Impact case study:
Science for resilience policy and practice


September 2021

The 2020-21 year has seen significant developments in the policy frameworks covering climate adaptation and managed retreat.

In 2019-20 we reported on the publication of 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, primarily funded under our Phase 1 ‘Living at the Edge’ programme. The report filled an important research gap by addressing how the RMA can be used to deal with people’s existing use ‘rights’ when planning and carrying out risk reduction activities. It also identified where the RMA falls short, and its recommendations included legislative change to enable at-risk communities to retreat from risk in a timely way.  

In June 2020, some of the report’s key recommendations were picked up in New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand, the report of the Resource Management Review Panel. In February 2021, the Government announced it would repeal the RMA and enact new legislation based on the recommendations of the Panel. The three proposed acts include a Climate Adaptation Act to address the complex issues associated with managed retreat.

Attention now turns to what the legislation should look like. In January 2021 Dr Christina Hanna and Prof Iain White of the University of Waikato and our ‘De-risking Resilience’ workstream published timely research on managed retreat governance, Managed retreats by whom and how? Identifying and delineating governance modalities. The authors describe the spectrum of governance approaches to managed retreat, from state-led and funded retreat at one end, through to autonomous, unmanaged retreat left to the private sector and local communities. The researchers recommend co-operative managed retreat strategies in which “people and communities are embedded in the retreat strategy design, decision-making and delivery.” The researchers conclude that a co-operative approach is most likely to “avoid or reduce risks in ways that seek to share power and promote justice and equity.” 

A pioneering example of collaborative community engagement is the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy 2120 in Hawke’s Bay, which also trialled Dynamic Adaptive Pathways Planning (DAPP) to assess options and pathways with researchers from Phase 1 of the Resilience Challenge. DAPP underpins the research in our Phase 2 ‘Enabling Coastal Adaptation’ workstream, led by Dr Judy Lawrence of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. This mahi builds on learnings from the implementation of the Hawkes’s Bay DAPP trial.

Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay. Credit: Margaret Low, GNS Science.

Dr Lawrence and her team are investigating how DAPP can be implemented under current legislation, to avoid further lock-in of developments at risk of sea-level rise before new legislation is in place. This also includes targeted guidance on how to use economic assessment tools that support the long-term view required by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, and a monitoring framework and tools to alert decision makers to impending risks using signals and triggers.

The RNC directorate has been instrumental in connecting researchers with government agencies progressing work on natural hazard adaptation. Researchers from our Resilience in Practice Programme have been part of this dialogue, which enables new knowledge and analysis on this complex topic to be available to officials scoping new legislation. Planning is underway for a series of co-developed ‘science to policy’ workshops.

Researchers are also engaging with other central government agencies on coastal adaptation. Dr Judy Lawrence and Dr Rob Bell of Bell Adapt have shared frameworks and concepts relating to adaptation planning under uncertainty, as external inputs to the Climate Change Adaptation Agenda project that is being integrated throughout all sections of Waka Kotahi NZTA. Adaptation of infrastructure including roading is a key part of our coastal adaptation mahi in Phase 2.

In our Phase 1 Mātauranga Maōri programme, Assoc Prof Christine Kenney of Massey University led our ‘Whakaoranga Marae’ project which developed a framework for developing natural hazard resilience for marae communities. Whakaoranga refers to the rescue, recovery and restoration of sustainable wellbeing, achieved through Māori values, knowledge and tikanga. The National Disaster Resilience Strategy incorporates the process of whakaoranga as part of its national objectives. Auckland Council has been adapting and extending the framework and rolling it out to all the marae in the greater Auckland area. The process includes:  

  • Raising awareness of the range of hazards that marae may be exposed to and helping identify possible impacts
  • Sharing Auckland Emergency Management kaupapa on what is required to build disaster resilience
  • Mapping out the strengths and assets of marae
  • Supporting marae to develop a plan for additional work required to build disaster resilience.

This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2020-21 annual reporting. 


