Studying the skies for 60 years will be celebrated on April 7 at Niwa’s atmospheric research station at Lauder, in Central Otago.
Atmospheric scientist Dr Richard Querel said there were about nine atmospheric scientists and technicians at the site.
Lauder was a site with very little pollution and few aerosols.
‘‘It is almost like what the northern hemisphere would be like if there were no people.’’
Lauder was almost ‘‘one of a kind’’ and was probably the best-instrumented site in all of the southern hemisphere, Dr Querel said.
‘‘Having something like the long-term stability of our funded science is really unique.’’
The site specialised in measuring ozone, ultraviolet levels and greenhouse gases.
As well as maintaining instrumentation at Lauder, the team also remotely controlled instruments in the Antarctic, Australia, Hawaii, and in Boulder, Colorado.
Data was shared with the international scientific community and the station hosted instruments for other scientific organisations, from Germany, Japan and the United States.
‘‘It is very much in a collaborative spirit. We provide a service by hosting and making sure that everything runs, and then we are part of the science that comes out of it.’’
Atmospheric scientist Ben Liley began working at the Lauder station in 1993.
‘‘It has been fantastic, it has been a wonderful place to work.’’
The site was first set up to study the aurora australis, he said.
The very first iteration was an instrumented truck that was driven around the South Island looking for the best place for auroral studies before settling on Lauder.
‘‘That was the original impetus for setting up the site here.’’
In the 1970s, as passenger airliner Concorde began operation, there was an expectation that an age of supersonic travel could spread around the world.
‘‘The Americans and the Russians also had plans for similar aircraft,’’ Mr Liley said.
Aircraft flying up to 15km high in the stratosphere were expected to cause oxides of nitrogen emissions from their jet engines, affecting the ozone layer.
So scientists at Lauder began measuring nitrogen dioxide in the stratosphere, Mr Liley said.
In the early 1980s information about an ozone hole in the Antarctic emerged and there was a ‘‘sudden flurry of activity’’ in the scientific community to try to understand what was causing it.
It turned out nitrogen dioxide measurements taken in Lauder were very important to resolving competing arguments about what caused the ozone hole and made it clear it was the chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used as aerosol propellants and refrigerants.
‘‘Those sort of things were the culprits.’’
That early data put the Lauder site on the map as an important measuring station for the chemistry of the stratosphere.
While the Lauder site might be almost unknown to many New Zealanders, it was highly regarded by the international scientific community, Mr Liley said.