National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

For other uses, see NIWA (disambiguation).
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
Taihoro Nukurangi

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research logo
Agency overview
Headquarters 41 Market Place, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland
Employees 610
Agency executives
  • John Morgan, Chief Executive
  • Chris Mace, Chair

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research or NIWA (Māori: Taihoro Nukurangi), is a Crown Research Institute of New Zealand. Established in 1992, NIWA conducts commercial and non-commercial research across a broad range of disciplines in the environmental sciences. It also maintains nationally and, in some cases, internationally important environmental monitoring networks, databases, and collections.

As of 2014, NIWA had 610 staff spread across 16 sites in New Zealand and one in Perth, Australia.[1] Its head office is in Auckland, with regional offices in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson, and Lauder (Central Otago). It also has small field teams, focused mostly on hydrology, stationed in Bream Bay, Lake Tekapo, Rotorua, Turangi, Napier, Wanganui, Greymouth, Alexandra, and Dunedin. NIWA maintains a fleet of about 30 vessels for freshwater, marine, and atmospheric research.[2]

Mission statement

"NIWA's mission is to conduct leading environmental science to enable the sustainable management of natural resources for New Zealand and the planet."[3]


NIWA was formed as a stand-alone organisation in 1992 as part of a government initiative to restructure the New Zealand science sector. Its foundation staff came mainly from the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Meteorological Service. The Fisheries Research Division of the former Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries joined NIWA in 1995.

NIWA is currently structured as a limited liability company[4] under the Crown Research Institutes Act 1992[5]

Research programmes

NIWA focuses on atmospheric, marine, and freshwater research – extending from the deep ocean to the upper atmosphere – in New Zealand, the Pacific, Southern Ocean, and Antarctica.

NIWA’s research spans diverse fields:

Research projects are undertaken in collaboration with local and central government agencies, other Crown Research Institutes, industry, private research companies, and universities in New Zealand and the rest of the world. In 2007–08, NIWA scientists were involved in more than 970 collaborations and NIWA had formal links with some 150 overseas institutions.[6] Within New Zealand, NIWA has close working relationships with many Māori entities (85 entities in 2007-08[6]) through its Māori environmental research group, Te Kūwaha o Taihoro Nukurangi.

Most of NIWA’s revenue is from contestable research funding and commercial consultancy work. As of 2014, NIWA had a revenue of $123.8 million and assets of $103.6 million.[1]

NIWA’s scientists

NIWA’s greatest asset are its scientists and technicians, who come from all over the world and hold expertise in a wide range of disciplines, from atmospheric science to zoology. In 2007-08, NIWA employed 501 permanent researchers.[7] In 2014, NIWA researchers contributed to more than 353 peer-reviewed science publications and delivered more than 639 science presentations and conference papers.[1] In 2007, 12 NIWA climate scientists - Greg Bodeker, Matt Dunn, Rod Henderson, Darren King, Keith Lassey, David Lowe, Brett Mullan, Kath O'Shaughnessy, Guy Penny, Jim Renwick, Jim Salinger and David Wratt - shared the Nobel Peace Prize with other contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[8]

NIWA scientists also play a role in training future scientists (supervising 41 PhD and 10 MSc students in 2007-08[7]) and in public outreach through talking about their science to community groups, school children, media, and the general public. They also contribute to professional development training courses for environmental agencies in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Research facilities

NIWA's wide-ranging research facilities include:

Lauder Atmospheric Research Laboratory

Lauder atmospheric research laboratory

The NIWA Lauder Atmospheric Research Laboratory takes atmospheric measurements for the purpose of observing and better understanding interactions between the stratosphere, troposphere and global climate. This is achieved through measurements of ozone, solar radiation, aerosols and greenhouse gases.[9]

There are approximately 10 staff (scientists and technicians) working at the Laboratory (December 2015).


Lauder (45.04S, 169.68E, 370 m a.s.l.) is located 33 km north-east of Alexandra, in the South Island of New Zealand.[10]

This location was chosen for the laboratory due to the area’s low horizons, clear skies, dry atmosphere, and southern latitude location.[11]

Research History

A research laboratory was originally established at Lauder in 1961 with the purpose of observing the aurora.[11][12]

In the Mid-70's Lauder was a ground tracking station for the satellite ensemble "International Satellites for Ionospheric Studies" (ISIS (satellite)).

By the late 1970s researched had shifted focus to the stratosphere.[9] This shift was driven by the fear of ozone depletion due to manufactured gases, and by the time the ozone hole was discovered. Lauder had begun measuring UV radiation, ozone, and other gases associated with ozone depletion.[13]

From the 1990s Lauder has also monitored the effects of ozone depletion on solar UV irradiance.[14]

Recently, research at Lauder has focused on interactions between climate change and ozone depletion and Lauder now measures most gases that contribute to climate change.[9]

Computer models to predict future atmospheric changes have also been developed at Lauder, and the atmospheric measurements taken at Lauder are used in climate models around the world.[9]


Measurements of the atmosphere at Lauder can be carried out in situ, and through remote sensing.

In situ measurements are mostly done at ground-level; however balloons are launched weekly and carry out in situ measurements through the atmosphere to altitudes of approximately 30 km.[15] Data from these balloons enables atmospheric profiles of temperature, pressure, water vapour, and ozone to be produced.[16]

One method of remote sensing measurements at Lauder uses a LIDAR system to generate ozone profiles to 100 km in altitude.[10] Another LIDAR measures aerosols in the atmosphere to 50 km in altitude.[10] Other remote sensing at Lauder uses UV/Vis grating and FTIR spectrometers to measure trace gases in the atmosphere.

