2018 Annual Report

At the end of summer 2018 the Southern Alps were brown and raw. The snow and ice that once covered this spectacular landscape were now small white pockets clinging to slopes and valleys.

Download the NIWA Annual Report 2017/18 [PDF 33MB]

2017-2018 Annual Report cover

Our scientists were expecting the worst when they took to the skies in March for the annual glacier survey. These flights over the Alps document how much ice is left in the mountains after the summer melt. This year, the 40th anniversary of the survey, the snowline was higher than ever, the ice driven back by New Zealand’s hottest summer on record and a marine heatwave in the Tasman Sea.

The survey provided further evidence of our changing climate, and is a stark reminder that NIWA’s climate science expertise is fundamental to guide our adaptation to the environment we face.

The change in the mountains was mirrored by change across New Zealand in the past year – a new government prompting a shift in focus with an emphasis on building a low carbon economy and greater protection of the environment.

It comes with an expectation that NIWA will continue to provide high quality science to inform policy and planning decisions, while at the same time remaining innovative and agile enough to enable our staff to push the uptake of science into new arenas.

NIWA has again stepped up to that challenge and continues to provide leadership, expertise and technical capabilities as New Zealand’s pre-eminent provider of climate, freshwater and ocean science.

In our 2017/18 Statement of Corporate Intent, we acknowledged that the need to respond to a changing climate posed significant challenges for our primary sector, infrastructure and coastal communities.

The extreme summer heat and two ex-tropical cyclones in quick succession in February helped elevate those challenges in the public consciousness, and emphasised that mitigating and adapting to climate change is ever more pressing.

NIWA recognises that these challenges also present opportunities to a country that is small enough to adapt quickly and renowned for its innovation and smart thinking.

Complicating the task, however, is global uncertainty about how proposed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will play out. How does a council whose main settlements are coastal plan for sea-level rise that might range from 0.5m to 1.4m over the course of 100 years? How does it plan the scale of flood control mitigation required to accommodate projected increases in rainfall of between 5 and 20 per cent? How does a farmer know what crops will be viable as temperatures continue to increase?

That is an area in which NIWA expertise has been in particular demand, and our scientists have been working alongside local and central government to inform this transition.

NIWA led preparation of the Ministry for the Environment’s Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance, released in December 2017, which offers coastal adaptation guidance for local government. It updated the 2008 guidance and, for the first time, incorporated uncertainty into planning objectives.

We completed high-profile climate change reports for the Auckland and Wellington regions, just as we have done for other territorial authorities. Our ability to apply our knowledge in this way is in high demand.

Among our significant science achievements this year, two projects stand out. The first was the replacement of our supercomputing capability. The two new Cray XC50s are amongst the most powerful supercomputers in the world for scientific calculations. They, and their companion Cray CS400, are crucial to improving our ability to forecast the impacts of severe weather and to model climate change, river flow, ocean levels and wave patterns.

In February, NIWA’s flagship research vessel Tangaroa left Wellington for a six-week voyage to Antarctica – its 12th such survey. It was a very successful collaborative voyage that called scientists from a range of disciplines and institutions to work together in often arduous conditions. Tangaroa is uniquely equipped for comprehensive atmospheric and ocean experiments, and the research the vessel supports has made a significant contribution towards realising the goals of the new Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. Tangaroa will be back in Antarctic waters again in 2019.

Meanwhile, our workload remains at an all-time high as we respond to the increasing demand for our climate, freshwater and ocean science services. That demand resulted in us adding 39 new science staff during the year, taking our total staff to 679.

Revenue at $151.4 million for the year was better than budget and materially better than the previous year. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) was $23.7 million, and net profit after tax was $6.5 million – a particularly pleasing financial performance.

Please refer to the NIWA Annual Report 2017/18 pdf for the complete Chairman & Chief Executive's review of NIWA's 2017/18 year.