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Cuts to New Zealand research station threaten global climate research: scientists

WELLINGTON, July 6 — New Zealand scientists warned Friday that plans by a government research institute to cut staff numbers at a South Island laboratory will endanger world-leading climate and atmospheric research.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) announced it would cut "a number of senior science jobs" at the Lauder office, in the Otago region, which was part of an international network studying atmospheric changes, the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) said.

The Lauder office was a key component of several global atmosphere and climate observing programs and one of very few such sites in the Southern hemisphere, NZAS past president Professor James Renwick said in a statement.

The NIWA website said the Lauder facility, which marked its 50th year last year, had "some of the best instruments in the world for atmospheric research" as it was one of five global charter sites in the international Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change.

"Reducing the Lauder laboratory to a shell, without the resources to continue the science that has made it internationally famous, is a travesty. This proposal will do serious damage to New Zealand's international reputation, involvement in international science and our ability to benefit from it," said Renwick.

"Scientific capability of this quality takes decades to develop, but can be destroyed with the flick of a bureaucrat's pen," he said.

"This is not the time to downsize atmospheric monitoring and research, but rather to support it in line with global recognition of its importance," he added.

The opposition Green Party said the proposed cuts would spell the end of the center's internationally renowned research programs.

"The plan to disinvest in a top climate science research center, combined with the recent weakening of our emissions trading scheme, reveals the government's lack of commitment to international climate change science. It also undermines the good reputation of New Zealand's scientific community," Green environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said in a statement.

"Part of our global contribution to tackling climate change is to reduce our emissions, while an equally important part is to contribute to global scientific understanding of the issue — the government is failing on both accounts," said Sage.

NIWA general manager of research Rob Murdoch told Radio New Zealand the institute was still committed to the internationally significant research at the Lauder center, just with fewer people.

"We're continuing to collect the same sort of data, it's just that the way we'll be analyzing it and the way we'll be modeling it and looking at it has changed focus slightly," he said.

The staffing changes were still out for review and a final decision should be made by the end of this month. (PNA/Xinhua)

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