Impact case study:
Models and tools for decision making


September 2021

A key part of our mission to accelerate natural hazard resilience is development of new models and tools to quantify natural hazards and their associated social and economic impacts in more detail, allowing for better assessments of resilience options. 

As highlighted in our 2019-20 reporting, our Earthquake & Tsunami team have successfully developed a prototype of their ground-breaking synthetic earthquake catalogue.

The team starts with a 3D model of Aotearoa New Zealand and its faults, then uses computer calculations to simulate forces that cause earthquakes. When the forces acting on a fault overcome its strength, this triggers a ‘synthetic’ earthquake. Researchers can then see how the synthetic earthquake redistributes stress onto nearby faults and leads to subsequent earthquakes.

As well as feeding into analysis and advice during the March 5 tsunami response (see Impact Case Study: Responsive Science for National Emergencies), the catalogue has been used in numerous other applications. For example, the team used an M8.5 Hikurangi subduction zone earthquake from the synthetic catalogue to test the ability of an instrumented submarine telecommunications cable running from Napier to Chatham Islands to deliver tsunami early warnings for large Hikurangi earthquakes. This work was done in collaboration with a working group of the Joint Task Force on Smart Cable Systems. Bill Fry has provided advice to MBIE and EQC on the impacts of the proposed cable.

Pillar One of our Coastal programme involves creating a national coastal-change database to record a sequence of detailed snapshots of Aotearoa New Zealand’s entire 15,000 km coastline. The objective is to identify how fast our coastline is changing, and which areas are most prone to erosion. The work is complete for Northland and the database is being used to inform coastal spatial planning in the region.

While analysing Southland’s coastline, the University of Auckland’s Dr Murray Ford and his team identified a rapid rate of change adjacent to the Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter toxic waste storage facility. Dr Ford told RNZ: “Over the last decade or so the behaviour of that beach has changed. We’ve seen 30 to 40 metres of erosion since about the year 2010.” The sea is now just 75m from the concrete pad storing 180,000 tonnes of waste laced with cyanide and toxic fluoride.

In the course of this research, Murray and his team have been able to raise awareness of a previously unknown and urgent problem.

Credit: Graham Hancox, GNS Science

In December 2019, the Wellington Lifelines Group delivered their Regional Resilience Project report, identifying 25 key infrastructure projects needed to boost resilience in the region over the next two decades, at a cost of $5.3b. The report relied heavily on economic modelling using MERIT (Measuring the Economics of Resilient Infrastructure Tool), a tool developed under Phase 1 of the Resilience Challenge and a key part of our Phase 2 Multihazard Risk programme.

The Wellington Regional Resilience Project was Highly Commended in the Collaboration category of 2021 Emergency Management Awards. Judges recognised ‘a true collaboration of Central Government, Local Government and all of the Wellington Lifelines Group members with private enterprise to deliver what has been recognised as a world-leading approach to infrastructure resilience analysis.’

The MERIT team has also been recognised in the 2021 Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize. The team placed second in the Pandemics category for their work on ‘Accounting for business adaptations in economic disruption models’.

The capacity for businesses to adapt in the face of adversity has been demonstrated through the Covid-19 pandemic, and the inadequacy of economic modelling tools to account for this adaptation is shown in economic losses and business closures significantly lower than predicted. The team’s research is the first of its kind to build an empirically-derived model of business impact and recovery following disruption. The research has important implications for the insurance sector, because for insurers to maximise their capacity to support organisations through crises, risk models need to account better for the capacity of businesses to adapt. 

MERIT analysis was also central to a technical report prepared by our Multihazard Risk team for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, assessing water demand under climate change. The work uses the Dynamic Economic Model (a component of MERIT), various greenhouse gas trajectory scenarios, and independently developed water accounts to project water demand for the region. The work represents the first attempt undertaken in Aotearoa to assess future water requirements under climate change.


This case study was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of our 2020-21 annual reporting. 


