Urban air

NIWA is conducting a range of projects aimed at understanding how different emission sources and atmospheric processes lead to variations in the composition of air across our urban areas.

These projects will inform regulators about what they can and cannot influence, and how management can be targeted where it will be most effective. This work also aims to explore the unique features of New Zealand’s urban air and the opportunities it presents for conducting fundamental atmospheric research.

The main focus is on observational projects probing differences in atmospheric composition within our cities.

The Problem

Urban air represents a mixture of clean air, industrial, domestic and transport pollutants and the proportions of each source vary from street to street. The burden of air pollution can fall very unequally across society. Without a clear understanding of these relationships between sources and impacts, pollution control strategies risk being ineffective, inefficient or unfair. Understanding what councils, businesses and other agencies can do to provide positive outcomes and minimise negative side-effects is both desirable and achievable. Natural processes in the atmosphere can also alter the composition and the properties of pollutants, including how far they travel, their toxicity and their impacts on the climate.

The Solution

Elsewhere in the world there is usually a substantial component of long-range regional pollution from upwind sources (e.g. other cities and countries). New Zealand’s location in the mid-latitude southern hemisphere means that this background is largely missing (there are no major upwind pollution sources). This provides a rare research and air quality management opportunity. For research, the atmospheric processes occurring when pollution is emitted into clean air are laid bare. For management, all of our pollution is our own making, giving NZ regulators greater power to control air quality (or to evaluate policy actions) than counterparts elsewhere.


Phases of this work include (click on the links below to find more information on each of these phases):


Dr Guy Coulson
NIWA Air Quality Scientist

Page last updated: 
27 October 2017
NIWA Air quality monitoring trailer deployed in central Wellington. [NIWA]