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NIWA Expands Data Science Capabilities

NIWA is expanding its data science and Artificial Intelligence capabilities (AI) with a global recruitment campaign for eight new data scientists.

The new specialist staff will help service growing demand for advanced digital technologies which will be integrated into the organisation’s core sciences, products and services.

NIWA’s General Manager of Technology and Innovation Warrick Johnston says NIWA aims to build the largest and best resourced dedicated data science team in New Zealand.

"This team will allow NIWA to offer data science as a service to its researchers through ready-to-use tools, as well as undertaking complex machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision activities for external customers. The innovations will make full use of NIWA’s supercomputing facilites."

NIWA’s head of data science and supercomputing Dr Kameron Christopher says the expansion of data science capability makes a lot of sense for both NIWA and the wider-New Zealand research and commercial sectors.

"We are seeing an acceleration in demand from staff and external clients, and NIWA is in prime position to lead, given the vast scale of our data collection systems, our world leading scientific expertise in our core sciences, and our supercomputing power. The initiative will put NIWA at the forefront of data science technology in New Zealand."

NIWA General Manager Research Dr Rob Murdoch says there is unlimited potential in the application of science across the organisation’s environmental research arms of freshwater, marine and climate.

"Data science will change the way we do research in the future. New technologies are enabling our scientists to collect enormous data sets that can now be analysed using AI and machine learning at unprecedented speeds and details. It is revolutionising the type of science we can do to address issues such as adapting to climate change, improving water quality of managing our fisheries.

NIWA has been a leader in adopting technologies that advance its scientific capabilities, and houses Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest supercomputing facility. This has enabled ground-breaking contributions to understanding of the global climate system and processes involved in some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Dr Murdoch says NIWA’s investment in supercomputing means data science has huge potential to be used across a range of sectors, including primary production where many businesses are weather dependant.

"Data science is also likely to play an increasingly important role in helping New Zealand become carbon neutral and adapt to our changing climate."

Dr Christopher says enhancing capability in areas such computer vision will be of huge benefit to NIWA. "Machine learning techniques will significantly speed up processes such as biosecurity and biodiversity monitoring.

Computer vision is already being used to identify invasive weeds and there are test projects for determining kelp density, shellfish identification and river flow monitoring. It could also assist the fishing industry in their uptake of camera-based systems for species and size identification.

Machine learning is also used widely in NIWA’s climate science to enhance forecasting abilities and was key to the sophisticated high-resolution forecasting provided to Emirates Team New Zealand for their successful defence of the America’s Cup.

Dr Christopher says businesses are demanding more data-based decision making that can be integrated with their own processes, such as supply chains.

"They are asking how weather and climate might affect assets and supply chains which is where we can help. One example is working with the financial and insurance sectors to better support their needs for climate-related financial disclosures and understanding long-term risks and impacts."

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