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State-of-the-art climate research centre opens - 12/04/2007

A new research centre for studying climate history in the Southern Hemisphere opened this week.The $1.4 million facility at GNS Science’s National Isotope Centre in Lower Hutt comprises laboratories, analytical equipment, and refrigerated rooms for the safe long-term storage of hundreds of metres of ice core from Antarctica and New Zealand glaciers.

In opening the New Zealand Ice Core Research Laboratory, Science Minister Steve Maharey said the research findings it produced would play an important part in how New Zealand responds to climate change.

The facility was built and paid for by GNS Science through a partnership with Victoria University of Wellington called the Joint Antarctic Research Institute (JARI). The facility is also supported by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Antarctica New Zealand.

Nancy Bertler

Ice cores are extracted from glaciers by special drilling equipment. They store dust particles and chemicals in chronological sequence that reveal vital information about past climate including air temperatures, rainfall, and wind speed and direction.

Scientists use ice cores as a robust forensic tool to reconstruct environmental and climatic conditions going back many thousands of years.

The information provides basic input into modelling of past and present climate, both in New Zealand and on a global scale, for improved climate projections.

The research laboratory recently opened its doors to its first consignment of ice cores. They were collected in Antarctica last summer by scientists from Victoria University and GNS Science.

Peter Barrett, Professor of Geology at Victoria University of Wellington and Director of JARI, said he was delighted with this first significant result of the collaboration with GNS Science. During the next 18 months Victoria University would fund and develop a new ice-coring system to enable the collection of deeper and older ice cores.

Dr Frank Bruhn, General Manager and Director of GNS Science’s National Isotope Centre, said the laboratory would be an important cornerstone of a wide range of long-term research into climate change conducted by New Zealand scientists.

“ This will ensure it is used optimally for the benefit of New Zealand. It also has the backing of Antarctica New Zealand which provides extensive logistical support for the retrieval of ice cores in Antarctica.

“ Research carried out at the facility will help to shed light on New Zealand’s vulnerability to climate change and the potential impact on sectors such as agriculture, horticulture, forestry and tourism.”

The 200 square metre facility consists of an office and an ultra-clean laboratory at room temperature, another laboratory at minus 18degC, and a storage area held at minus 35degC.