Principal Scientist and Programme Leader at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Dr Bell’s remarkable career began with a series of engineering projects to clean up wastewater outfall discharges into our coastal waters. 106 scientific publications, 140 consultancy reports and more than 150 external presentations later, he is now regarded as Aotearoa’s leading expert on coastal hazards and risk.
A long-term member of the NZ Tsunami Experts Panel, Dr Bell was instrumental in improving our tsunami early warning systems, building on knowledge gained from visiting Indonesia after the 2004 Boxing Day disaster. He subsequently led the development of the RiskScape tool, which can analyse potential economic and social impacts from multiple natural hazards.
In 2010, he was New Zealand’s representative to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change workshop on sea-level rise and ice sheet instabilities. His work in this area, as part of the NZ Sea Rise and Antarctic Ice research team, was acknowledged with the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2019.
In 2015, working for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Bell explored the value of coastal assets exposed to anticipated rising tides – our first national-scale assessment of climate change impact. This led to development of an essential, science-backed guidance report, described by Climate Change Minister of the time, Hon. James Shaw, as “…the bible for how councils should be planning for the effects of sea-level rise.” Dr Bell also took the lead in the related MfE communications programme, giving presentations and running exercises to demonstrate potential adaptation strategies to coastal communities throughout the country.
Dr Bell acted as an advisor and report reviewer for the National Climate Risk Assessment completed in May 2020, which will set the direction for New Zealand’s adaptation to climate change over the years to come. His outstanding contribution to scientific knowledge will undoubtedly benefit future generations in a most profound and fundamental way.