NIWA announces free data policy


From this month [July 2007], the public will be able to download millions of pieces of climate, water resource, and other environmental information for free.

The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) is making access to its nationally significant databases free over the web. The initiative covers archived data on climate, lake level, river flow, sea level, water quality, and freshwater fish from NIWA, the MetService, and several other contributing agencies.

"We hope our free data policy will encourage further scientific discovery and contribute to good natural resource planning and decision-making by giving everyone easy access to quality assured, scientific natural resources data," says Dr Barry Biggs, NIWA’s General Manager of Environmental Information. "This also provides many new learning and research opportunities for school and university students. They can now explore this vast data resource to learn about New Zealand’s water and climate environment and perhaps discover things previously unknown to science." NIWA’s initiative also makes these data readily accessible to overseas users.

Chris Arbuckle, Manager of Environmental Information, Environment Southland says "This is a fantastic and long-awaited initiative by NIWA. The whole reason for gathering environmental information is to see it used, analysed, improved, and explained. The more eyes you have looking at the facts the more you learn. Willy Ley [science writer & space advocate] was quoted as saying ‘Ideas, like large rivers, never have just one source’. This initiative will expose this information to more ideas."

The free data policy covers an impressive array of archived data. The National Climate Database alone currently contains over 250 million individual measurements, including records dating back to the 1850s.

NIWA operates a continuously updated archive of all these data. This means even some historical observations are improved as new science comes to hand, such as updated ‘rating curves’ used by hydrologists to describe the relationship between water level and river flows at particular sites on rivers.

Climate data will be available from 2 July, with other types of data coming on-stream later in the month. If people request customised formats or non-standard data, there is likely to be a charge for the labour involved. There will also continue to be limits on access to some data which are not owned by NIWA, such as climate data from the Pacific, where the data owners themselves have imposed such restrictions. The free data policy applies to archived data, not to measurements supplied in real-time (i.e., as they happen).

Funding for maintaining the nationally significant databases comes from the Foundation for Research, Science & Technology. Many organisations around the country contribute their data to these national archives. NIWA is absorbing the set-up cost of making the data freely available over the web.

Subscribers to NIWA’s ‘CliFLO’ web-based climate data service will receive a refund of the remainder of their subscription.


National Climate Database:

The database currently contains over 250 million individual data points.
Data are from 7471 climate stations of which 2817 (38%) are currently ‘open’ (taking measurements at present). This includes 311 stations in the Pacific (restricted access – not free), and 4 stations in Antarctica.

  • 202 stations have data before 1900.
  • two stations have data before 1855.
  • earliest station: Dunedin, Princes St, opened 01–Nov–1852, closed 31–Mar–1864.
  • longest-running station: Chch Gardens, opened Dec–1864 & still open.

Observations include rain, temperature (earth & air), wind, soil moisture, evaporation, solar radiation, sunshine, pressure, humidity.

National Hydrological Database

The database contains the equivalent of over 14 000 ‘station years’ of data. We have approximately:

  • 220 open sites, with about 30 years of data each (6600 station years), and
  • 750 closed sites, with about 10 years of data each (7500 station years).
  • The earliest & longest running station: water-level/flow site, the Kaituna River at the outlet of Lake Rotoiti, installed in November 1905 & still operating.

Observations include river flow, river level, lake level, rainfall.

National Water Quality Network:

77 water quality stations nationwide. Started in 1989.
The database currently contains about 600,000 data points.
Observations include cloud cover, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, stream flow, and periphyton estimates. Once a year at selected sites bottom samples are collected to identify and count invertebrates.

Sea level monitoring network:

Freshwater fish database:


General Manager - Technology & Innovation