Investing in our data




Investing in our data

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan looks at the growing role data technology plays in environmental research.

Good decision making is firmly rooted in good science.

Whether you are faced with negotiating your way through an international pandemic, trying to predict how climate change will impact your business or simply aiming to get a group of trampers safely off the Routeburn Track – you need highly accurate forecasts based on first-rate science to make the right call.

Fundamentally, quality science is founded on sharp analytical minds working with high-calibre information. NIWA is already well-positioned on both fronts. We employ more than 450 highly skilled researchers and technicians, and we are home to some of the longest-running environmental data series in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, the relentless advance of digital technology is fast changing the way we do science – opening up fresh opportunities, but also bringing new challenges.

The volume of information flowing from our environmental monitoring activities is growing exponentially, as advances in connectivity deliver more and more real-time data. NIWA’s network of rainfall gauges, alone, now registers more than a million new data entries every month.

This ever-growing deluge of environmental data puts additional demands on science institutions. Quality research is now increasingly dependent on your ability to intelligently analyse and investigate your data. To answer many of today’s complex questions, researchers must be able to process vast amounts of information through powerful computers, running increasingly sophisticated digital modelling or Artificial Intelligence software.

NIWA is committed to powering up our data science skills and services. The three Cray supercomputers housed in our High-Performance Computing Facility are already capable of more than two thousand trillion calculations a second. We have also recently launched a global campaign to recruit eight new data specialists. They will work within our Technology and Innovation analytics and modelling hub to meet demand – both internally and externally.

This investment means we can continue to support researchers across our climate, freshwater and marine platforms when they reach for advanced software solutions, such as machine learning, computer vision and digital twin technologies. These technologies are already delivering for our clients and we are determined to take full advantage of the ongoing opportunities that this new wave offers.

Data science is now an integral part of advanced research, and our aim is to build the largest and best-resourced data science team in New Zealand.

Because, in today’s world, robust decisions depend on excellent data science.


This story forms part of Water and Atmosphere - August 2021, read more stories from this series.