat is possible under the RMA, there is limited national guidance on how and when to implement it, and who pays. It is all too easy for the necessary decisions to be delayed. At Matatā, where the Whakatane District Council went through a lengthy and contentious process to manage retreat from the Awatairariki fanhead following a devastating debris flow in 2005, the uncertain governance framework created cascading social, political, institutional and financial uncertainties, and contributed to protracted post-disaster trauma for the community. [1]

Timely new research from Dr Christina Hanna, Iain White and Bruce Glavovic describes the spectrum of governance approaches to managed retreat, and recommends an approach most likely to reduce risk and promote justice.

At one end of the spectrum is state-led and funded retreat from affected areas. This approach increases the risk of local communities being disempowered and embittered by regulated and enforced solutions. At the other end of the spectrum is an autonomous unmanaged retreat left to the private sector and local communities. This approach raises the risks of vulnerable communities being unfairly treated, and cultural heritage and connection being lost forever.


The aftermath of the 2005 debris flow at Matatā. Credit: Whakatane Beacon

The researchers found that although there will be instances in which state-led or autonomous retreats are appropriate, the most likely path to a satisfactory outcome for all involved, particularly the local communities, is somewhere in the middle. This is a network-based co-operative approach in which decision-making power is shared amongst central government, local government, the private sector and importantly, the local communities, to achieve a negotiated outcome. 

The researchers recommend co-operative managed retreat strategies in which “people and communities are embedded in the retreat strategy design, decision-making and delivery.”

A pioneering example of such an approach is the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy 2120, which trialled the Dynamic Adaptive Pathways Planning (DAPP) approach and involved researchers from Phase 1 of the the Resilience Challenge. This plan to manage Hawke’s Bay’s coastal hazards and climate change risks over the next 100 years was developed by local authorities, local stakeholders and mana whenua representatives.

Possible ways of supporting the affected landowners and communities in a co-operative managed retreat include opt-in buy-outs, relocation subsidies and land-swaps. The researchers acknowledge that a significant challenge for a co-operative approach is the question of who will pay for it. From their article: “Ideally, any co-operative programme will have a nationally consistent framework of cost allocation principles, clarity of cost-sharing responsibilities, and funding support at the local level.”

The researchers conclude that a co-operative approach to managing retreats is the most likely way to “avoid or reduce risks in ways that seek to share power, and promote justice and equity.” 


The full paper, “Managed retreats by whom and how? Identifying and delineating governance modalities” was recently published in Climate Risk Management and can be found here.


[1] Hanna, C.; White, I.; Glavovic, B. The Uncertainty Contagion: Revealing the Interrelated, Cascading Uncertainties of Managed Retreat. Sustainability 2020, 12, 736. 





A legacy for Christchurch:

Ten years since February 22 earthquake


By Richard Smith, Resilience Challenge Director

The ten-year anniversary of the February 22nd Christchurch earthquake will be stirring memories for many in Canterbury, and those affected around the country. We acknowledge those who suffered loss on that day, and the communities of the Canterbury region still dealing with damage, disruption, and change. For Aotearoa New Zealand’s emergency managers, the anniversary marks the start ten years ago of a decade full of national emergencies, involving large earthquakes affecting two of our biggest cities, floods, windstorms, tsunami warnings, landslides, and a global pandemic. After 80 preceding years of relative quiet, millions of New Zealanders now understand what it’s like to experience severe earthquake shaking, have learned more than they wanted to know about aftershocks and building engineering, and the realities of the long hard slog of post-earthquake urban disaster recovery.

I recall the disbelief when the first images came through of the smouldering collapsed buildings in Christchurch. It didn’t tally with the logic of us having already had the ‘big one’ on 4 September 2010, which we’d come through relatively unscathed. In that regard the February 22nd earthquake changed perceptions and showed that location matters when it comes to types of damage, and that not all earthquakes are the same. The February 2011 earthquake and the series of big shakes in June and December that year were particularly unsettling because of how close to the city they were and the sudden violence unleashed by the punch from the ground directly below. This created a hypervigilance, the need to be constantly ready to brace or dive for cover at any sound or sense of impending movement. The result was a thoroughly exhausted population, with each aftershock setting back recovery for people and communities.


