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  • Andrew von Dadelszen


Latest Research by Victoria University’s NZ Sea Rise programme is part of the public engagement research. The study notes that:

“Overestimating the risk of sea-level rise can be as much a problem as underestimating it, because it can lead to public anxiety and feelings of helplessness, rather than motivation to take action to mitigate and adapt.”

The NZ SeaRise project is a $7.1 million, five year (2018-2023) research programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It is hosted at Victoria University of Wellington and lead by Associate Professor Richard Levy and Professor Tim Naish. The overarching goal of the programme is to improve predictions of sea-level rise in New Zealand to 2100 and beyond…

Confusion about sea-level rise projections

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that between 1902 and 2015, global sea level rose by 16cm on average. The process has been accelerating in recent decades, as ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets has increased. According to the IPCC, the planet will likely experience 0.24-0.32m of sea-level rise by 2050. What happens beyond 2050 depends on how successful we are at reducing carbon emissions.

In 2017, the Ministry for the Environment published projections for New Zealand of 0.46–1.05m of sea-level rise by 2100, depending on how quickly global carbon emissions are reduced.

The NZ SeaRise programme is working to finetune projections because the sea doesn’t rise universally along the coastline.

Site specific projections

The NZ SeaRise programme is preparing a set of location-specific sea-level rise projections, taking into account global and regional projections of sea-level changes and new knowledge of local vertical land movements, including subsidence and earthquake uplift.

New Zealand straddles a tectonic plate boundary and the land moves up and down as a result.

This movement can be large and rapid during major earthquakes, but is relatively continuous along most coastal regions between earthquakes.

For example, measurements from satellites show that today, regions of the lower east coast of the North Island are going down at rates up to 8mm per year and areas along the central Bay of Plenty coast are rising at rates over 10mm per year. Sea-level rise is amplified in places where land is subsiding, and dampened where it is going up.

Adding continuous estimates of vertical land movement to our sea-level projections shows future increases in the frequency of coastal flooding due to global sea-level rise will happen decades sooner than expected in areas that are going down, and vice versa.


Criticisms of the "deficit model" of science communication show that encouraging action on an issue - such as sea-level rise - is not as simple as ensuring that people are fully informed. But it is essential they have access to reliable scientific information that can inform their decisions.

I have never denied the risk of increased storm effect, but small island nations (including New Zealand) – especially around the Pacific “Ring of Fire” – have long been known to rise (or fall) as a result of tectonic plate movements.

Take Tauranga City for instance (see Map above). The only parts of Tauranga City that has fallen is Sulphur Point, Judea industrial area and Brooks Street (Fraser Cove) industrial – all reclaimed land (not rocket science to understand why.

Before we panic the masses (something that this current Labour Government is making an art form of), let’s be sure that we are using the best science-based data to base our predictions on. I rest my case.


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