Adapting to Climate Change

Adapting to Climate Change

Species often evolve most quickly when under stress: a change in the environment forces adaptive improvements and only the fittest survive. Much the same could be said for the built environment. Design imperatives ushered in by the threat of global climate change have driven rapid advances in quality, so in many parts of the world buildings are now more airtight, better insulated, better cooled, less wasteful of materials and generally more efficient than ever before.

The trouble with change

For the architects, engineers and developers who shape the future of the built environment, this is awkward. We know that our designs must be resilient to change, but since we cannot know the extent and timing of this change, there is a risk that our solutions may be under-designed, over-designed or just plain wrong.

“It’s true we are dealing with a great deal of uncertainty,” acknowledges David Symons, global leader of WSP’s Future Ready innovation programme. “But if we take the view that it’s all too difficult and we don’t do anything, we will end up with suboptimal design. There is no doubt that climate change will be a huge issue for designers, for cities, for entire populations, so burying our heads in the sand will result in the worst of all worlds.”

Responding to this uncertainty is as important as planning for the future. Many projects, particularly infrastructure, have long design lives of over 100 years, says Symons: “Even with the best information, there is massive uncertainty over sea level and storm activity over that period.” On a recent project to upgrade a coastal railway embankment near Poole in the UK, WSP advised that the design life be reduced from 110 to 35 years. “It’s much less expensive in capital cost, and the intervening time can be used to assess what’s best to do next.”

On other projects, a shorter design life is not the answer. Sometimes the chosen solution is to build in flexibility for the future, as on the proposed Crossrail 2 underground line for London. “We expect London to be hotter,” says Symons, “but we can’t know how much or quite how that will impact the underground. So we don’t build in huge air-conditioning systems now. Rather, we leave space for vents and plant that can be fitted later as necessary.”

Learning from disaster

Regulatory change may be necessary, then, if designers are to make the fullest contribution to a resilient future. This is echoed by social scientist Vivienne Ivory, technical principal with WSP Opus in New Zealand and a researcher at the University of Otago specialising in public health and urban environments. Ivory led a study of how the city of Christchurch is recovering from its two recent earthquakes, which revealed much about how society responds to disaster. “Though this was not a climate-related event, the destruction of homes and infrastructure is very much the kind of thing we are likely to see more of as extreme weather events such as cyclones and flooding become more frequent,” she points out.

The study found that different parts of the city are recovering at different rates. For example, those areas where it was possible to walk or cycle to shops or work are valued over those relying on cars. “One of the things that made a big difference was space,“ says Ivory. “Parks and squares became places where people came together and engaged with recovery. Space enabled the creation of pop-up functions — to replace amenities that had been lost — and this worked on every scale. We even saw a spare bit of sidewalk where old chiller cabinets had been turned into a free book exchange, a temporary library. So space which had initially provided refuge when disaster struck then provided leverage to help the city recover socially.”

Although the worst impacts are yet to come, the probability curves have already shifted. The one-in-100-year storm is now one-in-20.


Michael Mondshine, WSP

Her conclusion was that city-wide resilience requires both local connectedness “and maybe some compromises on the rules about how public space is used”.

As businesses and governments develop their own responses to climate change, the notion of competitive advantage is likely to figure more prominently. “Investors don’t like risk,” says Symons, “they do like resilience. So it makes sense for an environmental regulation body, say, to talk about a country gaining economic advantage from being water resilient.”

Politicians and administrators are beginning to understand and respond to this approach. For example, WSP is advising an Irish county that intends to use its preparedness against climate risks as a differentiator to draw inward investment. Symons believes that money will be attracted to resilience at every level:

“If you are investing in a property, you don’t want it to flood or to become unlettable because it is overheating. You want it to be safe and successful. It’s important to realise that climate change is not just an issue for governments. There is a lot that corporations could and should be doing to make themselves resilient.”

“It is easy for climate risk to sound rather apocalyptic,” says Symons. “But with change comes opportunity. And those who understand the change and respond positively will be the ones to reap the rewards.”

This is an edited version of an article originally published by The Possible.
To read the full version please click here.

The Road to Nature

Rugged, remote and astonishingly beautiful, Te Urewera is the largest wilderness region in the North Island, a primeval forest prized for its ecological systems, biodiversity and cultural heritage.

