Posted on September 14, 2022
A $13 million research project, led by Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington, hopes to predict and better understand the impacts of rising sea levels on coastal communities in Aotearoa.
A new online tool to show sea-level projections along the country’s coastline will be created as part of the project – Te Ao Hurihuri: Te Ao Hou–Our Changing Coast.
The projections would be done by 100 metre spacings, making risk assessment possible at the scale of individual houses and buildings, co-leader Professor Tim Naish said.
“We know the sea around Aotearoa is rising but we don’t yet know enough about how coastal regions will be affected to ensure our adaptation measures will be effective and appropriate,” he said.
Funding was provided by the 2022 Endeavour Fund administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
A key focus of the project will be improving existing models used to understand the effects of sea-level rise, including risks to important infrastructure and cultural sites, coastal flooding and the salination of groundwater.
Estimates provided by the new sea-level projections tool will also include the probability of major earthquakes causing changes in land elevation along the coast.
“We know that 50cm of sea-level rise is unavoidable by 2100 and we could see up to 2.5m in some parts of the country,” Naish said.
“The aim of this project is to help ensure coastal impacts are well-understood so decisions about how we manage coastal areas and adapt to sea-level rise are based on the very best research.”
Wellington’s sea level alone had risen 20cm in the past century, with scientists predicting an increase five times that in the next 100 years.
Coastal hazards scientist Dr Scott Stephens said rise in sea level was caused by two factors – both the result of global warming. More water is entering oceans as land-based ice sheets and glaciers melt and the oceans themselves are taking up more space, with the water expanding as it warms.
Co-leader associate professor Richard Levy said the project involved a multi-disciplinary team including researchers from GNS Science, University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, University of Waikato, Oceanum Ltd, Takiwa Ltd, and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.
The research team would also work with central and local government agencies, iwi, and community organisations, he said.
The project will begin in October and run until 2027.