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Assessing air quality issues in New Zealand towns in winter: Community Observation Networks for Air (CONA)

Poor air quality is a problem during winter in many New Zealand regions. Air pollution can have a significant detrimental effect on human health.    

Domestic wood burners are a major source of air pollutants in urban areas during winter. However, until recently, little scientific evidence had been gathered to show how smoke levels in New Zealand towns are influenced by the weather, topography, buildings and home-heating behaviour. Regional councils need that evidence to design effective intervention strategies.

NIWA has devised the Community Observation Networks for Air (CONA) research project to work with communities to tackle the air pollution issues relevant for them. We take our sensors, distribute them in the community and try to answer the questions that the participants have around the impacts of air pollution on their health.

Interested in taking part in this research?

To register your interest or find out more, please register and we’ll be in touch: 

Register your interest in hosting air monitors

CONA studies in Alexandra in 2018 and Rangiora in 2015-17 have proven that the technologies and methodologies used by NIWA to monitor and track the behaviour of air pollutants are reliable and provide valuable data to support mitigation efforts by local authorities.

Read more about our previous CONA projects.

Read more about wood burning, smog and its impact on air quality in Burning wood, not quite as cosy as it seems.

For 2019 CONA is focusing on Arrowtown

Arrowtown has a persistent problem with air quality in winter 

Winter brings high levels of air pollution to Arrowtown and other Otago towns, and being inside may offer only limited protection. Causes include:

  • Wood burning, cooking and smoking inside houses.
  • Calm winds preventing smoke from dispersing.
  • Polluted air from outside entering and getting trapped inside homes.

NIWA scientists are working with households to better understand the problem

This winter, NIWA scientists are looking for Arrowtown households to host air quality sensors. If you join our research, you’ll receive a personalised assessment of the heating and air quality in your home.

Once you’ve registered your interest with us you will go on a waiting list. When a pack of our small sensors becomes available we will provide you with one to place in your home for 2 to 4 weeks. The sensors will silently test for smoke in the home and record when you are using heating.

We can arrange for the sensors to be installed and removed, or you can collect them from our project office in Arrowtown and do it yourself. It’s easy!

After they are removed we will email (or post) you an assessment of how much smoke is in your home and what is causing it. Your results will be anonymised and added to summary results which will be made publicly available on our website.

This project is being run in conjunction with Otago Regional Council, Southern District Health Board and the Cosy Homes Trust. We also want to recruit households that take up home insulation and/or heating subsidies, to assess the effect on air quality of changing your heating source or improving your insultation.

Interested in taking part in this research? Get in touch here!

To register your interest or find out more, please register below and we’ll be in touch. 

Register your interest in hosting air monitors

Other resources

Dr Ian Longley’s presentation from his talk on air quality in Arrowtown on 9th May 2019 is available:

Download the Arrowtown air quality presentation. [PDF3MB]

CONA: where to next?

As well as the Arrowtown work, we are currently supporting a program to reduce wood smoke in Rocky Mountain towns with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the University of Montana. Read our Community observations network for air - Montana and Idaho blog.

We also plan to publish results shortly from 2017-18 research with the University of Tasmania evaluating indoor air cleaners in Hobart.

Other communities interested in participating can contact NIWA’s Air Quality Team by emailing

NIWA Contacts

Principal Scientist - Air Quality
Page last updated: 
3 September 2019
Research subject: Air Quality