The kaitiaki (guardians) of Te Urewera are Tūhoe, said to be descended from Te Mauna (the Mountain) and Hine-pūkohu-rani (the Mist Maiden). Tūhoe – the Children of the Mist – are renowned for their fierce protection of the land that holds such a special place in their hearts.

This love for the land has resulted in Tūhoe doing things differently, rekindling traditional knowledge alongside modern research and insights.

In 2016 the Tūhoe Trust commissioned WSP Opus Research to investigate potential options for the resurfacing and maintenance of the section of State Highway 38, which is largely unsealed as it runs through Te Urewera.

The road is essential for maintaining connectivity and services to an isolated rural community and for the development of the tourism industry in Te Urewera. Eschewing traditional construction methods, the Tūhoe Trust challenged WSP Opus to innovate an environmentally-friendly and sustainable approach in keeping with the values of their people.

“We wish to take responsibility for all things we are consciously putting into and taking out of the whenua. Bitumen is not of Te Urewera in much the same way as cyanide or choleciferol poisons typically used in pest control are not of Te Urewera. In our guardianship role, we need to take steps to ensure that we are giving Te Urewera the best chance at balancing her needs for life within Te Urewera.” says Tamati Kruger, chairman of Te Urewera Board.

Jeremy Wu, Research Manager Transport, says a solution is needed to exemplify the principles of sustainable co-existence between people and the land. Importantly it couldn’t detract from the unique, pristine, character of much of the region, which are the home lands of the Tūhoe people, something that’s seen as a major drawcard for visitors.

The world-first solution is at the cutting-edge of innovative sustainability and has proved to be successful in field trials.
It uses a tree resin, a natural by-product of the wood pulping process used in pulp and paper manufacturing, which is used in a novel way to bind the gravel and keep it in place.

The result is a solution that suppresses dust – an issue on gravel roads as it obscures visibility – with waterproofing attributes that reduces the occurrence of potholes and corrugations.

Under the bonnet of a field trial

The WSP Opus project team and Tūhoe selected two trial sites in Te Urewera, each offering different conditions to test the coating over a 12 month period.

The Mangapae section is 250m long between the Mangapae Stream Bridge and Papueru. Around 200 vehicles per day use this stretch, which was chosen as the flat grade allows for higher speeds, ideal for testing dust suppression.

The second site at Rosie Bay, Lake Waikaremoana has steep grades with tight curves, used by around 150 vehicles a day. Although vehicles are travelling at a lower speed, there is increased stress on the surface, a key factor in the development of potholes and corrugations.

“We were keen to involve our Tribal Communities in the planning and leadership challenges of their roading infrastructure, something traditionally left to territorial authorities to manage and for community members to complain about. This trial changes that dynamic, something that the District Councils are backing also” says Kirsti Luke, Chief Executive, Tūhoe Trust.

Test pits were dug on each site to identify and characterise the existing pavement structure and for material samples for the stabilisation design.
Materials testing and stabilisation design was carried out by WSP Opus and Hiway Stabilizers at WSP Opus’ Auckland laboratory. Tests included classification of the pavement structure, dry and wet compaction and resistance to loads.

Both trial sites were constructed in January 2018 by Hiway Stabilizers and, on completion the sites underwent a monthly visual assessment.

The road is essential for maintaining connectivity and services to an isolated rural community

A chance to reflect

Jeremy says that the field trials have been a great success in demonstrating the performance of this alternative road surfacing solution. Twelve months since the initial construction, the trial sites are still reasonably well-bound and dust-free with very few signs of damage. This is extremely encouraging given that the untreated sections adjacent to the trial sites have had at least four maintenance treatments in the past year.

Tamati Kruger, Tūhoe Trust Chairman, says that Tūhoe wish to further test the application of ‘Nature’s Road’ in Te Urewera.

“The community response and interest has been strong. The road is a unifying feature, where everyone has the opportunity to benefit. Extending the conversation beyond potholes has taken us to deeper talks on climate change, District Council and local community delivery responsibilities. It has opened up monitoring opportunities for the local schools, all helping to elevate local level consideration of future needs, something that small rural communities are vulnerable to.”

Natures Own Filtration System

An innovative project carried out by WSP Opus for Owl Farm has created a greater understanding of how wetlands can be used as a tool for the management of farm nutrient runoff.

