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Adapting to New Zealand’s changing climate

20 February 2017

Adapting to New Zealand’s changing climate


A Victoria University of Wellington and University of Otago project has been awarded almost $400,000 in funding to investigate the impact of climate change on New Zealand’s frozen water resources.

The two-year project, led by Victoria’s Associate Professor Andrew Mackintosh and Otago’s Associate Professor Nicolas Cullen, will provide improved future projections of glacier and snow melt from New Zealand’s alpine regions.

Associate Professor Mackintosh of Victoria’s Antarctic Research Centre and the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences says New Zealand is projected to warm by one to four degrees during the twenty first century.

“While we know this warming will lead to loss of frozen water resources, the magnitude, timing, and distribution of changes in meltwater are unclear.

“This research will address drought, shifts in climate distributions and extreme weather. Mountain rivers in both the North and South Islands feed our largest hydroelectric power schemes and provide critical water for irrigation, especially during droughts. Melting snow and ice may also cause increased flooding risk.”

The project team will work with local authorities and iwi to determine the specific needs of communities that utilise water flows.

“By developing and applying computer modelling tools to simulate snow and ice responses to climate change scenarios, we will make projections of future snow and ice cover, and the resultant runoff from alpine catchments,” says Associate Professor Cullen.

The project is one of five awarded funding last week by the Deep South National Science Challenge.

Victoria’s Dr Judy Lawrence from the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute is leading another project awarded funding. That research, which receives almost $350,000, will develop tools and supporting measures to assist decision-making in a changing climate.

Dr Lawrence will work alongside National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Landcare Research scientists, and with local governments making climate change adaptation decisions.

They will design sea-level rise, storm and flooding signals for triggering adaptive management decisions as part of monitoring adaptive pathways. In addition, socio-economic scenarios will be developed for testing decisions against long-term consequences, to enable decision-making under uncertain and changing conditions.

This most recent Deep South Challenge funding round is focused on the potential impacts and implications of climate change for New Zealand to support planning and decision-making around extreme weather events, drought, changes in typical weather patterns and sea-level rise.

Last week Victoria University hosted the International Symposium on The Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. During the five-day symposium top international scholars discussed a number of aspects of the cryosphere (frozen parts of the Earth), including glaciers and ice sheets, ice cores, sea ice, snow and sea-level change.


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