2014 Annual Report

In sync with the times – Chief Executive’s Report

An underlying aspect of NIWA’s culture in recent years has been ensuring that our research and applied-science services remain relevant and at the forefront of this fast-changing world. There is no business as usual – we take a can-do approach to meet the needs of all our customers. That aligns comfortably with the natural instincts of our people — innovation, adaptability and cross-disciplinary teams are everyday elements of the way we work.

Download the full NIWA Annual Report 2014 [PDF 5.2MB]

It seems that the modern world expects exactly that sort of innovation. Governments are asking scientists to form cooperative teams to address key social, economic and environmental concerns. Businesses prefer to work with scientists, technicians and organisations who can bring all manner of techniques and disciplines to bear on their products and services.

The high level of public interest in, and particular relevance of, our fields of expertise have moulded NIWA’s attitude to change. Water and atmospheric issues dominate our nation, which has forced an unusually deep and regular interaction with decision makers and the public. I am constantly in admiration of the skill, clarity and passion with which NIWA people engage all interested parties.

I am pleased to report that we met or exceeded our science, support-function and financial objectives again this year. We set 61 science objectives for the year, and fully achieved 59 of them and made excellent progress on the other two. Revenue at $123.8 million was up $3.0 million on the previous year, with earnings before interest, tax, and depreciation (EBITDA) of $20.0 million, compared with $18.7 million in 2012/13, and profit after tax of $5.3 million, up $0.6 million on the previous year. On the strength of our financial performance, we are able to return a dividend to the Government of $4 million.

I would like to highlight some of the key areas of our work this year.

Answering the challenges

The National Science Challenges provide significant opportunities for innovation and economic development, and they recognise the key role science has in growing our economy and international competitiveness.

The challenges do not represent a business-as-usual approach to funding science. We recognise that the Government wants new science – bound by innovative strategies – to meet very specific goals, and it wants to see the strategy being led by innovative science, not the needs of the collaborating science providers. Pulling together those strategies and the multidisciplinary and multi-institutional teams in the challenges that NIWA leads has required considerable time and work, and I thank all staff involved for their energy and passion.

The challenges also included something very new to the science world: the integration of the public, end users, interest groups and science providers in the process and in the communication of the results. This is a groundbreaking approach, from which there will be much to learn for the future. We could not have achieved the support of the Government for the two National Science Challenges we are hosting without the collaboration and support of the other science providers we have worked with. For the most part, they have put aside their institutional aspirations and boundaries, and worked with us to develop ideas that will be of great benefit to New Zealand.

Forecasting the weather

NIWA’s weather and climate forecasting is founded on the largest team of climate scientists in New Zealand and a nationwide network of climate stations collecting data for the National Climate Database. The team uses this information, with international data and sophisticated climate models run on our IBM supercomputer, FitzRoy, to forecast environmental information.

This year, our forecasting models went to a new and unprecedented level of detail – forecasting at a high resolution for all the key elements by the hour. This enables location-specific forecasting with a degree of accuracy not seen before, and has numerous applications for enterprises and sectors that are impacted by the weather.

At the 2014 Fieldays, we launched our latest product, a weather forecasting service tailored for individual farms. The NIWAFarmMet forecasting system provides farmers with accurate, up-to-date weather forecasts specific to their location. NIWAFarmMet helps farmers assess risk and make decisions on day-to-day farming practices, such as when to move stock, when to irrigate or spray, or when to protect against potentially damaging weather like heavy rainfall, snow, frost, or high winds. NIWAFarmMet works by capturing data from the climate stations closest to an individual farm, and using that information to tailor a forecast to the farm and deliver it straight to the farmer’s computer. We can create individual forecasts for properties as close as 12 kilometres apart.

We continue to improve our free forecasting service – www.niwaweather.co.nz – which provides forecasts for temperature, wind speed and direction, rain and cloud cover by the hour for many New Zealand towns and cities, and can be downloaded to your portable device.

NIWA’s stand-alone weather and climate station network has also been expanding. This year, we added 12 new stations, and we’re on target to add another 50 stations over the next 12 months, strengthening the ground network that supports our state-of-the-art forecasting models.

Furthermore, we have been supplementing the network through partnerships with regional councils, who make their local station data available in return for regional forecasts and hazard alerts.

This year, the UK Met Office switched over to using complex NIWA-developed software, Cylc (pronounced “silk”), to run and manage all the operational systems for its Unified Model, a global forecasting system (including the Exeter arm of the World Aviation Forecasting System used for all airline flight briefings), regional and commercial forecasting, archiving and product generation. This is an excellent example of New Zealand innovation being adopted on the global stage.

