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By Daniel Collins

Maps are helpful tools in communicating and understanding the potential implications of climate change. We have national maps of projected changes in temperature that show faster warming in the north, and in precipitation that show more rain in the south and west and less in the north and east. We also have national maps of projected changes in drought, that show much of the country is likely to experience more severe droughts.

Now, I am able to give you a map of the potential freshwater changes across New Zealand. This includes changes in snow, ice, river flow, groundwater, aquatic ecology, geomorphology, and water use/management.

This is an important step in synthesising and understanding climate change impacts, drawn from existing case studies across the country. Projections are pin-pointed on the map below; in some cases they are more national in scope (e.g., salinisation of coastal groundwater).

This illustrates quite a complex picture. Retreating snow and ice. More flow in Alps-fed rivers, less flow in others. Higher lake levels and lower lake levels. More water demand from both agriculture and city. Higher erosion as well as channel aggradation. Higher lake nutrient levels and more frequent algal blooms.

There is a lot we know but also a lot we don’t know. As yet, we cannot provide a complete national assessment for river flows, nor for groundwater recharge. And very little research has connected the dots between climate change and aquatic ecology. But as new studies are carried out this map will be expanded and the gaps filled in.

In the near future I will describe the projected changes in more detail, so stay tuned.


Dr Daniel Collins is a hydrologist and water resources scientist at NIWA.