Messages of hope outside the Carlton Hotel, Christchurch. Credit: Margaret Low, GNS Science

The event also revealed many positive things. The responsiveness of our emergency systems, and the ability of critical infrastructure like electricity and mobile networks to remain in service or be restored quickly to support communities. It showed the important role of social connectedness for the emergence of successful community-led responses. Also, that science and engineering were essential for understanding and solving technical challenges, and the value of public institutions in providing certainty. While a less widely held view, it also showed the worth of our public disaster insurance scheme for enabling the finance needed for rebuilding.

What should the legacy be for the lives lost and changed by the February 22 earthquake? From a resilience perspective we would hope that it is not to rely so much on our responsive emergency services and recovery. The decade of disruption in Christchurch proves the value of reducing disaster risk before an event rather than managing and muddling through the myriad consequences afterwards. Earthquakes are inevitable in New Zealand, but earthquake disasters are not. We should be aiming to invest in measures that ensure buildings and infrastructure are stronger, not just to prevent loss of life, but to enable them to function as soon as possible after the ground has stopped shaking. 

We have much of the technical knowledge of how to build and where to build it to make our homes and communities more resilient. We also know that the cost of enhanced resilience is a fraction of the economic and social costs of a decade of demolition and rebuilding. The challenge is applying that knowledge and lifting our collective sights on the mission of disaster resilience. Let’s make that the legacy for Christchurch.













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.

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 coastal communities around the country. 

 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. 


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.




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.


Tsunami preparedness in Orewa



By Dr Caroline Orchiston


Orewa beach. Credit: Andrea Lai (Flickr)

A team of Resilience Challenge researchers have been working in the Auckland suburb of Orewa to support a citizen science initiative focused on tsunami risk. Orewa is a low-lying community with many people living within one kilometre of the coast, and is the most exposed community to tsunami in the Auckland region. Tsunami hazard modelling suggests Orewa is at risk from local, regional and distant source tsunami, and its residents would only have one hour to evacuate from a locally generated event. Active participation from schools, families and the wider community was the goal of this initiative, which was led by Rotary and supported by Auckland Council. Researchers were involved in co-developing a community survey, and a tsunami evacuation exercise for two Orewa schools.

The community survey was co-developed with Rotary, to help them understand the perception and understanding of tsunami risk by residents in Orewa. The results showed that 65% of respondents believed that a tsunami was likely to occur within their lifetimes. Almost one third thought it was unnecessary to prepare for a tsunami because assistance would be provided by the local council and Civil Defence. Very few people understood the natural signs of a strong or prolonged earthquake, with only 13% suggesting they would evacuate immediately after shaking stopped. Most concerning was that the majority of people would wait to be told what they should do from officials.

The second phase involved a tsunami evacuation exercise called ‘Orewa: ahead of the wave’.The exercise was designed to raise awareness amongst the general public, and to monitor two school evacuations to observe how long it took for the students to get to high ground. The exercise began with a spontaneous earthquake drill at 9.25am, and then the students were mustered and led up the tsunami evacuation routes to a designated place in high ground. In total more than 2000 students and members of the public took part. The results highlighted that for some schools, the evacuation is easily possible within one hour. However the high school is located further from high ground, and everyone needed to move quickly to get to high ground within one hour. Older adults and those with disabilities were amongst the slowest to arrive.

Citizen science is becoming recognised as a powerful tool to empower people to engage with disaster risk reduction. It is particularly exciting that this community-led initiative was successful at engaging and motivating the residents of Orewa to improve their knowledge and awareness, so that they will be ready to react when the ground stops shaking.

The full paper, ‘Citizen science as a catalyst for community resilience building:
A two-phase tsunami case study’ was published in the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies and can be found here


Student profile: Anna-Kay Spaulding Agbenyegah



Post-disaster recovery from a high-impact weather event in Auckland




A bit about me

Anna in the hills of St. Andrew, Jamaica 2019

I am currently a PhD candidate in Disaster Management at Massey University’s School of Construction and the Built Environment.

I am an outgoing nature lover, who loves to read religious books and have a great interest in travelling. I was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, and was raised within a humble inner-city community in Kencot, Kingston, Jamaica.

I studied a Bachelor of Arts in Geography at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica and further did post-graduate studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where I successfully completed a Masters of Disaster Management with first-class honours. I believe that women have a pivotal role to play in this sector and so in addition to creating tangible technical outputs for national and regional development, I also mentored young female interns in the field of disaster management, geospatial technologies, and development planning.

My interest in cartography and spatial analysis led me to play a key role in the development of the Negril Risk Atlas in Jamaica under an Enhancing Coastal Resilience Project, currently being used to assist planners when making development decisions in the region. In October 2017, I led a team to successfully execute a national GIS conference which hosted over 500 people.