Watching out for hazards

The cost of weather-related hazards is increasing globally, and New Zealand is not isolated from this problem. During 2013, insured losses for weather-related events were more than $174 million – the second-most expensive year since records began in 1968. Of this amount, $74.5 million can be accounted for by the events of 10 –11 September alone, when Canterbury was subjected to the strongest wind storm since 1975.

The most cost-effective approach to improving resilience to weather hazards is through accurate forecasting, which informs decisions that minimise the impact of such events.

This year, we developed and began testing a new ultra-high-resolution numerical weather prediction model, the New Zealand Convective Scale Model (NZCSM). Every six hours, this model forecasts the weather on a 1.5 kilometre horizontal grid covering the entire New Zealand land mass and adjacent ocean areas, from the surface to an altitude of 40 kilometres, out to 36 hours ahead. This is the largest kilometre-scale weather forecast model in use internationally, and it is revealing the presence of atmospheric flow features, resulting from the  interaction of weather systems with our nation’s complex terrain, that have not previously been seen.

Understanding the Deep South

One of the strongest influences on our future environment and climate is the Southern Ocean and Antarctica – as recognised by the National Science Challenge, ‘Deep South’. In summer, a dozen NIWA scientists went back to Antarctica for a variety of research work. They trained science technicians at Antarctica New Zealand on how to use NIWA’s atmospheric monitoring instruments, which are an important component of an international network that measures ozone depletion and the trend of greenhouse gases.

Some scientists stayed in insulated shipping containers, 12 kilometres from Scott Base, studying ocean turbulence and circulation around the floating tongues of glaciers in the Ross Sea to understand the potential impacts of a warming ocean on Antarctica’s ice shelves.

Other NIWA scientists and specialist divers studied the effects of water temperature and pH levels on processes such as algal production, nutrient dynamics and food delivery, from the sea ice to the seafloor to determine the potential effects of ocean warming and acidification on Antarctica’s unique marine ecosystems and associated biodiversity.

Investing in the future

This year, we invested more than $1 million to upgrade Tangaroa’s sub-bottom profiler, a system used for identifying and characterising layers of sediment or rock under the seafloor, which has been at the heart of much of the vessel’s commissioned work.

The new system will enhance our marine science capability because it performs better in New Zealand’s sea conditions, and has greater seabed penetration. It can reach up to 200 metres below the seafloor, compared with the 20–50 metres penetration of the old system. The resulting information will be used in studies of active faulting, resource exploration, sedimentary sequence definition, palaeoseismic and palaeo-oceanographic investigations, substrate identification for habitat work, hard-ground identification in gas-hydrate seep studies and canyon studies.

The information will also be used to meet the needs of commercial clients, such as the oil, gas and mineral industries, and for other purposes such as cable route surveys. The new Topas PS 18 system was installed while Tangaroa was in dry dock as part of its scheduled maintenance programme.

Ensuring the quality of our water

The multibillion-dollar primary sector is the cornerstone of New Zealand’s economy – and its continued development is essential to our future prosperity.

But impacts on the quality and quantity of our freshwater will determine whether such development is viable.

This year, the Government announced a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, setting for the first time expectations for the quality and management of lakes and rivers. It included a new concept, the National Objectives Framework, which was first introduced by the Land and Water Forum, in which we participated. The Statement and Objectives are milestones for freshwater management – setting standards for quality and describing expectations of community management. The result will be a greater demand for NIWA’s skills in measuring, understanding and improving water quality.

NIWA is addressing key areas of the water-quality issue in collaboration with Landcare Research and AgResearch. These key areas include mitigating nutrient loss from farms to freshwater by changing on-farm practices; changing grazing patterns and defining the areas most sensitive to contaminant loss; researching the efficacy of riparian strips, wetlands and constructed wetlands to control nutrients, pathogens (E. coli) and sediment; improving wastewater treatment from farm-scale operations; and modelling catchment land-use for environmental sustainability.

Making our knowledge public

Transferring knowledge to end users so it can be applied is one of our key objectives. We do this directly with our customers, but we also do it through public presentations to community and business groups, sponsorship of major science conferences, social media, and our website and mainstream media activities.

This year alone, our work generated more than 6000 unique media stories. We have expanded our use of the web and social media. The NIWA website was redeveloped, with a focus on ease of use and putting our most recent highprofile work in front of visitors. We had a 16 per cent increase in visitor numbers over last year and our social media engagement continues to grow, particularly among members of the public new to our work. The nature of this channel emphasises content that is topical and of high human interest, and much of our marine, weather and freshwater work suits this format.

