Scientific research station marks 60th anniversary

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In New Zealand, a Central Otago scientific research station with a globally revered reputation is marking its 60th anniversary. NIWA’s Lauder Atmospheric Research Station is almost exactly halfway between the equator and the South Pole, about 36 km from Alexandra, and deliberately situated in a remote, unpopulated area to take advantage of the clean air and clear skies.

It is the workplace of nine NIWA scientists and technicians whose work measuring gases in the atmosphere contributes to global understanding of climate change, UV and ozone research. Staff operate and maintain an array of instruments and analyse the data they generate that is then contributed to several international networks.

These networks combine data from similar sites around the world, but Lauder remains the gold standard because it is often one of few stations making measurements in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lauder’s reputation as an internationally significant and much respected scientific facility stems from the length of time consistent measurements have been made at the site and what they have revealed about our changing climate. Today its focus is largely on measuring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that contribute to climate change and UV research.

Atmospheric scientist and Lauder group manager Dr Richard Querel says the instruments used to measure ozone, UV radiation, methane and carbon dioxide enable scientists to see small trends over several decades.

“If you don’t have any data to start looking at something then you’re speculating. If you’re going to have data then it might as well be high quality, traceable, well calibrated and comparable to other sites. That’s all the bread and butter stuff we do here.”

Dr Querel says the importance of having these long time series has been amplified since the advent of satellites which provide global coverage. While satellites can measure anywhere, they may only be up for a few years and there may be a gap of several years before another one is launched. So continuous ground-based measurements can tie these individual satellites together.

“The time series are also used for model validation – the global climate models need data for comparison.”

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