Measurements at Lauder are also used to calibrate satellites such as OCO-2 and GOSAT.[10]


The Lauder Atmospheric Research Laboratory is well known throughout the international world of atmospheric research through its participation in the international Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change (NDACC),[17] BSRN,[18] TCCON,[19] and GCOS Reference Upper Air Network (GRUAN).[15][20]

Lauder has many ongoing long-term measurements, including the longest time-series of nitrogen dioxide in the world.[10]

The Laboratory is located in a data-sparse region of the globe. The oceans of the southern hemisphere and the Antarctic region play an important role in the global climate system and so measurements taken at Lauder are valuable to the global scientific community.[16]

Solar radiation measurements at Lauder are used in studies on the effects of UV radiation on human health and in the solar energy and building industries [21]

NIWA vessels

Kaharoa moored in Wellington

Foremost among NIWA’s 30 vessels[2] is the 70 metre deepwater research vessel RV Tangaroa,[22] New Zealand’s only ice-strengthened research ship. The 28 metre RV Kaharoa is used mainly for coastal research, but has gone further afield to deploy ocean-profiling Argo floats, from Chile to Mauritius.[6]

Environmental Monitoring Networks

NIWA maintains a range of monitoring networks that collect long-term environmental data, including climate information, sea level, river flows, water quality, and freshwater fish distributions and habitats.

As at 1 August 2008, NIWA had 1339 operational stations in its climate and water monitoring networks, spread throughout New Zealand, including the Chatham Islands.[6] NIWA also holds data from more than 3000 closed stations, many of which have long usable records.[6] The National Water Quality Network, for instance, has been operating at 77 sites since the 1970s.[6] It can now show long-term trends in water quality.

Environmental data

NIWA maintains several databases containing long-term records of environmental data, and species records. The National Climate Database, for instance, contains more than 250 million individual measurements (as of August 2008), with records dating back to the 1850s.[6] The New Zealand Freshwater Fish Database records the occurrence of fish in fresh waters of New Zealand, including major offshore islands, and details of their habitats. As of June 2009, the database included more than 28 000 records. Among other things, these databases are used to detect geographical and temporal trends in the state of the environment.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Record from Baring Head, Wellington from 1977 to 2007. Source: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A.

NIWA holds the longest continuous record of atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere, measured at Baring Head, near Wellington, since the 1970s. Along with equivalent measurements from the Northern Hemisphere, taken at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, these records are used to model the effects of atmospheric CO2 on global climate.

The information in NIWA’s databases is in high demand. In the 2007-08 financial year, for instance, NIWA responded to more than 350 000 requests for data from its databases.[6] In July 2007, NIWA allowed free online access to archived data on climate, lake levels, river flow, sea levels, water quality, and freshwater fish.

NIWA Invertebrate Collection

The NIWA Invertebrate Collection[23] is the largest repository of marine invertebrate (animals without a backbone) specimens from the New Zealand region, southwestern Pacific, and the Ross Sea (Antarctica). It holds representatives of almost all phyla in the New Zealand region. Collected over the last 50 years and still growing, the collection holds several million specimens, ranging from single-celled organisms to giant corals. As of 2015, it included over 2100 type specimens of species new to science (800 holotypes and 1300 paratypes). The collection is used by scientists, teachers, and journalists throughout New Zealand and the world.

Natural Hazards Centre

In 2002 NIWA teamed up with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science to create the Natural Hazards Centre as a New Zealand resource for all hazards information and advice. The centre develops systems to monitor and predict the following hazards: earthquakes, tsunami, floods, storms, landslides, coastal flooding and waves, coastal erosion, and volcanoes.


  1. 1 2 3 "NIWA Annual Report 2014" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  2. 1 2 NIWA vessels
  3. "NIWA homepage". Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  5. "Crown Research Institutes Act 1992 No 47 (as at 01 February 2011), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "2008 Year in Review of the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd". Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  7. 1 2 "2008 Annual Report of the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd". Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  8. "Announcement by the Royal Society of New Zealand: New Zealand Scientists Part of Nobel Award". 16 October 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  9. 1 2 3 4 50 years of atmospheric research at Lauder, accessed 2.12.2015
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Atmospheric Research at NIWA Lauder Information Pamphlet, accessed 2.12.2015
  11. 1 2 Installing solar panels chance to test benefits, accessed 3.12.2015
  12. Global Atmosphere Watch Lauder Station Information, accessed 3.12.2015
  13. [McKenzie, R., Connor, B., Bodeker, G. (1999). Increased Summertime UV Radiation in New Zealand in Response to Ozone Loss. Science. [Online] 285 (5434), 1709-1711. 10.1126/science.285.5434.1709.]
  14. [McKenzie, R., Kotkamp, M., Ireland, W. (1996). Upwelling UV spectral irradiances and surface albedo measurements at Lauder, New Zealand. Geophysical Research Letters. [Online] 23 (14), 1757-1760. 10.1029/96GL01668]
  15. 1 2 Otago research centre awarded global status, accessed 3.12.2015
  16. 1 2 Key Central Otago site to provide climate data, accessed 3.12.2015
  17. NDACC Lauder, accessed 3.12.2015
  18. BSRN homepage, accessed 3.12.2015
  19. TCCON homepage, accessed 3.12.2015
  20. GRUAN homepage, accessed 3.12.2015
  21. New study on UV, accessed 3.12.2015
  22. RV Tangaroa
  23. NIWA Invertebrate Collection
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