Sharing expertise

Owl Farm on the site of St Peter’s School in Cambridge, is a joint venture demonstration dairy farm between St Peter’s School and Lincoln University. As a result of extensive research carried out here, Waikato farmers have access to world class resources, information and on-farm practices.

Stephen McNally, Head of Primary Industries, says WSP Opus has had a long and positive association with the school, sharing broad expertise in planning, ecological science and farm infrastructure engineering.

“It’s been our immense pleasure to share this knowledge with programme participants and see the positive and significant benefits this work has, particularly as it contributes to future food security for our communities.”

Harnessing nature

Environmental pollutants generated from agricultural fertilisers and livestock are carried in the water leaving farms and make their way into waterways, impacting water quality. It’s an issue that industry is working hard to address.

WSP Opus designed and established a wetland on Owl Farm to investigate the use of wetlands in a farming context as a way of removing nitrogen from the water.

The project involved the assessment of the extent of surface flows and ground water seepage, selection of a suitable site, hydraulic design, planting plans and construction supervision – including dealing with geotechnical solutions.

McNally says the project has offered up insights on the design of wetlands.

“We’re aware of overly simplistic wetland designs that don’t fully consider the biological and hydraulic processes to be truly effective. While biodiversity is an outcome, a good wetland needs to be much more than an aesthetic feature or duck pond.”

He says that effective and sustainable land and nutrient management is fundamental to rural business success and long term operational viability.

While well designed and established wetlands that consider hydraulic, bioremediation and phytoremediation processes become largely self-sustaining, they do still need monitoring like any other business asset. Analysis of early data is extremely positive, suggesting that 60-90% of nitrate has been removed from water before entering the Waikato River. McNally says the project is now an integral part of the Owl Farm environment and its teaching function.

“For WSP Opus it’s been a great pleasure to see the opportunity the wetland has presented as an example for other farmers and as a learning experience for students in the sciences and agriculture programmes.”

Effective and sustainable land and nutrient management is fundamental to rural business success and long term operational viability.

Restoring kūkūwa

Over 150 years ago, when European settlement of New Zealand began, we had around 670,000 hectares of freshwater kūkūwa wetlands. Today more than 90% of these no longer exist.

Wetlands are of great cultural and spiritual significance to Māori. They provided Māori with food – wildfowl, tuna (eels) and other freshwater fish. They were also places to grow taro and harvest harakeke (flax) and other materials for medicinal, food, building and crafts.

During the pioneering era, wetlands were considered wastelands that needed to be drained in order to become ‘productive’ and this trend continued as land was reclaimed for agriculture. In recent years however there has been a considerable change in this approach, particularly as the vast benefits of wetlands have been better understood.

Peter Matthewson, Global Director – Water, says most New Zealanders want to do the right thing when it comes to improving water quality and is pleased to see change happening.

“With the greater intensification of farming we have a lot of nitrates running off land and into rivers which has changed the natural biology of waterways and the nitrification of lakes. A lot of farmers are taking really positive steps in terms of retiring land close to waterways and planting natives, and work in the area of these wetlands is adding to that knowledge.”

McNally says there has been a massive commitment of time, energy and cost from rural families and enterprises in managing their catchment.

“Some of the decisions in the past were probably based on the demands for a new nation finding its role. With a better-informed decision process and understanding of the sensitivity in balance it’s fallen to the current generation of land owners to redress past decisions.”

McNally says WSP Opus’ approach is to help clients seek solutions that have a much greater weighting on intergenerational outcomes armed with the latest technology, data and analysis to achieve security of safe affordable nutritional food while minimising the impact on the environment.

Arotahi Article Banner with Auckland Harbour Bridge Illustration

The Auckland Harbour Bridge

WSP Opus’ DNA is embedded in the foundations of the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Since opening in 1959, it has required continual maintenance and refurbishment and we’ve played an ongoing role in providing engineering expertise.

This has reduced environmental impact, prolonged the life of the infrastructure and provides better driving experience for users.

Here we take a look at some of the key moments in this crucial piece of infrastructure that transformed the Waitematā harbour.

