Involving citizens in the science of weather

New WMO Citizen Science guidance released


By Dr Marion Tan

November 2021


New Zealand based researchers – including RNC affiliated researchers – play an active role in international projects including the global High Impact Weather (HIWeather) project. Dr Marion Tan (Massey University) led a working group of scientists to develop the HIWeather Citizen Science Guidance Note for Weather, Climate, and Water Projects. The HIWeather Guidance Note intends to help individuals, groups, and agencies to gain interest and capacity to do citizen science. Published in October 2021, the Guidance Note can be accessed through the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Library

The Guidance Note is part of the broader HIWeather project launched in 2016 by WMO and World Weather Research Programme (WWRP). The 10-year research project aims to improve weather-related hazard warnings. Prof David Johnston (Massey University) co-led HIWeather from 2016-2020, and currently Dr Sally Potter (GNS Science) co-leads with Prof Brian Golding of the UK Met Office. 


Prof David Johnston (Massey University) with Prof Qinghong Zhang (HIWeather International Coordination Office, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences), Lisa McLaren (Massey University), Emily Campbell (Massey University) during the HIWeather Workshop in 2018 held in Beijing China.

To achieve the HIWeather project’s aim, HIWeather has five research themes and three cross-cutting flagship projects, one of which is the ‘HIWeather Citizen Science’ Project. The HIWeather Citizen Science Project was designed as a platform for sharing information and tools to help people gain interest and capacity to do citizen science in the weather space. The newly published HIWeather Guidance Note encourages individuals, groups and agencies to consider citizen science and outlines key questions to ask when developing new projects.


Lisa Murray (MetService) at Kaingaroa School on the Chatham Islands, 2021

Citizen contributed data can be used to fill in gaps specially in hard to reach or remoteplaces. Moreover, citizen science can help connect the public with science organisations and build capacities for communities towards their response to high impact weather. For example, the Kaingaroa School in Chatham Island has recently added its own weather station, which provides data to the WMO Global Weather Models in real-time. Citizen contributed data can help improve local weather forecasts thus enabling the community to make safer decisions around fishing and boating activities. Citizen science have the potential to improve HIWeather research significantly.

Aside from the Guidance Note, the HIWeather Citizen Science Project continues its work towards sharing and encouraging citizen science. Current initiatives include a special journal issue on citizen science and the demonstration project series – web stories on successful citizen science projects.


Student Profile: Manomita Das

Enhancing risk communications for collective action

November 2021

I was born and raised in a small railway colony, Chittaranjan, in India. After completing my graduation in Computer Science, I worked for two years in an IT organization. During that time, I also volunteered with different charities and eventually found myself drawn to the humanitarian sector. In 2015, I decided to sincerely pursue my interest in this sector and applied for a Masters in Disaster Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. My Masters journey was enriching. I particularly enjoyed research and fieldwork and sought to build a career in research.

Over the next three years, I worked in different organizations on community resilience, gender and disasters, risk communication, and early warning systems. My research interest developed in disaster and risk communication. When I came to know of Resilience to Nature’s Challenges PhD scholarship on ‘Disaster Communication for Collective Action’, I immediately applied. My application was successful! Now I am a first-year PhD student at Massey University working under Dr. Julia Becker and Dr. Emma Hudson Doyle.

In my spare time, I like traveling, trekking, and spending time with my family and friends.

My project

New Zealand is vulnerable to multiple natural hazards like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and so on. The damages caused by these hazards can be largely reduced with appropriate preparedness and mitigation efforts taken at both individual and community levels. My research focuses on the community level and sits within the Resilience in Practice programme of Resilience to Nature’s Challenges. The study aims to understand how risk communication can encourage collective action for community-level preparedness and mitigation. The broad research questions are: a) to understand why some people are more likely than others to come together as collectives, and engage in community-level preparedness and mitigation efforts; and b) to examine how communication can be used to motivate more people to be a part of these collectives and address hazard risks in the community. 

The first step in my research is to explore the existing collective action processes in New Zealand. To do this, I am currently conducting in-depth interviews with people involved in community-level preparedness and mitigation collectives across the country. I am trying to identify what motivates people to collectively address hazard risks, what facilitates the formation and sustenance of these collectives, and how risk communication is utilized in the process. 


