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.



Aotearoa New Zealand’s
changing coastline


By Emma Ryan, Mark Dickson and Murray Ford



Kings beach, Whananaki, credit: Mark Dickson

In partnership with Northland Regional Council, researchers within the Coastal programme have been busy mapping Northland’s shorelines using historical imagery to explore patterns of coastal erosion, accretion and stability. Starting in Northland, this is the first step in our national-scale project that aims to map and understand coastal change over the past 70 years throughout the entire country.


Limitations with existing data collection practices make it difficult for scientists and coastal managers to understand patterns and drivers of coastal change around New Zealand and implement relevant management options. Through the ‘New Zealand’s Changing Coastline’ project we aim to fundamentally transform New Zealand’s shoreline change detection from small-scale, sporadic and manual monitoring to national-scale, semi-automated analyses in near real time. This means that councils will have access to consistent, up-to-date shoreline change data that can be meaningfully used in decision making around management and adaptation options.


The new datasets will also facilitate new research into understanding the multiple drivers of shoreline change (e.g. distinguishing between the effects of human modification of the environment, natural changes in sediment supply, sea-level change, and changes in coastal vegetation). The historical imagery and shoreline change datasets also hold value in furthering our understanding of impacts of coastal change on Māori sites of signifiance at the coast, including pā, marae and urupa.


In 2019 we engaged with LINZ and began a programme to compile historical, mapping-quality, aerial photographs of New Zealand’s coast. Led by Mark Dickson and Murray Ford, a team of 4 coastal scientists, supported by 10 research assistants at the University of Auckland, have developed and implemented detailed and consistent protocols for image acquisition, georectification, and shoreline mapping, with the overall goal of producing a nation-wide database of historical shoreline data for open-coast soft sedimentary beaches (>50 m in length). We are approximately half-way to completing georectification and mapping of Northland’s shorelines, with the view to completing Northland by August. From there, we will tackle the rest of the country, making use of existing council shoreline datasets if mapping methodologies are comparable.


In addition to the historical imagery data, we are making use of recent advances in Earth Observation (EO) satellite imagery that provide new opportunities to transform the way coastal change is assessed. The proliferation of commercial and government EO satellites provides opportunities to examine coastal change at spatial and temporal scale previously inaccessible to researchers. Led by Murray Ford, together with PhD student Ben Collings, we are developing new geospatial methods within a cloud computing framework for detecting and analysing high-frequency coastal change over the past twenty years using imagery from Landsat and Sentinel 2 satellites, along with commercial satellites. Machine-learning and edge detection algorithms will be used to statistically determine the shoreline and map national-scale coastal change.


Acknowledgements: This research is supported in different ways by Northland Regional Council, LINZ, the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge and the University of Auckland. 

Climate change and ‘two waters’ infrastructure in Petone


By Rick Kool


From the Netherlands to Petone…

I’m originally from the Netherlands where a large part of the country is under sea level, so water has always been an important part of my life. I studied my Civil Engineering degree in the southwest delta of the Netherlands, well known for their delta works. During this time I got involved in nature-based solutions and through projects in Southeast Asia learned about the continuously increasing challenges faced due to climate change.

I studied for my Masters in Civil Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, and when researching a MSc thesis project I found the Resilience Challenge, and the extensive research on New Zealand’s coastal hazards. Realizing I was more interested in the application of coastal engineering principles as part of an integrated strategy, especially in the context of climate change, I read about the concept of Dynamic Adaptive Pathway Planning (DAPP). Thanks to the efforts of Dr Judy Lawrence and Dr Rob Bell we made arrangements for me to carry out my thesis project in New Zealand. This provided me with a unique opportunity to combine my technical knowledge relating to climate change adaptation of infrastructure, with a more long term, scenario-based planning perspective.


Two waters infrastructure in Petone, Lower Hutt

The research investigated the retreat of ‘two waters’ infrastructure (wastewater and stormwater) by using a DAPP approach to frame retreat over different sea level rise increments. The study area was Petone in Lower Hutt, where drainage infrastructure is increasingly facing climate change induced hazards due to sea level rise and increased frequency of heavy rainfall events. This raises the issue of how local government can maintain levels of service for the two waters as the impacts of climate change worsen over the coming decades and beyond.

Using a DAPP approach to frame the retreat of two waters we were able to conceptualize how this could be managed spatially across the study area. In order to investigate two water infrastructure exposure in the area and consider possible adaptation options to maintain levels of service, we organized a workshop with various experts.

Water sensitive urban design (WSUD) options were integrated into adaptation portfolios to extend retreat thresholds and create amenity for the community by repurposing the area after retreat is initiated. These WSUD options usually require more space and could therefore be implemented post retreat. This scenario-based, spatially phased out approach to two water infrastructure retreat resulted in a ‘framework’ where the methodology used in this study is outlined for future use to approach retreat of two water infrastructure in a coastal setting.


The study area of Petone, Lower Hutt



Further Steps:

After graduating the plan was to travel in my van around New Zealand. However upon finishing my thesis the COVID situation escalated. Luckily enough I was offered a place to stay in Castlepoint with a friendly local family for the isolation period, and I’m now looking forward to traveling, surfing and experiencing more of this beautiful country.



The research would not have turned out the same way without the support of the stakeholders. Therefore a big thanks to the people at Wellington Water and NIWA, and to my supervisors Judy Lawrence, Rob Bell and Martin Drews and to the Resilience National Science Challenge for supporting the research.