Auckland Harbour Bridge – Lighting Pole Upgrade & Installation


Green light given to the Auckland Harbour Bridge

1946 – 1950
The Ministry of Works (later to become WSP Opus) starts site investigations and borings of the seabed

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic


Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority set up to raise funds and organise construction

Construction begins

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic showing opening date


1967 – 1969
The ‘Nippon clip-ons’ – two lanes on each side, pre-fabricated in Japan – added

High pressure sodium lamps installed

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic


Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic showing traffic flow
Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic


Tolling ends

Inspections reveal cracking of the box girder clip-ons. A two year programme of work ensued with bans on heavy vehicles and a review of the concrete asphalt used on the bridge

Auckland harbour bridge infographic


WSP Opus implements world-first alternative for road surfacing on a steel orthotropic structure

WSP Opus partners with Fulton Hogan and TBS Farnsworth to create the Total Bridge Services Joint Venture

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic showing traffic flow


The Auckland Motorway Alliance (AMA) began a 10-year contract to operate and maintain the Auckland motorway network

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic
Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic showing traffic flow


WSP Opus joins Auckland Harbour Bridge Alliance

WSP Opus trials world-first quick-set repair material for surface defects

New rust and corrosion protection installed

New protective coating plan implemented


WSP Opus installs new epoxy asphalt road surfacing membrane

WSP Opus undertakes design of new light poles and installation of new LEDs

Auckland Harbour Bridge infographic

Community led climate change resilience in Vanuatu

Photo of Rowan Dixon

Dr Rowan Dixon, Senior Environmental Consultant, WSP Opus, explains how collaboration between business, communities, government and NGOs is delivering positive outcomes and reducing the vulnerability of communities and ecosystems to the effects of climate change.

Many of us know Vanuatu through the cosmopolitan town Port Vila, which is where most hotels, businesses and tourist activities are found. But 130km north is North Efate, with a population of 8,000 people spread across 36 villages, from Mangaliliu to Pang Pang and nearshore islands.

These communities are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, relying on family-run agricultural plots and near shore fishing. They already see the impacts of climate change and expect the health and productivity of their reefs, oceans, forests and agricultural areas to further decline. At the same time, damage to their homes, schools, roads, and tourism services from increased sea-level rise and storm surge is getting worse.

Enter Vanuatu RESCCUE, with its focus on community resilience to climate change by protecting and enhancing the key ecosystems that communities rely on for food and income. The lessons from this pilot will inform and drive future efforts across Vanuatu and the Pacific. Our initial assessments found that coral reefs were highly degraded and fish stocks low, agriculture was impacted by drought and invasive pests, and communities faced frequent water shortages and reduced water quality.

Photo montage of Vanuatu

About the project:
The Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Adaptation to Climate Change (RESCCUE) project is led by WSP Opus in collaboration with Live and Learn Vanuatu, C2O, Development Services, OceansWatch and Landcare Research. Vanuatu RESCCUE is a pilot project and part of a Pacific wide project led by The Pacific Community.

Four years on, positive change is happening. RESCCUE has partnered with communities to support their development and resilience of food and income sources, such as ecotourism, agroforestry and local reef and fisheries management. Crucial to the success of these actions is community empowerment and leadership, with RESCCUE in support. This has seen the strengthening of the community led Tasi Vanua and Nguna Pele environmental networks, which work closely with RESCCUE to lead programmes within their communities across North Efate.

Conservation and resilience efforts need a sustainable source of finance, so in partnership with RESCCUE the communities of North Efate decided to establish the North Efate Conservation Management Trust. The Trust brings together Tasi Vanua and Nguna Pele with local tourism associations and a local NGO, Live and Learn Vanuatu, to collaborate and fund conservation activities of common interest. These efforts are supported by a voluntarily tourism levy collected by tourism association members. The arrangement is mutually beneficial; environmental improvements benefit community food and livelihood resources while improving the quality of visitor experience, growing the tourism market and opportunities for local business.

The project in Vanuatu is vast; covering 50km2 of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows, lagoons, mangroves and beaches, and 180km2 of terrestrial ecosystems, including forests, with a total population of approximately 8,000 people spread across the 36 villages of North Efate, from Mangaliliu to Pang Pang and nearshore islands.

School in Vanuatu

Another key innovation is the Community Marine Monitoring Toolkit. The Toolkit is championed by local leaders and resource monitors who survey their marine environment and analyse their findings to anticipate declining marine health and identify appropriate adaptive management strategies in response. Part of this response is the existing tradition of tabu or protected marine areas, and their improved monitoring, local management and enforcement.