Manomita hiking in Nichnai, India

Next steps

The next step will be to develop a theoretical model based on my findings and existing literature. Then, I intend to design a series of surveys to empirically test the model, which is expected to be a significant outcome of this research. 

The findings of this study will help in building new knowledge on community resilience in New Zealand. As most of the challenges we face today, including disasters and climate change, are community-wide problems, they cannot be reduced by individual initiatives alone and require community members to collectively address them. The findings of this study will help us understand how communities can be motivated to be the driving forces of change. The research outcome will also help in generating recommendations to make communication more effective and will inform fields beyond disasters, such as climate change adaptation, environmental action, and health behaviours.


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:
Partnership as the pathway to impact


September 2021

We rely on collaborations with our partners and stakeholders in order to achieve our mission, including Challenge parties, other NSCs and aligned research organisations, iwi and hapū, government agencies, and councils.

Growing Kai Under Increasing Dry was a collaboration between RNC, Deep South and Our Land & Water NSCs to develop a ‘rolling symposium’ on drought and the primary sector. The series of three webinars and an in-person symposium focused on how the primary sector can build resilience to increasingly frequent and severe drought. We used the webinars to share NSC research, while the symposium allowed wide-ranging stakeholder discussions, particularly in relation to policy development by central government. A summary report is close to completion, which identifies responsibilities of the relevant sectors, and next steps.


Delegates at our Growing Kai under Increasing Dry symposium at Te Papa. Photo copyright Mark Coote.

We received really positive feedback from key stakeholders, particularly on way they were able to access expertise from the NSCs through a ‘single front door’.

RNC is part of a collaborative project supporting the deployment of seismometers in schools around the motu, alongside Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University, University of Canterbury, GNS Science, ECLIPSE, QuakeCoRE, and East Coast LAB. The project aims to increase knowledge about earthquakes, tsunami and protective behaviours, encourage interest in the role of science in understanding the environment, and show pathways to future education and careers.

Under Phase 1, we co-funded a research project in partnership with QuakeCoRE to develop Māori-centred seismic hazard education activities for kura. Led by Lucy Kaiser (GNS Science, Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research) the activities are designed to encourage tuākana-tēina mentorship and increase the knowledge and preparedness of tamariki in the Hawke’s Bay and Wellington regions. Lucy was awarded the GNS Science Early Career Researcher Award at the 2020 Science NZ Awards in recognition of this mahi.

The Alpine Fault earthquake preparedness and response planning programme AF8 is a cross-boundary organisation funded by six South Island CDEM groups, QuakeCoRE and EQC, with science support from RNC’s Rural programme.

In autumn 2021 the team rolled out the AF8 Roadshow, sharing science with local communities from Invercargill to Golden Bay. Over 11 weeks, scientists including our research leaders Assoc Prof Caroline Orchiston, Assoc Prof Liam Wotherspoon, and Prof Tom Wilson visited 16 schools and held 16 public science talks. The events attracted a total audience of approximately 3,000 people. The events sparked new conversations about what can be done to boost local earthquake resilience, and the team received plenty of positive feedback from the public. 

The RNC Volcano programme is deepening existing partnerships and building new relationships in Taranaki and the Central North Island. Programme co-leader Prof Jon Procter is the new Chair of the Taranaki Seismic and Volcano Advisory Group (TSVAG) and is working closely with GeoNet to improve the volcanic monitoring network for Taranaki maunga. TSVAG is a critically important group for the provision of volcano science advice for Taranaki. RNC researchers are constantly transferring new methods and models into practice in partnership with Taranaki stakeholders as evidenced by two hazard assessments supplied to the Department of Conservation.[1] [2] The team is also working closely with Taranaki CDEM staff on volcano crisis contingency planning and risk communication. In particular, researchers have supplied the CDEM group with data and hazard GIS layers to develop a series of public hazard maps and infographics.

Jon Procter also leads a project in our Whanake Te Kura i Tawhiti Nui programme, working with Ngāti Rangi to identify wai (waters) associated with Matua te Mana (Maunga Ruapehu). Through wānanga, researchers and mana whenua aim to share knowledge about volcanic waters and the mauri, wairua and life-supporting capacity of these features.

