New York philanthropist and billionaire Julian Robertson has donated $5.3 million to establish a new institute in New Zealand for research on the Antarctic and Southern Ocean's role in climate change.

The New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute was launched by Prime Minister John Key last night at Premier House.

It will operate as a public-private partnership.

The institute will be closely aligned to the crown entity Antarctic New Zealand and its chairman, Rob Fenwick, will chair the institute as well.


Mr Fenwick said he expected Government projects through the Crown research institute and universities would be strengthened by collaboration with Antarctic Research Institute projects.

"The international science community believes what happens on the Antarctic continent over the next 50 years will be critical in predicting the human impacts of climate change."

The institute's director will be Professor Gary Wilson of Otago University, who said the goal was to strengthen Antarctic research capacity in New Zealand through international collaboration on research projects.

"Antarctica and the Southern Ocean hold the solutions to many of the key questions scientists and policymakers need to answer in order to manage the threats of climate change and global resource depletion."

At Mr Key's post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, he thanked Mr Robertson, who has an honorary New Zealand knighthood for his other acts of generosity. Mr Robertson visited Antarctica last summer.

He and his late wife, Josie, have given 15 artworks valued at more than $115 million to the Auckland Art Gallery, and made substantial donations after the Christchurch earthquake.

John Hood, former vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland and Oxford University, heads the Robertson Foundation and the vehicle for New Zealand philanthropy, the Aotearoa Foundation.

Dr Hood returned to New Zealand for the launch.