Onshore, the Shefa Provincial Council and Vaturisu Council of Chiefs are attempting to establish the Efate Land Management Area (ELMA) to protect indigenous forest and the freshwater rivers it supplies to communities. RESCCUE led a rapid biodiversity survey – a Bioblitz – to establish a biodiversity baseline in part of the ELMA. The forest was found to be healthy with high biodiversity but remains vulnerable to cyclones, invasive species and the human activities that are increasingly encroaching. Protection of the ELMA is necessary to secure freshwater supply and healthy communities, and presents an opportunity to expand North Efate’s tourist offering from the reefs and into the forests. This will further contribute to their tourism livelihoods, the income of the Conservation Trust and conservation activities.

Similarly, RESCCUE assisted Tasi Vanua, Nguna Pele and the Government of Vanuatu to develop tools and programmes to raise community awareness of the 2018 single-use plastic ban law. This is a significant step in the international effort to stem the detrimental effects that plastic waste is having on the health of the marine environment and the communities that depend upon it. This work partners broader community waste management and recycling efforts to improve village health and protect their tourism economy and livelihoods.

Illustration for article Rubberised Cycleways

Rubberised Cycleways

Cycleways are big news right now, with many new urban and off-road projects either installed or underway across the country. These cycleways could become even more attractive for users thanks to an innovative pavement material delivered by WSP Opus Research.

Our pavement materials and behavioural sciences teams are in
the final phase of a three-year project to trial an exciting alternative pavement material made from rubberised asphalt made from recycled tyres.

The asphalt is mixed with bitumen that has devulcanised tyre-rubber added to it, resulting in numerous benefits including increased resistance to fatigue and oxidation – factors that traditionally undermine asphalt pavement durability over time.

Each year New Zealand creates five million waste tyres, so finding a way to recycle tyres is a highly sustainable approach and takes care of an abundant waste material that would otherwise languish in landfills.

Finding a way to recycle tyres is a highly sustainable approach and takes care of an abundant waste material that would otherwise languish in landfills.

When the rubber hits the road

Since the rubberised asphalt surface was laid down, our behavioural scientists have been collecting data by way of intercept surveys to capture feedback from the local community. The response so far has been extremely positive.

We’ve also been using an instrumented bike as a quantitative tool to demonstrate that not only is ride quality for the rubberised pavement comparable to that for standard asphalts, it is also far superior to the ride quality experienced on chip seal and gravel alternatives. Our researchers are currently quantifying the levels of chemical compounds that are emitted as gases under manufacturing conditions with assistance from AsureQuality. We’re hoping to confirm that there will be no unintended negative side-effects from using rubber waste in this useful way.

This project was funded by the Ministry for the Environment via the Waste Minimisation Fund and the NZ Transport Agency, with contracting assistance from Fulton Hogan and PCL. The cycleway for the project in Upper Hutt was provided by the Upper Hutt City Council.

See more exciting innovations in our InTouch magazine:

Famous WSP Opus projects Montage

Glocal Pioneers

Thinking global, knowing local

Early in 2018 WSP and Opus joined forces as the New Zealand operation of WSP providing a rare opportunity to tell our compelling story.

Our history dates back to colonial New Zealand, when the Public Works Department was opening up the country’s notoriously difficult terrain through the combination of national road and rail networks. Innovation, future readiness, collaboration and local knowledge has always been at the forefront of what we do.

Together as WSP Opus we bring something unique to the market. Combining 48,000 global experts with 148 years of unrivalled local knowledge. We call this combination of thinking global and knowing local – glocal.

Combining 48,000 global experts with 148 years of unrivalled local knowledge

As Glocal Pioneers we pride ourselves on bringing our clients a richness of local and global expertise, pushing the boundaries and being future ready. Our people are located across the country in the communities that we serve ensuring we are truly invested in the outcomes for New Zealand both for society and environment.

We are now at a defining moment where we can collaborate with leading expertise from around the world on transformational projects that will redefine New Zealand for generations to come.

We are the advisors, engineers, scientists, architects and innovators that with our clients pioneer the infrastructure and environments that matter to Kiwis.