NZ-US ties may pay off for Nelson scientists

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 19/11/2012

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Moves to formalise relationships between New Zealand and the United States in scientific research could have spinoffs for Nelson, says the head of Niwa research in Wellington.

A science delegation to the US, led by Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce, recently met representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado and Washington DC.

The aim was to progress science and technology collaboration between New Zealand and the US, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) said.

Niwa is a Crown Research Institute and has a focus on environmental research. Its American counterpart is a world-leading scientific agency whose strategic mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources.

Niwa general manager Rob Murdoch said closer collaboration between the two agencies could mean Nelson expertise would be called upon, particularly in the field of fisheries and deep-sea exploration.

"This does offer opportunities for some Nelson Niwa staff working in areas of deep-sea biology and fisheries."

Niwa chief executive John Morgan said the two organisations would continue existing research activities and explore new areas of possible scientific co-operation, including ship time sharing and deep-sea exploration. A voyage was planned in 2014 to look at vulnerable marine ecosystems on the Louisville Seamount Chain, northeast of New Zealand.

Dr Murdoch said a co-operative approach to the voyage increased the chances of using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) in New Zealand waters. An ROV can explore the deepest parts of the ocean, and is technology New Zealand does not have.

The organisations were also in talks about collaborating on programmes that measured and monitored ocean acidification, he said. NOAA has expressed interest in collaborating in a 12-year time series programme run by Niwa and the University of Otago to measure carbon dioxide and pH in sub-Antarctic waters.

Ocean acidification is of growing concern as the ocean's pH is decreasing in response to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"We don't know how the oceans are going to respond. The oceans are acidifying at a faster rate than they have for many millions of years, and it will particularly impact on shell-forming animals in the sea," Dr Murdoch said.

He said acidification was already having an impact on the oyster and mussel industry on the west coast of the US. Niwa scientists were seeing impacts in New Zealand waters and the Ross Sea.

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Some potential future areas of co-operation include:

Ocean acidification research. Antarctic research. Weather-related hazard prediction and mitigation. Ship time sharing. Tsunami forecasting. Ocean climate ecosystem impacts. Marine environmental management. Fisheries ecosystem impacts.

- The Nelson Mail

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