Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Joint venture dives deep

NZ and US scientists swap ideas and technology in deal to probe cavernous ocean.

New Zealand will maintain the US agency's tsunami buoy network. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand will maintain the US agency's tsunami buoy network. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Remote-controlled robots will explore cavernous New Zealand ocean waters for the first time after a scientific pact was signed with the United States.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) has teamed up with American scientific agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to investigate some of the world's biggest environmental questions, including climate change, ocean acidification and tsunami threats.

The Crown-owned research institute will tap into the huge American group's multi-million-dollar budget.

They will use research ships and undersea robots and share staff and ideas in a landmark science and technology collaboration.

One of the first NZ-US joint missions will probe the mysterious Louisville Seamount Chain, an underwater mountain range in the Southwest Pacific Ocean.

Scientists will use remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to learn more about the vulnerable 4300km seamount chain to the northeast of New Zealand, chart the underwater region and report on how it can be protected from fishing and mining.

Parts of the Southwest Pacific Ocean plummet to 5km deep and Niwa is desperate to use the ROV technology to find out more about New Zealand waters. The ROVs can probe the deepest crevices of the ocean, and can even be watched in real-time by scientists thousands of kilometres away on land.

"We can't afford this technology in New Zealand so to have access to them is quite exciting," Niwa research general manager Dr Rob Murdoch says.

A science delegation to Washington DC, led by Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce last month, resulted in a Letter of Intent being signed. Under the new agreement, Niwa will help maintain NOAA's tsunami buoy network to help forecast tidal waves in the Pacific, as well as helping protect marine species and monitor fisheries ecosystem impacts.


Q&A: What is NOAA and Niwa?

Q: What is National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)?

US agency that predicts changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, while conserving and managing coastal and marine resources.

Q: What is National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa)?

A Crown Research Institute established in 1992 to focus on atmospheric, marine and freshwater research in New Zealand.

Q: What does the Niwa/NOAA agreement mean?

The Letter of Intent will see New Zealand and the US working side by side on key international research projects and scientific exploration.

Q: What are the 14 potential future areas of co-operation?•Ocean acidification.

•Air-sea gas exchange.

•Antarctic research.

•Deep-sea exploration.

•Weather-related hazard prediction and mitigation.

•Ship-time sharing.

•Tsunami forecasting.

•Ocean-climate ecosystem impacts.

•Southwest Pacific and Southern Ocean observations.

•Ocean-climate impacts.

•Marine environmental management.

•Protected species conservation.

•Fisheries ecosystem impacts.

•Projects of mutual interest associated with international organisations.

- APNZ

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