April Update

29 April 2022

Predicting sea level rise for Aotearoa New Zealand

For the first time, New Zealanders can see how much and how fast sea level will rise along ‘their own’ stretch of coast and in their neighbourhood.

The NZ SeaRise: Te Tai Pari O Aotearoa programme has released location specific sea level rise projections out to the year 2300 for every 2km of the coast of Aotearoa New Zealand. These projections can be accessed through a new online tool developed by Takiwā, a data management and analytics platform. The tool allows users to click on a particular location on the coast and see how much sea level is expected to rise, and by when, under different climate change scenarios.

Climate change and warming temperatures are causing sea level to rise, on average, by 3.5 mm per year. This sea level rise is caused by thermal expansion of the ocean, by melting glaciers, and by melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

NZ SeaRise is a five-year research programme funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment Endeavour Fund. It brings together 30 local and international experts from Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science, NIWA, University of Otago and the Antarctic Science Platform to improve projections of sea-level rise in Aotearoa New Zealand.

For more, visit the NZ SeaRise website here.

The Southern Ocean carbon sink: Will it fill up?

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels goes into the atmosphere, making the world warmer. But of the carbon dioxide we produce from fossil fuels, only about half stays in the atmosphere.

Where does the other half go? We know it isn’t escaping into space, so it must be going into the land or into the oceans, or both. A key question for understanding future climate impacts is what drives the uptake of carbon into these sinks, and how that might change.

The Southern Ocean is the most important of these carbon sinks, taking up by far the most carbon dioxide of any region of the world, accounting for about 10% of the emissions produced by humans.

There is much ongoing research into whether the Southern Ocean will continue to absorb carbon dioxide at this rate. Different lines of research have produced contrasting conclusions, and Antarctic Science Platform research is providing new insights to reduce uncertainties.

Find out more about how ‘citizen scientists’ like Sherry Ott (pictured) and trees on the West Coast of Chile are part of our search for answers.


Sherry Ott collects an air flask from the Spirit of Enderby cruise ship (Heritage Expeditions) on a breezy Southern Ocean day en route from Invercargill to Antarctica.

Changes in the Ross Sea and the future of carbon storage

Diverse and pristine Antarctic seafloor communities, such as the shallow coastal Ross Sea, have the potential to be more significant carbon sinks. Species pictured here, such as the scallops, bryozoans, seastars, sea urchins and corals, all contribute to carbon sequestration by feeding on plankton and producing carbonate shells.

But acting as a ‘sink’ for excess heat and carbon dioxide is having an effect on the ocean and the ecosystems it supports.

Find out more about changes we are seeing, including reductions in sea ice cover, warmer seas, productivity and ocean acidification.

Figure 1 diverse and pristine Antarctic seafloor communities

Figure 1: Diverse and pristine Antarctic seafloor communities, such as the shallow coastal Ross Sea, have the potential to be more significant carbon sinks. Species pictured here, such as the scallops, bryozoans, seastars, sea urchins and corals, all contribute to carbon sequestration by feeding on plankton and producing carbonate shells. Photo: Deep Towed Imaging System, NIWA ReLiCC voyage TAN2101 on RV Tangaroa.

What's going on with Antarctica's weather?

One of the coldest places on Earth recently experienced a spike in temperature. On 18 March, a low pressure system extending from Tasmania drew a large plume of subtropical warm moist air towards the South Pole, and up onto the vast and cold East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Surface temperatures rose by up to 40°C, which is unprecedented in instrumental records extending back 65 years at Vostok Station. The 'heat wave' was the final straw for the Conger Ice Shelf, about the size of greater Auckland, which disintegrated on 21 March.

Around the coast from Australia's Casey Station to New Zealand's Scott Base in the Ross Sea, temperatures soared up to 10°C warmer than usual, with an enormous amount of snow falling on coastal glaciers.

Should we be worried? (Spoiler alert: Yes!) Find out more here.