Q & A with Dr Shari Gallop


Q. Tēnā koe Shari. Can you tell us a bit about your iwi and hapū connections?

I whakapapa to Ngāti Maru (Hauraki) through my dad and Te Rarawa in Northland through my mum. I also have Danish and English ancestry. Since I moved back to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2018 I have connected with my iwi and it has been really awesome learning about where I come from, and figuring out my place in the world and as a Māori scientist. It has been really rewarding sharing this journey with my supportive husband and our kids have been part of it too, and it makes me feel good knowing they won’t have to search like I did.

Shari on waka hourua Te Matau a Māui as part of a Te Ahu o Rehua wānanga in March 2021.

Q. How did you get into coastal science? Were you always fascinated by the sea?

I grew up in Kawerau and Manawahe in the Bay of Plenty, and had a very outdoorsy childhood. I was always drawn to water – rivers, lakes, and the ocean. As a child some of my best memories are at the beach with my grandparents and having whānau-days at Lake Rotoma.  At school I got into science and really enjoyed it so I started a science degree at the University of Waikato. I really enjoyed marine science then surprised myself by enjoying it so much that I wanted to carry on studying with a Masters degree and later a PhD. It wasn’t a career path I thought I would take!

Q. What did you focus on for your PhD research?

I was lucky to do my PhD in Perth at the University of Western Australian with Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi. I focused on how coastal reefs affect beach stability, erosion and recovery at a range of scales, including storm events through to decades. Many coastal engineering structures attempt to mimic the coastal protection that can be offered by natural features such as reefs. One of the interesting things we found was that sometimes reefs can actually increase beach erosion, rather than reducing it, such as when they constrain current jets between the shoreline and the reef that can quickly move sand eroded from the beach along the shore.

Q. Congratulations on your recent appointment to co-leader of the Resilience Challenge Coastal programme. You’re also very involved in the programme’s Coastal Flooding project. Could you briefly summarise the objectives of the programme for us?

Shari getting ready to deploy an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler during PhD field work in Perth.

Thank you! I am grateful for this opportunity to step up into this leadership role and work with our amazing team. In the Coastal programme we are looking to solve coastal hazard questions that communities around Aotearoa New Zealand are facing. We have three main projects (pillars): Pillar One focuses on developing a national framework to consistently assess the changes to the coastline around Aotearoa New Zealand which will help make better predictions for the future. Pillar Two is about improving our understanding of coastal flooding, including developing better ways to predict flooding in our estuaries and accounting for human actions, and how to predict risk when you have many different coastal hazards coming together. Pillar Three is around coastal adaptation, including developing new tools to assist decision-making that accounts for uncertainties, and is sustainable.

Q. You’re based at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus, focused on researching coastal dynamics, hazards and estuaries. Why is understanding estuaries so critical in building resilience to climate change?

Estuaries are relatively shallow bodies of water found where rivers meets the sea, and occur on coasts all around the world. There are more than 300 in Aotearoa New Zealand including around our major cities such as Auckland and Christchurch. They are hugely important for many reasons, including because they provide unique ecosystems that provide us with resources such as food. In terms of our climate, estuaries and their wetlands are hugely important for capturing carbon from the atmosphere (‘blue carbon’) particularly mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass that are found in estuaries. Estuaries also play an important role in aquaculture industry to feed our expanding population.

Q. In 2020 you were awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science fellowship for New Zealand. What does this recognition mean to you?

This fellowship was a great opportunity to share my research with a wide audience, and enable a conversation about climate change; particularly about the importance of our coastal and marine environments and how we all have responsibility to take care of it. Personally, it has also been an exciting journey working with L’Oréal and building my networks and capability in science communication.

Credit: L’Oreal

Q. What are your aspirations as an emerging Māori researcher in the coastal science space?

It is a really exciting time to be learning how to work in this space, I think we are currently in a big shift in bridging western science with Te Ao Māori (Māori world view). My training has been largely as a western scientist and I am really enjoying connecting to my whakapapa, and being in spaces where I can grow in my mātauranga Māori. I am newly on the steering committee of Te Ahu o Rehua: A Network for Cross Cultural Ocean Knowledge and have found this network invaluable to learn how to be Māori in science, and also a space to contribute to helping smooth the path for students and build my capacity to support the next generation of scientists.