In December 2020 researchers took part in a hīkoi with Ngāti Rangi to observe their environmental and volcano monitoring programme. At that time Matua te Mana was in a period of heightened unrest. Iwi-led environmental monitoring based on traditional sites picked up the changes in the Crater Lake that GNS Science had also detected, indicating an eruption. The project seeks to develop a joint mātauranga Māori / science-based water-monitoring framework of indicators that relate to volcanic processes and changing behaviours for Matua te Mana.


[1] Mead, S., Procter, J., Bebbington, M., 2020: Volcanic hazards to Taranaki Crossing from Taranaki and Fanthams Peak. Commissioned by the Department of Conservation. Volcanic Risk Solutions, Massey University, 46 p. 


[2] Procter, J.N., Bebbington, M., Mead, S., 2018: Pouakai Crossing volcanic hazard assessment. A report commissioned by the Department of Conservation. Volcanic Risk Solutions, Massey University, 32 p.

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. 


Don’t just think about earthquakes, prepare for them



Findings from Dr Lauren Vinnell’s PhD research will help fine-tune the kind of advice communities need to better prepare for earthquakes and other natural hazards


For her PhD in Psychology, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr Lauren Vinnell studied how the thoughts and beliefs people hold about preparing for natural hazards influences their behaviour.

She also identified potential new strategies to encourage improved household preparation.


Photo credit: Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington

Lauren, who graduated in December, has always been fascinated by natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

“But I didn’t see a way to include my interest in people’s behaviour until my third undergrad year during a lecture about how we can use our understanding of psychology to improve outcomes during and after earthquakes.

She undertook honours and a Master’s degree, focusing on public support for earthquake-strengthening legislation.  Then she was awarded a PhD scholarship by Kia manawaroa – Ngā Ākina o Te Ao Tūroa/Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge to explore social influences on people’s decisions to prepare for natural hazards.

Lauren says there were a few revelations on the way.

“It was a bit surprising how many people said they hadn’t done a certain action because they hadn’t thought about it.

“What was even more surprising was that we didn’t find that thinking about preparing related with actually preparing. This suggests there are specific actions which people don’t know they can or should do, but that generally thinking about preparing isn’t the problem.”

Lauren says preparedness among Wellingtonians for dealing with natural hazards is fairly low, despite high knowledge of the risk.

Participants in the first two studies were mainly recruited using social media, although samples using this method tended to favour younger people and over-represented women and Pākehā, she says.

The third study involved people at randomly selected addresses to get a sample that better reflected the Wellington population. The fourth study, to evaluate the ShakeOut earthquake drill run by the National Emergency Management Agency, involved participants from across the country.

Lauren found providing targeted information for communities to use in their preparedness is the key.

“Our findings offer ideas to improve the way we talk to communities to encourage them to prepare, really focusing on the types of thoughts and beliefs they have which hold them back.”

Lauren also experimented with people’s understanding of terminology.

“In study two, half of the participants were asked about ‘natural hazards’ and the other were asked about ‘natural disasters’. There is a strong argument in the field that the term ‘natural disaster’ is inappropriate, as disasters are the result of human decisions which lead to exposure to risk.

“Very little research has explored how the use of the term might influence behaviour. Our participants largely didn’t differ in terms of how they think about natural hazards versus natural disasters, but they did differ in terms of how their thinking related to their intentions to prepare.”

She says the findings suggest  that talking about disasters implies that something terrible has already happened and therefore can’t really be prepared for, whereas hazards refer to the potential for something bad to happen, which can therefore be prevented.

“But we need to do further work to back up this suggestion.This finding also emphasises the importance of considering the words we use when talking to communities.”

An evaluation of the ShakeOut earthquake drill showed those who participated have better knowledge of the correct protective actions to take during shaking and that these people are more likely to have used those actions during actual earthquakes, Lauren says.

“Given the high proportion of injuries during earthquakes in Aotearoa which could be prevented by people knowing and using ‘Drop, cover, and hold’, this support for the effectiveness of ShakeOut is encouraging.”

Lauren has now begun a postdoctoral fellowship at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University, investigating how people respond and behave when asked to consider multiple hazards at once.

This article was originally published on the Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington website and is reproduced here with permission.