New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation and carbon cycle science

This programme concentrates on the carbon cycle, emissions tracking and mitigation.

Scientists are working internationally to develop a better understanding of the carbon cycle, and find ways to reduce emissions in order to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system. This programme is NIWA's contribution to that work, and aims to improve estimates of greenhouse gas emissions, nationally and regionally, by following two complimentary approaches.

  • Making baseline CO2 measurements and using top-down atmospheric measurements to quantify regional sources and sinks of CO2. This can provide independent verification of emissions inventories and mitigation measures.
  • Quantifying agricultural emissions experimentally at animal, paddock and farm scales. This will be used to verify emissions abatement measures, improve emissions inventory estimates and improve farm management practises.

The science within the programme will:

  • Support New Zealand's participation in the Kyoto protocol and the implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
  • Maintain New Zealand's world class facilities for long-term measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide and associated carbon isotopes. Monitor the growth rate and variability of these species and use these and other measurements to determine the carbon balance of the Australasian region. Measuring greenhouse gases in the southern hemisphere is especially important because it is part of understanding how they interact with the southern ocean (in conjunction with Programme 2), a very important system in the global climate.
  • Help understand feedbacks between climate change and the global carbon cycle and how natural reservoirs, particularly the Southern Ocean, are likely to respond to future climate change. We will use measurements and simulations of CO2, CH4 and their carbon isotopes to understand the behaviour of carbon sources and sinks.
  • Work on combining satellite measurements of GHG levels in different regions of the atmosphere, and carbon cycle modelling that takes into account carbon sources, sinks and the transport of GHGs between regions. This can be used to identify sources and sinks which are unaccounted for. Refining these techniques will lead to the ability to identify sources and sinks on a regional scale, i.e. southern ocean, different continents etc. We will be contributing to a global effort to validate and increase the accuracy of satellite GHG measurements.
  • Estimate the emissions of nitrous oxide from farming in order to verifying emission reduction measures and improving nitrogen management. We will also improve our understanding of agricultural biogeochemical cycles through studying fluxes of greenhouse gases at the farm scale. Data on agricultural emissions, measurement techniques and inventories will be provided through the NZ AGRC and to MPI and MfE directly.

Key collaborations

  • CalTech and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite team, the Total Column Carbon Observing Network (TCCON), US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies (Japan) for ground based and satellite measurement and data retrieval support
  • Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes (RECCAP), The Global Carbon Project, NOAA/ESRL (CarbonTracker model), KNMI (Circulation model), Princeton University for carbon cycle model work
  • NZARGC, LandCare Research, AgResearch, Lincoln University, University of Canterbury, Agrifood & Agriculture (Canada), University of Woolongong, MAF sponsored groups MethaNet and NzONet, Waikato University for agricultural greenhouse gas measurements

Our research will:

  • provide quality controlled atmospheric composition data to the WMO Global Atmospheric Watch database, World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) and satellite validation agencies (NASA, NIES – Japan)
  • contribute to international synthesis efforts to present the best available research to policy makers and the general public (RECCAP, IPCC)

Related Research Projects

NIWA's Baring Head monitoring station

NIWA's Baring Head monitoring station (Dave Allen)


Diagram illustrating a simplified version of the carbon cycle. [Thomas Murphy]