Q&A with Akuhata Bailey-Winiata

Mapping coastal marae and urupā

April 2021


Akuhata onboard the waka houora Te Mātau a Māui in Napier, 2021

Tēnā koe Akuhata. Can you tell us about your iwi affiliations?

Yes, my iwi affiliations are Ngāti Whakaue, Tūhourangi, Ngāti Tutetawha, and Nāti Tawhaki.

What motivated you to pursue your current research on climate threats to coastal marae and urupā?

At the end of 2019 I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Earth Science with a minor in Geography at the University of Waikato. Then I started a summer scholarship at our Tauranga campus funded through the Resilience Challenge and supervised by Prof Karin Bryan, Dr Shari Gallop and Dr Scott Stephens (NIWA). We used GIS (geographic information system) to map the proximity of marae to the coast and rivers and started looking at their elevation, distance to the coast and slope. I realised the impact that this research could have for my people and my country. From there I was hooked, and I got the opportunity to start my masters which has brought me to where I am now.

Could you briefly summarise the objectives of your research?

The overall objective is to understand the exposure of coastal marae and urupā to a rise in sea level. We will achieve this by first understanding the characteristics of these coastal marae and urupā such as elevation and distance to the coast. As well as using NIWA coastal flood maps to categorise which coastal marae or urupā may be inundated at increments of sea level rise. Following this, we focus on classifying the coastal geomorphology of these coastal marae and urupā which will be critical to understand how the coast will respond to a rise in sea level. Lastly we want to start exploring what is the way forward and what is next to address this issue in the best way for Māori.

What have you found so far?

191 marae around Aotearoa New Zealand are within 1 km of the coast and 41 Bay of Plenty urupā are known to be within 1 km of the coast. Of these 191 coastal marae, 30% are situated below 10 m above sea level. Of the 41 coastal urupā we looked at, 40% are situated below 10 m above mean sea level. We have also conducted a geomorphic analysis of coastal marae and urupā because different types of coasts will have very different responses and management requirements. We found that the most common type of coast around marae is shallow drowned valleys (such as Tauranga harbour) with 38% of coastal marae having this geomorphology. Followed by coastal embayments (such as hot water beach) with 21% of coastal marae having this geomorphology.


Field sampling in the little Waihī estuary

What aspects of your research have been most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of this research is engagement. This is because marae and urupā are such important historical and cultural sites to Māori and anything that threatens their safety is an emotive issue.

What do you hope will come out of your research that will have real world impact for iwi and hapū?

The outputs from this research will be the first baseline investigation which seeks to understand the exposure of coastal marae and urupā to a rise in sea level. I hope that this data can be used in the future by coastal marae, hapū and iwi to make informed and relevant decisions to help protect and preserve these sites of significance for future generations.

What specific mitigation strategies can you foresee that will help safeguard affected marae and urupā?

This is the hardest question that I am faced with when talking with coastal communities, so what? What do we do? And when do we do it? Potential solutions to safeguard marae and urupā from coastal flooding and erosion can be complex and expensive, and dependent on the coastal environment of these coastal marae and urupā. Hence creating a solution is going to need to incorporate these factors and more.


Atop a cliff looking down at a shoreplatform at Rēkohu (Chatham Islands), 2019

What are your future research aspirations?

I am planning to continue my research with a PhD, looking at the potential solutions for coastal marae, urupā and communities to combat sea level rise and potentially how to provide relevant and digestible information to make it easier to make informed, collective decisions to protect and preserve coastal marae and urupā.



Student Profile: Ben Jones

Investigating coastal archaeological vulnerability in Aotearoa


April 2021


Tēna koutou katoa

Ko Crocodile te awa

E hono ana ahau ki Royal Oak Tāmaki Makaurau

Ko Ben Jones tōku ingoa

He Kairangahau ahau ki te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau

He mihi nui, he mihi aroha!


