Modelling Hub

Case Study: Development of a National Capability for Improving Antarctic Environmental Projections for Evidence-based Decision Making

11 August 2020

Essential to decision-makers and end-users of Antarctic Science Platform (ASP) products and services is provision of quantifiable projections using numerical models of how the Antarctic environment will respond to 2 ̊C or more of global warming and what the impacts and implications will be. Central issues include impacts on sea level, regional and global climate, and conservation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

The ASP has collaborated with Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science and NIWA to create the ASP National Modelling Hub. This initiative takes advantage of complementary expertise and capability of these organisations and the international leadership of their staff in climate change research and impacts on the Ross Dependency and New Zealand. This new initiative builds on a long and successful legacy of the three organisations who have worked together on Antarctic research priorities since the formation of the Joint Antarctic Research Institute in 2007. The Institute supports the joint employment of staff and ownership of equipment and capabilities, and enabled the National Ice Core Research Facility to be established at GNS Science’s Gracefield Site.

Additionally, the Platform has developed strong linkages with the Deep South National Science Challenge, with a joint Kāhui Māori and collaborative science investment. This allows for strategic alignment of research priorities and tasks to ensure Antarctic-driven climate change is incorporated into the New Zealand earth system model, assessing future impacts on our people, environment and economy.

The Platform investment in the modelling hub supports five new research fellows (one funded in collaboration with Deep South National Science Challenge), with a focus on providing more accurate projections, more precisely focused on the Ross Sea Region. The fellows bring complementary skills from globally recognised overseas research groups, having been recruited through a competitive international process. An important innovation of the National Modelling Hub is that, it aligns different disciplinary scientists, integrating physical, biological and data science approaches to tackle complex and urgent global questions, requiring an integrated Earth System approach.

The outcomes of the National Modelling Hub will feed into two Platform-funded Expert Groups on ‘Future Projections’ and ‘Science to Policy Interface’ to ensure timely delivery of policy relevant projections and their translation to end users and stakeholders. This integrated approach provides services to support evidence-based decision making.

In collaboration with VUW, the Platform has supported high performance workstations for each fellow, and has broader plans to increase big data analysis and infrastructure at VUW, that complement and strengthen the investment into New Zealand eScience (NeSI). The creation of the National Modelling Hub as a collaborative enterprise with NIWA, GNS and VUW, the appointment of the research fellow cohort and the establishment of expert groups has already piqued significant international interest. The Hub has only existed since March 2020, but receives regular requests by leading international scientists seeking to collaborate on globally significant and pressing research questions. Modelling staff and graduate students in New Zealand have taken up opportunities for hot-desking in the hub, to develop further collaborations, while Future Projections Expert Group Co-Chairs A/Prof Nick Golledge and Dr. Liz Keller carefully manage interest in the Hub, ensuring the team remains free to focus on the Platform mandate and impact statements.

The National Modelling Hub has already added critical national capability to urgent, high priority science and increased connectivity between organisations in New Zealand working in climate change research, to provide targeted, policy-relevant and policy-ready research outcomes. The modelling hub will reduce uncertainties around the Antarctic ice sheet contribution to global sea-level rise. Global impacts and potentially avoidable impacts through achieving the Paris Climate Agreement goal will also be addressed. Outcomes of simulations feed directly into the MBIE NZSeaRise Programme, producing more accurate location-sea-level projections for New Zealand, for uptake into national policy statements and coastal hazards guidance. Modelling of ocean biogeochemical cycles allows the Hub to contribute to understanding how changing environmental settings impact on ocean ecosystems, enabling incorporation into evaluations of the effectiveness of the CCAMLR-led Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. Inland, contributions to improved modelling of boundary layer climate data provides essential context to quantifying how the terrestrial cryosphere responds to changing climate and thus, the vulnerabilities of unique organisms and habitats that depend on meltwater generation.

This Case Study was submitted to MBIE as part of the ASP annual reporting for the 2019-2020 year.