What is QGIS?

QGIS is a free, open source, desktop mapping tool widely used in research, government, and commercial agencies in New Zealand and around the world.

NIWA's Quantum Map tool was based on an earlier version of QGIS. With the release of QGIS v2.6 in October 2014, Quantum Map has been merged with the main QGIS application, with additional functionality developed by NIWA available as plugins. QGIS can be downloaded directly from the main

QGIS v2.6 can be downloaded from the main QGIS website, for Windows, Mac and Linux, in 32 and 64 bit versions. Download NIWA Quantum Map

Our Introduction to Quantum Map (PDF 268 KB) is still valid, although it was based on QGIS v1.8.

Let us know what you think - email Brent.Wood@niwa.co.nz.

Why is NIWA developing and supporting QGIS?

NIWA has established a programme supporting the New Zealand Government's policy on open data, using standards and protocols consistent with government guidelines, such as eGIF (e-Government Interoperability Framework) and the SDI (Spatial Data Infrastructure) Cookbook.

Making data available is only one step in NIWA's programme, equally important is ensuring the public can find and use the data being provided. QGIS is a free tool that people can use to access and use NIWA data, as well as data from any other agencies that provide their data using the same NZ and international standards. As a desktop tool rather than a web based application, users are easily able to use local datasets, perhaps private or confidential, in conjunction with NIWA's data. QGIS also provides an extensible platform for purpose specific tools to work with NIWA data, and NIWA is continuing to actively develop and enhance it, to better meet the needs of NIWA staff, with those enhancements automatically available to anyone, anywhere, who is using QGIS.

Another important part NIWA's programme for using free environmental data with free spatial software tools is education, training and support. NIWA has runs introductory workshops on QGIS, and on spatial data management with Postgis (a free, open source spatially enabled database application) in collaborations with Digital Mapping Solutions who provide a commercial software suite which includes QGIS.

Why is it free?

QGIS is free - there is no fee to download or use it. It is an Open Source application, the developers and maintainers of these programs are paid for the work they do directly by users of the tools, so sell support rather than the program itself. Some NIWA enhancements are part of the core QGIS application - such as additions to the Map Composer which provide fine control over degree annotations on map frames and are robust over 180o, so are automatically part of corer QGIS for anyone to use.


Some of the components developed by NIWA are implemented as plugins - extensions to QGIS which provide extra capabilities which users can add to their own QGIS installation if they desire. They are under continual development, but are available for use, even from an early stage of development. Users, or interested parties can contact NIWA (b.wood@niwa.co.nz) if they have any questions. These plugins include:


The Structured Conservation Planning plugin was inspired by a tool developed for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries by Kim Ollivier. It was (very successfully) used to enable the collaborative development of Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. It allows input from a variety of parties, with different interests, and provides a report on how well a proposed MPA meets agreed criteria when trested against spatial requirements from all the parties.The proposed MPA can be modified and the test re-run to attempt to defin an MPA that best meets all requirements.

Survey Planning Plugin

The Survey planning plugin allows users to calculate random points or coastal transects for a stratified random survey. QGIS can be used to create the survey area polygon(s), divide these into appropriate strata, define the number of sample sites and minimum distance between these per strata, and the plugin will generate random sample sites. Assuming the resulting survey data is provided in teh required format, it can also generate biomass estimates from the sample data.

SOS Plugin (under development)

This allows QGIS to present a map of observation sites (such as weather stations) and display or download selected time-series data using teh OGC SOS (v2.0) protocol. Datasets that are available from SOS servers hosted by CRI's, counciles, etc in NEw Zealand include climate, water quality and hydrometric data.

Web Data Plugin

This plugin enhances the ability of QGIS to connect to and manage data from OGC WFS/WMS services. It is able to harvest a CSW (Catalog Service for the Web) list of WFS & WMS services, from which a user can select and store favourites. It thus provides a discovery service for such services, integrated with an access tool. For users who desire to use the data or maps from such services offline, such as in the field with no internet access, the plugin allows uses to download the data & maps from both WFS and WMS services, and cache them locally. In the case of WMS, the user must define the resolution and number of map tiles to be cached - as the full source datasets can be many Gb.

Biodata plugin

This tool allows QGIS users to connect to a IPT (Internet Publishing Toolkit) server and download Darwin Core archives to use in QGIS. IPT is developed and provided by GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility: http://ipt.gbif.org/) as a mechanism for transferring biodata sets between databases. The plugin opens up the world of biological species observations to QGIS users.