I was born in South Africa in a small rural community. At the age of 15 I came to Aotearoa and made Auckland home. As an immigrant you attempt to learn everything you can, every bit of slang, idiosyncrasy and the finer points of ‘yeah nah, nah yeah’.

I formed a connection with Aotearoa through its history. Undertaking my undergraduate and Masters research at the University of Auckland enabled me to dig deeper into Aotearoa’s past. Stumbling into archaeology unpacked the scope and complexity of the human past, especially the coastal heritage of Pacific Islands. For my Masters I investigated how rice agriculturists impacted an intensive pre-contact agricultural system in Hawai’i. I was hired as a GIS technician job based on the techniques I developed using applications of GIS and LiDAR during my Masters. My role in the project was to digitise and service online all the maps produced by the Crown. (over 20,000 maps, 5000 of them geo-referenced). Cataloguing the cartographic history of Aotearoa yielded a knowledge base useful for my PhD research and wider public use.

For the past 5 and a half years I have been working as a professional archaeologist in Aotearoa and in Australia. The takeaway from this role for me was the engagement with iwi and hapū who have an ancestral connection to the archaeology I have investigated. The best encapsulation of this is the proverb ‘Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua: ‘I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past’. Iwi, hapū and local communities are faced with potentially losing these places due to sea level rise driven by climate change.


My project

My PhD project stems from the Coastal research programme within the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges (RNC) National Science Challenge | Kia manawaroa – Ngā Ākina o Te Ao Tūroa. Thanks to my great supervisory team Mark Dickson, Emma Ryan, Murray Ford and Dan Hikuroa. The overall aim of the RNC Coastal programme is to resolve physical coastal hazard questions faced by communities around Aotearoa. Incremental sea-level rise (SLR) and changing wave patterns will fundamentally reshape our coastlines and re-define Aotearoa’s future coastal hazards. One of the coastal assets at risk is cultural heritage, particularly archaeological sites related to Māori occupation. Many of these sites are located close to coastlines and are vulnerable to coastal hazards exacerbated by SLR. Factors of particular significance include large tidal ranges and storm surges especially in shallow harbours, river mouths and estuaries. Coastal erosion is a key threat to the preservation of archaeological sites, either exposing sites to future destruction and/or destroying exposed sites. 37.3% of archaeological sites recorded are within 500m of the coast. Further research to investigate the vulnerability of coastal archaeological sites is needed, in order to understand what that percentage means at different national, regional and local geographic scales. Understanding the impact and the scale of the problem is important, both from a scientific and cultural perspective, because these sites hold evidence of Aotearoa’s tangible and intangible history.


Figure 1: What coastal archaeology in Aotearoa is at risk?

Figure 2: LiDAR of Ngunguru sourced from Northland Regional Council. The barrier contains numerous significant archaeological sites related to Māori settlement.

My PhD focuses on understanding coastal change at selected sites within Aotearoa over the past 1000 years and considering how future SLR will impact coastal archaeological sites. An interdisciplinary study where a three-pronged approach will adopt techniques from the disciplines of Mātauranga Māori, archaeology, and geomorphology. Successfully achieving this provides a range of exciting prospects. For example, what the distribution of archaeology means for understanding coastal change, what archaeology is at risk from SLR and how pūrakau (myths) link to the broader understanding of coastal change. The challenge, then, is to meaningfully design a research programme that incorporates the methods of Mātauranga Māori, archaeology and coastal geomorphology.


Next steps

I hope my research will have two impacts. The first is nuanced and sensitive collaboration with the iwi and hapū related to my case study area Ngunguru, in Northland. I have started engagement with Te Waiariki and aim to refine the research by examining and re-examining the research with their input from the start.

My second aim is to increase awareness of the threat posed to archaeological sites and that it will inform effective adaptive climate change policy. I have been invited to and actively involved in a working group with the mission task to provide a national level of guidance and advocacy to address the effects of climate change facing Aotearoa’s cultural heritage. Hopefully, by engaging with policy makers and government officials during the early stages of my PhD it will enable effective communication of the threats posed to archaeological sites.


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.