Dr Andy Reisinger joins Antarctic Science Platform

We are pleased to share that Dr. Andy Reisinger has agreed to co-chair the Platform’s Science to Policy Expert Group, starting this month.

Andy has a strong track record in the effective translation of science for policy application. He has given an invited stakeholder lecture at the inaugural ASP Conference in 2020 and has a strong familiarity with a range of ASP initiatives. Dr. Reisinger is a member of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and vice-chair of Working Group III (Mitigation). He also served as coordinating lead author in two major IPCC climate change reports released in 2014.

Until recently, Dr. Reisinger held the position Principal Scientist, Climate Change, at the Ministry for the Environment, with a focus to provide science-based inputs and direction to the Ministry’s work. Prior to this role, Dr. Reisinger was the Deputy Director (International) of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre that is working in partnership with industry to develop and extend ways of reducing New Zealand’s and global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Jordy Hendrikx appointed Antarctica NZ Chief Scientific Advisor

Dr Jordy Hendrikx will take up the position of Chief Scientific Advisor for Antarctica New Zealand in May. Jordy is internationally recognised as a leading cryosphere/snow science professor at Montana State University (MSU) and the Director of the Snow and Avalanche Laboratory there. He has served as the Department Head for Earth Sciences and the Director of Liberal Studies at MSU – and his research into snow, climate and avalanches has seen him travel from Antarctica to the Arctic. He’s also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences for the Arctic University of Norway.

Jordy has published peer-reviewed articles related to snow, climate change, climatology, avalanches, risk, hydrology and decision making in complex terrain in numerous international journals. His work has been featured by Nature, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Outside Magazine, The New Yorker Magazine, and Powder Magazine. Jordy’s a Kiwi and is heading home after a long stint in the US. He started his career at Canterbury University, before working for NIWA then moving to Montana in late 2010.

Application for RV Tangaroa 2023/24 to 2027/28

NIWA is taking applications for spaces on the RV Tangaroa Vessel beyond 2022/23. Applications can be made at any time of the year, and applicants are encouraged to start planning their mahi as early as possible. Application details can be found here, or contact Rob Christie in the first instance to discuss your plans.

In case you missed it – Antarctic science in the news

Alarming new statistics reveal New Zealand's sea level could rise 30cm in next 10 to 20 years New climate change research has pinpointed the places in New Zealand where sea level rise will greatly outpace the global prediction of 30cm by 2060 which is based on achieving the Paris climate agreement. For parts of our two biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington, 30cm of sea level rise isn't 40-50 years away, but just 10-20. By 2060 it’s approaching a metre in some places. That is because New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates and for many parts of the country 30cm is coming in only 10 to 20 years. Newshub, 7m30s

Under the Ross Ice Shelf A "microbial jungle" hundreds of kilometres from the open sea, that thrives without light, has been discovered. RNZ interview with Sergio Morales and Christina Hulbe, 22m

Warning to NZ from major climate report “The door is closing in our face,” says senior New Zealand climate scientist Andy Reisinger, who was heavily involved in producing the report. Stuff

'Unprecedented' Antarctic temperatures very worrying Soaring temperatures in the Antarctic may be the "canary in the coalmine" of what's to come for the rest of the world. TVNZ’s Q+A, 13m

Warmer summers threaten Antarctica’s giant ice shelves because of the lakes they create Lakes forming on the surface of ice shelves can sometimes cause them to break up. Scientists have recently found that lakes are more extensive around the Antarctic ice sheet than previously thought. The Conversation

Antarctic Sea Ice Hit a Record Low, Now Scientists Think They Know Why A study published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences points to a perfect storm of factors that sent Antarctic sea ice spiralling downward in the past year. Some involve natural climate cycles—while others may be influenced by human-caused climate change. Scientific American

Conger ice shelf has collapsed: what you need to know East Antarctica’s Conger ice shelf – a floating platform the size of Rome – broke off the continent on March 15, 2022. Since the beginning of satellite observations in the 1970s, the tip of the shelf had been disintegrating into icebergs in a series of what glaciologists call calving events. The Conversation