As part of NIWA’s outreach to young potential scientists and leaders, we have a strong collaboration with the Sir Peter Blake Trust. This year, two young people chosen by the Trust as Youth Ambassadors joined Tangaroa for a 25-day Chatham Rise fisheries survey. The main aim of these annual surveys is to estimate the abundance of hoki and other commercial fish species.

We were also one of the partners in a Sir Peter Blake Trust expedition where 12 of the country’s top young leaders took part in a climate research expedition to the subantarctic Auckland Islands, alongside a group of leading New Zealand marine scientists, environment and business leaders.

NIWA is the lead sponsor of five major annual school science and technology fairs and a secondary sponsor of six other regional fairs. These events encourage thousands of children each year to question an aspect of their lives and devise a scientific experiment to provide some answers. It is a voyage of discovery that generates considerable community interest focused on how science can help people better manage their lives or livelihoods.

International presence

NIWA’s applied-science and consultancy services provide substantial and highly appreciated support internationally, particularly in the South Pacific. Our work there covers a wide range of science-based assistance to support the sustainable management of marine and freshwater resources and environments, increase commercial and economic resilience to natural hazards, and adapt to or mitigate the impacts of changes in the climate.

We also have many significant international collaborations throughout the world. A recent example was a research voyage with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). The marine survey covered a number of seamounts in the northern part of the New Zealand region, on the Louisville Seamount Chain and northern Kermadec Arc. The main aim was to investigate and describe the biodiversity of these seamounts and how it varied with depth and location. The survey was carried out on the JAMSTEC research vessel Yokosuka and in the Shinkai 6500 manned submersible, a three-person submarine that can descend to a depth of 6500 metres.

Chris Mace and I hosted Minister Steven Joyce for a visit and ceremony on Yokosuka to formally acknowledge the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between NIWA and JAMSTEC. New Zealand Ministry officials, senior Japanese officials, including the Japanese Ambassador, and our science staff involved in the survey, were also in attendance.

NIWA fisheries scientist Dr Malcolm Clark took part in one of the three dives Shinkai completed – one on Canopus Seamount (Louisville) to a depth of 2300 metres, and two on Hinepuia Seamount (Kermadec) to depths of 350 –700 metres. Staying safe NIWA’s business is  inherently full of risk, given the nature of the environment we are often operating in. Our highest priority is the safety of our people, and this year we launched a major initiative to reinvigorate that: NIWAsafe – Pathway to Zero Harm. Serious or potentially serious incidents in our work are declining overall. In particular, lost-time injuries and motor vehicle incidents show a decline in frequency in the past 12 months.

The 12-month moving average trend of incidents is down by 49.5 per cent, and the work injury claim frequency rate has fallen over the past 12 months. Despite these positive trends, there was a small increase in the number of lowto medium-risk incidents (such as slips, trips and falls) requiring medical treatment. Our zero harm programme will focus on steps to prevent such injuries and continue the positive trends. Our safety drive was further recognised this year through our achievement of ACC Accredited Employer Tertiary Status, with the associated levy savings, and Shell Green Band Status, which means NIWA has preferred vessel status with the oil and gas sector.

Awarding excellence

NIWA’s reputation for high quality research and appliedscience services is founded on the expertise, innovation and dedication of our people. Each year we recognise this capability through the NIWA Excellence Awards. This year, we celebrated the outstanding contributions of 22 of our staff, all worthy recipients, and the winners are presented in this Annual Report (see page 60). All the recipients demonstrated excellence, but two in particular were recognised for outstanding contributions to NIWA and to science. Dr Murray Poulter received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his many nationally significant scientific achievements, notably in environmental forecasting and supercomputing, and an Extraordinary Achievement Award was presented to Dr Rob Murdoch, General Manager, Research. Rob’s innovative concepts and collaborative and mission-focused approach were fundamental to NIWA being designated as host of two of the Government’s National Science Challenges.

The cultural difference

These are exciting times for the science community, and for NIWA especially. We live in an increasingly dynamic world, in which people’s expectations are higher and their timelines shorter. Science needs to be not only the solution provider, but it must also provide the answers according to the customer’s timetable, in the customer’s language, and with innovative communication technologies that the customers can apply immediately to better manage their businesses or their lives. I believe that the innovative application of our science to the challenges presented by our customers ensures that we are prepared, and I invite you to look at some of this year’s highlights over the following pages.

I am very proud of the NIWA team and thank them for their inspiration, resourcefulness and commitment. It is my expectation that NIWA will continue to be the vehicle through which they can achieve their personal and professional goals. I also want to thank the NIWA Board and the rest of the Executive Team for their support and leadership.

The year ahead is full of challenge, opportunity and reward. We are looking forward to the voyage.

Chris Brandolino, NIWA forecaster, is the public face of our FitzRoy supercomputer.