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Experts warn of climate change threat to NZ coastal communities

WELLINGTON, May 1 — New Zealand government scientists warned Tuesday the country needs to address threats of more severe floods as sea levels rise with climate change.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said storm surge flooding was starting to occur more frequently on king tides.

Sixty-five percent of New Zealanders including those in 12 of the country's 15 largest towns and cites lived within 5 km of the sea and the country had to plan to manage the growing risks, said NIWA principal scientist Dr Rob Bell.

"Rises of more than a meter by 2100 can't be ruled out, and should at least be considered in assessing the vulnerability of our existing development at the coast," Bell said in a statement.

"New Zealand's Coastal Policy Statement directs that we also avoid further increasing risk in the future. So for large new subdivisions and developments, we should be building into this new development sufficient capacity to absorb even higher rises in sea level, given the permanent nature of subdivisions."

As sea-levels rose, low-lying coastal areas would face an escalating risk from sea flooding, with a present-day 100-year flood event occurring every year if the sea level rose by half a meter, said Bell.

Higher storm surges could damage beaches, seawalls, buildings, roads and other infrastructure, and affect drinking-water supplies in lowland rivers and groundwater.

Scientists are to present a synthesis of projections for sea- level rise and its impact on the coastal environment at a New Zealand Climate Change Center conference in Wellington on May 10 and 11.

"Planners and engineers here in New Zealand need sound guidance on what sea-level rises are expected along our shores, working around the key uncertainty about how quickly the polar ice sheets may melt in future," said Bell.

The NZCCC is a joint initiative by New Zealand's government research institutes, including NIWA, and Canterbury, Victoria and Massey universities. (PNA/Xinhua) hbc/utb

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