Coastal theme


Assoc Prof Mark Dickson

Programme Co-Leader

The University of Auckland


Dr Rob Bell


Programme Co-Leader




To resolve physical coastal hazard questions faced by communities around Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Incremental sea-level rise and changing wave patterns will fundamentally re-shape our coastlines and re-define New Zealand’s future coastal hazard and risk. We will improve the knowledge of coastal risk to the combined effect of sea level rise, flooding, and erosion around New Zealand to underpin a national resilience coastal strategy.

Working closely with end-users, we will identify hotspots of coastal risk (current and future) and provide integrated scientific datasets to underpin robust decision-making. From this, we will develop a new suite of technical guidelines to assist management agencies to cope with coastal adaptation. Through timely assessment of New Zealand’s coastal erosion and flooding/inundation risk, along with evaluation of the most useful mitigation options, this theme will support better targeting of adaptation plans, reducing the costs of hazard exposure.

Three complementary research projects underlie the Coastal theme.




New Zealand’s Changing Coastline:

Project leaders: Assoc Prof Mark Dickson and Dr Murray Ford (The University of Auckland)

We aim to to develop a national framework for assessing New Zealand’s changing coastline that will deliver an understanding of slow onset coastal change and data to underpin modelling of ongoing impacts. A national-scale approach is proposed, comprising two sub-projects:

  • Smart coastal change detection
  • Understanding New Zealand’s coastal change and supporting projections of future shoreline change 


Coastal Flooding:

Project leaders: Prof Karin Bryan (University of Waikato) and Dr Scott Stephens (NIWA)

Our overarching aim is to improve understanding of current and future coastal flooding hazard and risk, and its implications for decision making, in the complex environments that characterise New Zealand’s coast through three sub-projects:

  • Estuarine flooding predictors
  • Influence of human–climate interactions on coastal flood hazard and risk
  • Compound risk from multiple coastal hazards


Coastal Adaptation:

Project leaders: Dr Judy Lawrence (Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Rob Bell (NIWA)

The overarching aim of this project is to provide consistent, proactive and implementable knowledge to address the coastal adaptation challenge. New tools will be developed for national guidance, risk and vulnerability assessments, land-use planning and codes of practice for decision making in different coastal environments around New Zealand. They will be ‘fit for purpose’, aligned to the changing risk regimes for implementation at different levels of governance, and have resilience outcomes (e.g. community cohesion, health and safety, and infrastructure needs) that achieve more effective and sustainable decision making. This project consists of four sub-projects:

  • Improved understanding of coastal risk and vulnerability exposure
  • A vulnerability assessment framework that ‘fits’ the changing coastal risk
  • Enabling proactive implementation of coastal adaptation
  • Versatile adaptation of coastal infrastructure

Aotearoa New Zealand’s changing coastline

A research team have been busy mapping Northland’s shorelines using historical imagery to explore patterns of coastal change. The project is a partnership with Northland Regional Council, and is the first step in a project that aims to map and understand coastal change over the past 70 years throughout the entire country.

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Student profile: Maddie Brown

Originally from Australia, Maddie Brown is starting her PhD at the University of Otago through our Coastal programme, and is getting used to a colder climate in Dunedin!  Maddie’s thesis explores how vegetation controls on coastal dunes affect their response to sea level rise. 



Retreat of ‘Two waters’ infrastructure in Petone

As part of a Masters thesis through the Technical University of Denmark, Rick Kool applied the Dynamic Adaptive Pathways Planning approach to a case study in Petone, Lower Hutt, where ‘two water’ infrastructure (stormwater and wastewater) is increasingly facing climate change induced hazards.

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Student profile: Ben Collings

Ben is a passionate outdoor enthusiast from the UK, and recently started his PhD with Pillar One of our Coastal theme, investigating satellite remote sensing techniques to monitor changing coastlines, and provide data to indicates hotspots of change throughout Aotearoa.

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Q&A with Dr Rob Bell

We talk to Dr Rob Bell of NIWA who co-leads our Coastal Theme. With a career spanning nearly 40 years working on coastal management, coastal hazards and climate change, many of you will be familiar with Rob’s work. We started by asking Rob about his recent Lifetime Achievement Award.

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