Understanding future climate change

We seek to understand future climate change by focusing on the emergence of unusual temperatures and extreme weather events in places where people live.

Satellite photo of landscape with small, blocky, brown shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the bright green swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River.
Major water systems such as the Mississippi River will come under increasing climate pressure (Photo: USGS, Unsplash)

Climate change emergence

Climate change emergence is the study of how anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change signals rise above the noise of natural variability. The pattern arising from signal-to-noise ratios is called the emergence pattern.

Changes in climate today

Changes in climate translate into impacts on society. We see this not just in the amount of change, but also in how this change compares to the variations in climate that society is used to. Our research demonstrates that significant changes—when compared to the size of past variations—are present in both temperature and rainfall observations over many parts of the world.

Changes in extreme weather

Many of the changes in climate that matter most for social, economic, and environmental systems are changes in the extremes. Extreme weather in the form of floods, droughts, and storms has changed in recent decades—and it will continue to have a disproportionately large impact on our environment, society, and economy. Our research aims to improve understanding of how and why extreme weather has affected New Zealand.


Understanding extreme weather phenomena is critical for effective and efficient adaptation decisions. Examples are found in all sectors, including:

  • droughts for agriculture
  • urban pluvial flooding for planning
  • fluvial flooding for farmland
  • storms for transport networks
  • cyclones and storm surges for coastal communities
  • fire hazards for forestry, rural, and semi-rural communities
  • any sudden-onset weather event that can affect economic activity.

These events have flow-on effects for insurance and financial institutions, economic development, long term community resilience, and spatial planning. Understanding the changing nature of extreme events under climate change is the area in which we aim to make a global contribution that is highly relevant to New Zealand.