My favorite phrase is “Never Say I Can’t” because all things are possible with proper planning, great team-work, communication, and great determination.

I love people! And I would like to think that my passion for people and seeing the vulnerable bounce back from increased hardships faced as a result of disasters has led me to this project.

Receiving a PhD scholarship from the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Urban programme has allowed me to start the journey to becoming a useful expert with skills in resilience and disaster management that will be beneficial to humanity.

Anna in Queenstown, 2017

My project

My PhD is about post-disaster recovery from high-impact weather events in Auckland. Let’s face it, disasters have no boundaries; they can affect us all at any time in any spatial location. Auckland’s geographic location and unique physical characteristics make the region susceptible to multi-hazards and high weather-related disaster events induced by climate change. This, coupled with the projected population increase in Auckland will proliferate the risk of disasters which may potentially lead to loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, and communities.

Additionally, with the likely threat of climate change projections for New Zealand, by the end of the century, the country is likely to experience higher temperatures, rising seas levels, more frequent extreme weather events, and a change in rainfall patterns.

My research aims to study three or more of the most exposed communities in Auckland to high-impact weather events using existing vulnerability models to ascertain people’s exposure and their vulnerability to high weather events. Secondly, to assess each community’s recovery timeframes, and key factors that make them resilient and recover quickly from disasters. I will also be doing a comparative analysis scenario study of a ‘high impact’ versus ‘low impact’ recovery of coastal communities, with a focus on what makes them resilient, and what needs to be done to make them even more resilient.


Next steps

Undertaking this PhD project will include developing a strategic futuristic recovery and resilience plan. It is important to understand that to strategically plan for a resilient nation, as one of the key goals of the Resilience Challenge, it is critical to incorporate resilience as a priority in community planning. This would facilitate the creation of ground-rules for agencies to implement in their strategic recovery planning process. My interest is enhancing Auckland’s capability to quickly recover from disasters, by collaboration among sectors; managing risks, effective response to and recovery from emergencies, and fostering community resilience. With this project underway, I believe it will add value to the resilience and development planning sector.

Opportunities for early warning systems:
A review


By Marion Tan and Sara Harrison





We are with the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, working as a postdoctoral researcher and PhD candidate respectively. We were invited by Resilience to Nature’s Challenges to complete a review of emerging technology and trends for early warning systems. The paper was accepted to the Information Systems and Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) 2020 International Conference. Here we provide a brief summary of the resulting paper below and the promising research activities that follows from it.


The review

International policy for disaster risk reduction (i.e., the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030) prioritises the development and implementation of people-centred early warning systems for natural hazards. As such, we were interested in knowing the current and emerging trends and gaps in early warning systems technology research. We reviewed 60 recent papers from the ISCRAM literature to identify the research trends and gaps. 

In our review, we identified areas that need more attention in early warning systems technology research. These areas include (1) investigating ethical and privacy implications for using new technology and resulting information, (2) keeping up with the rapidly evolving technology, (3) developing inclusive tools to reach diverse audiences, and (4) ensuring the efficacy of warning systems for multiple hazards. In the paper, we emphasised that while technology has advanced early warning systems to new levels, we must also consider people’s perceptions of and response to early warning systems.


Next steps

The drive for a people-centric approach is important to ensure the success of early warnings in Aotearoa New Zealand (i.e., that the intended audiences adhere to the warning and take appropriate protective action). Researchers can build on the results of this paper towards research projects intended to improve early warning systems. Currently, Marion and Sara, along with research collaborators and partners, are working on the following research projects on early warnings for Aotearoa New Zealand:


  1. Marion and colleagues are working on an exploratory study that is investigating both the technical feasibility and social opportunities and challenges of developing and implementing an earthquake early warning system using low-cost sensors in Aotearoa New Zealand. The project aims to explore the viability of an earthquake early warning solution that is developed with people at the forefront.
  2. Sara’s PhD study is using an impact-oriented approach to improve severe weather warnings in Aotearoa New Zealand. The aims of the study are to better match warnings levels to the expected or experienced impacts caused by the event, and to improve the communication of the warning to be more meaningful to recipients so that they may respond appropriately.

Read Marion and Sara’s full paper, ‘Research Themes on Warnings in Information Systems Crisis Management Literature.’

