National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

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For other uses, see NIWA (disambiguation).
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
Taihoro Nukurangi
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Logo.svg
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[edit]

"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[edit]

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[edit]

NIWA’s greatest asset is its scientists, 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.

On Thursday 23 April 2009, Jim Salinger was summarily dismissed by NIWA, allegedly for telephoning a television weatherman to discuss the weather without permission from his managers.[9]

Research facilities[edit]

NIWA's wide-ranging research facilities include:

  • a gas laboratory which uses gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to assess the composition of gases and their isotopes in samples of air and water, and isotope analysis of solid material
  • an ecotoxicology laboratory for assessing the effects of contaminants – such as heavy metals, pesticides, and wastes – on aquatic organisms
  • aquaculture research facilities at Bream Bay in Northland and at Mahanga Bay, Wellington

NIWA's atmospheric climate research station at Lauder, in Central Otago, is the only fully instrumented Southern Hemisphere mid-latitude site in the global Network for the Detection of Stratospheric Change (NDSC), providing information on ozone depletion and on climate change.[6] It operates one of only four instruments in the world capable of measuring all the molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2) in an entire air "column", from the ground to the top of the atmosphere.[6]

NIWA runs a IBM 575 supercomputer Fitzroy[1] for environmental forecasting, climate modelling, ocean-circulation modelling, and fisheries modelling. It also invests in NeSI - the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure.[10]

NIWA vessels[edit]

Kaharoa moored in Wellington

Foremost among NIWA’s 30 vessels[2] is the 70 metre deepwater research vessel RV Tangaroa,[11] 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

The NIWA Invertebrate Collection[12] 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[edit]

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. ^ a b c d "NIWA Annual Report 2014" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-09-29. 
  2. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "2008 Year in Review of the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd". Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  7. ^ a b "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. ^ Niwa sacks Jim Salinger,, 24/04/2009, retrieved 2/5/09. At WebCite
  10. ^ "New Zealand eScience Infrastructure: About Us". New Zealand eScience Infrastructure. 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-12. NeSI is New Zealand's computing research infrastructure. We provide high performance computers and support systems to enable the country's researchers to tackle the world's largest problems. [...] The investors are the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, NIWA, Landcare Research, the University of Otago, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. 
  11. ^ RV Tangaroa
  12. ^ NIWA Invertebrate Collection

External links[edit]