Satellite image of storm over New Zealand

Whakahura—extreme events and the emergence of climate change

The Whakahura research project aims to expand our understanding of extreme weather events in New Zealand. Learn about the project's scope and expected outcomes.

About this project

The Whakahura: Extreme Events and the Emergence of Climate Change programme is a five-year multidisciplinary programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

The programme is studying extreme weather in climate and weather systems, in hydrological systems, in biological systems, and in economic systems.

Research purpose

‘Whakahura’ means to uncover or discover in te reo Māori. The overarching goal of the Whakahura Project is to improve understanding of how and why extreme weather has affected New Zealand in the 20th century, and to develop new tools to improve the forecasting of extreme weather events in the next four decades.

It is studying extreme weather in climate and weather systems, in hydrological systems, in biological systems, and in economic systems.

Vision Mātauranga

The Vision Mātauranga stream is led by Shaun Awatere from Manaaki Whenua—Landcare Research. He and his team seek to understand extreme weather damage from a te ao Māori perspective. They are building a multi-disciplinary approach to reviewing damage from previous events, with reference to cultural infrastructure, forestry, and hydrology issues.

Iwi and hapū narratives of past extreme events are a valuable source of otherwise inaccessible information that can be used to shape adaptation to climate change and inform emergency responses.

We are collecting stories and images from local iwi and hapū, and we are planning to create an empirically based index to quantify this content. There is also a data science approach that involves compiling korero, images, and videos of the impact of disasters on whanau, hapū, and iwi.

Find out more about our Vision Mātauranga stream.

Need for this programme

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, extra tropical cyclones and storm surges for coastal communities, fire hazards for forestry, rural, and semi-rural communities, and any other sudden-onset weather event that can affect economic activity.

Extreme events have flow-on effects for insurance and financial institutions, economic development, long-term community resilience, and spatial planning. However, these flow-on effects are largely neglected. Our programme is addressing this major gap in understanding.

Outcome and impact

The main benefit of our research programme will be improved well-being through enhanced decision-making in the face of fast-changing distributions of weather extremes. This will be delivered through the knowledge, predictions, and tools we will design around the needs of government, industry, iwi and individuals.

When Whakahura finishes, policy makers, the insurance industry, and Māori asset owners will have a precise, state-of-the-art understanding of the following:

  • what extreme weather events have cost Aotearoa New Zealand in the past
  • the cost of extreme weather events in Aotearoa New Zealand now
  • the role human-produced greenhouse gases have played in generating those losses, as well as the associated vulnerability and exposure
  • likely future climate change-driven extreme weather event hazards
  • a forecast of how often and how likely different extreme events are to occur under a range of circumstances.