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Laser beams shoot up into the clear night sky and help measure the atmosphere. Visible is a purple alignment beam from the ozone LIDAR and a green beam from the neighbouring aerosol LIDAR. LIDAR stands for 'light detection and ranging' and is a similar technique to radar. These instruments measure scattered laser light to determine vertical profile concentrations of ozone as well as smoke, volcanic ash, dust and clouds.

Photographer: Rebekah Parsons-King NIWA Taihoro Nukurangi National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd



Known to the locals as the “Stargazers”, scientists at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) Lauder station have collected data and carried out research for 60 years. This work has contributed significantly to the world's understanding of our atmosphere and climate.


The Lauder research station, chosen for its clear skies and geographical isolation, is one of the world’s premier atmospheric research sites and provides data for international organisations such as NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Agency (NOAA) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


The research site was originally set up to study the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and the affiliated radar aurora, where radar waves are reflected from an electrically charged region 100 kilometres above the earth (known as the ionosphere). Before the advent of satellites in the 1950s and 1960s, radar waves were the only form of global communications apart from submarine cables.


In the 1970s, the Lauder research station began stratospheric research (the stratosphere is the second layer of the atmosphere from the Earth, after the troposphere). This interest was due to planned supersonic aircraft, their emission of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and its destruction of ozone. In 1985, atmospheric research in the Antarctic led to the discovery of the ozone hole. Lauder research helped determine the cause of the ozone hole and other measurement programmes began, including ozone, ultraviolet (UV) radiation and trace gases.



Find a range of teacher resources, lessons and activities at the Niwa Website


A balloon-borne Ph5 x-ray detector package is released from Campbell Island,

January 1970. [Campbell Island staff]


ISIS satellite telemetry. Pat Helm & Alan Cresswell take a satellite “ pass” at Lauder 1974. NIWA.

Then in 1991, a massive eruption of the volcano Pinatubo in the Philippines led to research at Lauder into aerosols, clouds and radiation. From this, the NIWA researchers identified high UV radiation levels in New Zealand. The work also contributed to improved tools for instrument calibration and measuring solar energy.


Today, Lauder-based measurements are used to validate data collected by satellites and are fed into climate models around the world. Its researchers are actively involved in international assessments of ozone depletion and UV light and their impacts, and of climate change.


In 2015 Lauder became just the fourth upper-air research site in the world (the first in the Southern Hemisphere) to be recognised by the WMO’s Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Reference Upper Air Network (GRUAN) certified measurement programme. This was a significant international endorsement of the capabilities at Lauder as a world-class upper-air measurement site.


Lauder is also a key site in the Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON), a global network of ground-based instruments that measure the column abundance of the main greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


NIWA Lauder’s atmospheric and radiation measurements are submitted to major international databases, the site hosts and maintains numerous instruments from other countries, and its scientists collaborate with agencies across the globe.


An observer checks bearings prior to visual auroral observations in Antarctica. 1960s. NIWA


Aurora arise when particles from the solar wind collide with air in the upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100-400km. The process is akin to that in a fluorescent tube. NIWA


Auroral spectrograph. Dr Mike Gadsden adjusts a spectrometer used to identify different “excited” gases in the aurora. Mike Gadsden was an optics specialist.

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