Student Profile: Maddie Brown


Exploring Vegetation Controls on Foredunes And Their Response to Climate Change




A bit about me 

Maddie carrying out fieldwork at St Kilda Beach, Dunedin


Summer for most Australians is usually described as days by the beach, snags on the barbie, and unforgiving sunburns. For me, this is the best way to spend summer, I love being at the beach with the sand between my toes and heading out into the water for a swim. I can safely say that this influenced my love for coastal science.

I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do out of high school, but science was of interest to me and I loved to solve puzzles. I studied Geology at the University of Melbourne and completed an honours year in Paleoclimatology. I also spent a semester abroad at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. During my honours year I was able to participate in a CAPSTAN voyage, an opportunity to spend time on a marine research vessel, the RV Investigator. The time I spent on the ship and the people I met inspired me to continue my studies. I discovered I preferred fieldwork on a beach looking at sand, compared to the countryside looking at rocks, so decided to jump across to geography to better understand the processes that affect our coastlines.

Moving to Dunedin is certainly a lot colder than my home in Melbourne, but it hasn’t deterred me from keeping my water hobbies; life saving, waterpolo, and skiing (frozen water is still water). When I’m not in water or at the beach, I’ll be listening to motion picture soundtracks and will happily spend hours discussing the greatest composers of all time (John Williams and Hans Zimmer).


My project


The aim of my PhD is to discover how foredunes respond to sea level rise, specifically looking at how vegetation cover can affect this process. I aim to provide a conceptual model to then be able to provide recommendations for coastal management and hazard mitigation.

Currently I’m working on creating a map of New Zealand that categorises how dense vegetation is on foredunes and which species is dominate. While doing this I am also locating areas of note that may become fieldwork sites for further experimentation. I plan to undertake experiments in a variety of vegetated foredunes as the dune structure is highly dependent on the species present. I will focus on ammophila arenaria, spinifex sericeus, and ficinia spiralis as they are the most common sand binding species throughout New Zealand foredunes. Each species has varying biological structures, trapping sediment in different ways.

My research fits under the RNC2 Coastal theme to assist the understanding of New Zealand’s coastal change as well providing data to support projections of future shoreline change.


On holiday at the Grand Canyon, USA


Next steps


The expected outcome of my work is to create a database to assist the prediction of coastline change for New Zealand’s future. This will help locate areas of erosion with higher priority compared to those that are in a relatively stable condition. I hope that my research will benefit all those like me who enjoy spending time at the beach, and to make it possible for future generations to do the same.


Student Profile: Ben Collings


Identifying coastal change at the national scale in New Zealand through the application of remote sensing data and techniques




A bit about me 


I’m from the UK and grew up outside a small town called Fordingbridge on the edge of The New Forest, a beautiful national park in southern England not far from the coast. I have always loved the outdoors and outdoor pursuits; surfing, white-water kayaking, and mountain-biking to name a few. I believe that my passion to pursue a life outdoors led to a keen interest in geography while at school and a thirst for travel to explore and enjoy the natural world.

After a few years travelling I returned to the UK to study physical geography at Aberystwyth University, Wales. It was here that I discovered the fascinating discipline of GIS and remote sensing and decided to continue my studies to complete a Masters. I was intrigued by the volumes of remote sensing data available (especially from satellites) that can be leveraged via computer processing to help solve environmental problems at local to global scales. Whilst completing my Master’s thesis I stumbled across an advert for the changing coastlines PhD project with the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. I have always wanted to come to New Zealand. It is regarded as one of the world’s best destinations for white-water kayaking and mountain-biking! This opportunity presented the chance to combine both my passion for the outdoors and my remote sensing skills to contribute to the Resilience National Science Challenge.


My project


Anthropogenic climate change has led to acceleration of sea level rise and increases in the frequency and magnitude of storms. Changes in these boundary conditions will influence coastal environments and associated coastal risk. A robust understanding of coastal change, ideally at the national scale, is fundamental to identify regions and communities exposed to dynamic coastal hazards.

Satellite remote sensing provides data at temporal and spatial resolutions that are appropriate for change analyses of coastal environments at local to global scales. The growth of computer processing power and increased availability of satellite data have led to a plethora of global and regional studies that aim to better understand how coastlines and shorelines are changing around the world. In the case of New Zealand this is complicated by the nature and variability of the coastal setting. Differences between volcanic black sand beaches on the west coast and pristine white sand beaches on the east coast, for instance, present challenges.

The aim of this project is the development of techniques to assess how New Zealand’s coastlines are changing in response to alterations in boundary conditions. To achieve this time-series of satellite remote sensing data and semi-automated image classification/processing techniques will be applied to identify coastal features (e.g. the shoreline or the seaward edge of dune vegetation) and analyse how these are changing through time.

This work will feed into project 1 of the coastal theme of the Resilience Challenge, New Zealand’s changing coastline, with the desired outcome of providing data that indicates hotspots of change throughout New Zealand.



Next steps


My PhD is in its early stages. This includes the investigation of current methods that have leveraged satellite data to observe coastal change in other regions of the world to see how they can be applied to coastal environments in New Zealand. This will ascertain the challenges that must be overcome to develop a framework that works for the variety of coastal environments in New Zealand.

For the final outcomes of the project the development of an automated framework that can indicate coastal change throughout New Zealand would provide instrumental data that can inform effective management strategies to build resilience in vulnerable coastal communities in New Zealand.