Q & A with Dr Richard Turner



Credit: Dave Allen (NIWA)

Q. Tēnā koe Richard. Can you tell us about how you got into meteorology? Have you always been fascinated with weather?

Kia ora. Yes, I have always been very interested in weather since being a kid growing up in South Otago – my first day of school was cut short due to a snow storm and we were off school for the next week. The area also experienced a number of floods in the 1970s and a massive windstorm in 1975. A background in mathematics and physics was a requirement for meteorology, so I studied those subjects as an undergraduate and then pursued graduate degrees in Meteorology (MSc) and Agricultural Meteorology (PhD) in the USA before returning home. My graduate degrees relied a lot on my mathematics background and concentrated on the numerical modelling of weather and the dispersion of pests by the wind.

Q. How long have you worked at NIWA and can you tell us a bit about your main research interests?

I’ve worked at NIWA since 1996 and my main areas of research interest have been around numerical modelling of wind and its impacts – wind damage to structures, the effects of complex terrain on wind speed, the wind-dispersal of volcanic ash and pathogens such as myrtle rust and foot-and-mouth virus, UV forecasting and how decision support tools can best utilise weather/hazard forecasts.

Q. You’re co-leading the Weather and Wildfire programme for Phase 2 of the Challenge, and previously led the Weather, Flood & Coastal Hazards Theme of the Natural Hazards Research Platform. What draws you to collaborative research programmes?

I’ve found over the years that what I really like about working at NIWA, and in the science sector in New Zealand, is the wide variety of interesting projects, science colleagues and subject experts and stakeholders that I’ve been able work with. I’ve found I’m always learning, and it’s great to be contributing in areas of obvious benefit to other areas of research and the country.

Q. What will the detailed modelling created under the Weather and Wildfire programme add to current knowledge about the impacts of extreme weather events in New Zealand?

The detailed weather modelling will be a resource for many other researchers. There will be consistent and realistic high-resolution model ‘datasets’ made available to the research community of intense rainfall, snow, and extreme winds, as part of extreme but credible events. Other researchers – such as landslide, fire spread, and flood modellers will be able to use these to create detailed impact assessments of areas affected by these hazards. This level of detail, over large domains, has not been possible to achieve previously.   

Q. The Weather and Wildfire programme centres around three extreme weather scenarios – an ex-tropical cyclone hitting Auckland, a severe winter storm in the South Island and a wildfire in a Central Otago subdivision. Why did the team choose these scenarios?

Richard at Randa, Switzerland, the site of a devastating landslide in 1991

When the second phase of the Resilience Challenge was being planned, researchers and stakeholders identified gaps in our knowledge of weather hazard events that could potentially have significant impacts on New Zealand or parts of New Zealand. Ex-tropical cyclones were chosen, as the impacts from these seem likely to increase under climate change and they are the one weather hazard that could impact Auckland very badly if the storm-path brought the severest effects over the city. One of the techniques we are using is to move New Zealand around so that historically strong and damaging storms such as ex-tropical cyclone Cook (2017) do end up moving over Auckland. Winter-storms were chosen as these could impact power networks severely and wildfire was chosen as that is clearly a growing threat, both nationally and globally.

Q. What are the logistical challenges involved in creating such fine-scaled modelling, across multiple hazard types?

You need lots of computer processing power. A supercomputer is required to do the weather and flood computations with plenty of storage, plus protocols and data standards to distribute the results. Researchers need good visualisation tools and experience to create realistic simulations.

Q. What do you like to do outside work?

I follow Liverpool Football Club as well as the Wellington Phoenix (my son is football mad and he has got me following the Premier League Champions). I like to go tramping (but not alone), cycling and do a bit of kayaking (nice windless days thank you very much). I used to play golf but don’t have any time for that these days.

Q. What are your future research aspirations?

That is a great question for a middle-aged scientist not particularly into empire building.

I think there are some hugely exciting and totally essential research areas these days, such as (i) climate change adaptation (sadly unavoidable now), (ii) the study of aerial spread of viruses is going to advance hugely in the next couple of years, (iii) the quiet and ongoing revolution in weather forecasting as we tackle the challenges of getting more gains from models as computational limits are reached, (iv) Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence could allow us to discover new signals in weather and climate and will be necessary as observed and modelled datasets become more and more massive and too large for humans to effectively process and interrogate, and then there is (v) the need to be able to communicate all of this great and wonderful science to the public (some of whom are hostile to science or befuddled by orchestrated dis-information campaigns), for their benefit and to increase our chances of survival (which is one definition of Resilience and also naturally a massive Challenge).

If I can contribute in some small way, I’d be happy.