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. 

 

Impact case study:
Responsive science for national emergencies

 


September 2021

Once again, 2020-21 provided numerous opportunities for our researchers to provide high quality analysis, advice and public commentary as natural hazard events unfolded, and in the aftermath.

On the morning of September 18th, winds picked up in Auckland and an extreme gust measured at over 120km/hr blew two trucks sideways on the Harbour Bridge, seriously damaging the bridge structure. Several lanes were closed for weeks while repairs took place, leading to lengthy traffic delays and flow-on economic impacts.

Research carried out by NIWA as part of our Weather & Wildfire programme combined a computer model of wind patterns in the harbour with a three-dimensional model of the bridge and found the bridge itself causes the wind to speed up.

“The effects here are very localised and it is really important to understand these better because of the risk high wind events have to a range of assets such as transport and distribution networks and the potential knock-on to economic impacts,” said our Weather & Wildfire programme co-leader Dr Richard Turner in a media story. The research has demonstrated a potential tool that could be a component of a warning system that could halt traffic on the aging bridge and prevent a repeat incident. 

March 5 sequence. Credit: GNS Science

On the morning of March 5th, a M7.2 earthquake struck off the East Coast of the North Island, and an M7.4 and M8.1 followed soon after in the Kermadecs. The quakes triggered a tsunami alert for large parts of Aotearoa New Zealand. Our Earthquake & Tsunami programme co-leader Dr Bill Fry (GNS Science) provided science advice to the National Crisis Management Centre and explained the situation at the press conference fronted by Minister Allan.

The Earthquake & Tsunami team’s synthetic seismicity catalogue had previously been used to test the Tsunami Early Warning (TEW) system being developed under the aligned ‘Rapid Characterisation of Earthquakes and Tsunami’ Endeavour programme, also led by Bill Fry. On March 5th, Bill and other team members used a prototype of the TEW system to inform decision making during the response. Testing using the RNC synthetic catalogue gave the team confidence that the prototype TEW system was appropriate to base scientific advice on. This led to a much quicker input of advice supporting tsunami warning cancellation.

The NEMA post-event report recognised Fry’s contribution, stating: “There was recognised value in having a GNS Science representative (Fry) contributing to the media stand-ups to provide scientific context and advice, and to support the preparation of the Minister for Emergency Management and Acting Director CDEM.” The timing of the March 5 events also created significant interest in our scheduled webinar on the synthetic earthquake catalogue the following week.

Autumn 2021 saw record-breaking drought in parts of the country after an exceptionally dry 2020. Dr Nick Cradock-Henry of Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, co-leader of our Resilience in Practice programme, has worked extensively with rural communities, agri-business groups and local and central government on natural hazard responses and resilience solutions. Focusing on climate change and drought, Nick’s research in North Canterbury and Marlborough has highlighted the need for applied resilience solutions, including improved monitoring and evaluation, climate services and targeted support. Both in the media, and in a well-attended webinar as part of our rolling symposium on drought (see Impact Case Study: Partnership as the Pathway to Impact), Nick provided informed commentary on the ways that drought can exacerbate existing social and economic vulnerabilities, and evidence-led solutions for drought-affected communities. 

On 28 May MetService issued a red alert for the Canterbury region forecasting 200-300 millimeters which they warned could cause significant flooding. An extreme rainfall event followed, causing extensive, damaging flooding in the South Canterbury area, and resulting in the declaration of a region-wide state of emergency from 30 May to 10 June.

Our researchers provided expert commentary on the floods. In particular, Asaad Shamseldin of The University of Auckland and our Built Environment team provided useful expertise on ‘atmospheric rivers’, how this phenomenon contributed to the devastating impacts in South Canterbury, and the increased frequency of atmospheric river events in a changing climate.

 

Damage from May 2021 flooding. Credit: Timaru District Council

There has also been public discussion on the description of such events as ‘a 1 in 100 year flood’ or similar, given underlying climate conditions are changing so rapidly. Prof Ilan Noy of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and our Multihazard Risk team, was on the ground in Westport during the devastating floods in July and critiqued this terminology and the false impression it creates regarding likely recurrence.

 

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

 

Impact case study:

Model and tools for decision-making

 


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

 

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

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

Updated hazard map for Whakapapa skifield. Credit: GNS Science

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Impact case study:
Responsive science for national emergencies

 


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

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

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

 

Road damage in Fiordland. Credit: Milford Road Alliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multihazard Risk Model

PhD scholarships available 

 

 

12/12/2019

We have six PhD scholarships available, under the Multihazard Risk theme. The successful applicants will be helping deliver world-leading multi-hazard risk and impact modelling, to support better decision making and planning.

The positions are based at different New Zealand universities, depending on topic and supervisor.

There is no closing date for applications, but we hope to have the positions filled within three months. 

Contact details for each position can be found in the position descriptions linked below.