Joint project to monitor Invercargill’s air quality

A network of air quality sensors has been installed across Invercargill as part of a joint project between Environment Southland and NIWA.

The 25 sensors have been fitted to light poles in a grid across the town to provide detailed data about smoke patterns.


Invercargill has a history of poor air quality, particularly during winter due to home heating and calm conditions that allow the smoke to hang around. Since the start of May, there have been five exceedances of the 24-hour National Environmental Standards for Air Quality.


Domestic wood burners are a major source of air pollutants but until recently little scientific evidence has been gathered to show how smoke levels in New Zealand towns are influenced by weather, topography, buildings and home heating behaviour.


NIWA principal air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley has conducted similar projects in Arrowtown and Alexandra in recent years, gathering valuable data to enable researchers to understand smoke patterns.


The ODINs (Outdoor Dust Information Nodes) are compact devices that measure particulate matter every few minutes and feed the data back to NIWA who will provide near real-time 24-hour animations on their website each morning.


Ian said: “Last year in Arrowtown we trialled a network of outdoor air quality sensors feeding results into a daily visualisation and found it was a powerful way to show residents exactly what was happening each day with their air quality. People were able to directly link the weather conditions with their use of home heating and the resulting air quality.


“In Invercargill this work will show us how the weather patterns and the geography affect where smoke from wood burners tends to come from and travel to, and will help us identify hot spots for poorer air quality across the town.”


Environment Southland air quality scientist Owen West said the joint project will provide valuable data for PM2.5 values across the town and help identify areas that need further monitoring or more targeted work.


“It’s exciting to be part of a joint project which will help provide more data than we could have easily obtained with our own networks. This type of data is really important in helping us support communities to make the necessary changes to improve our air quality.


“We know that poor air quality has significant health impacts and we all have a part to play in improving it,” Owen said.


As part of the project, Invercargill residents will later be given the opportunity to host indoor air quality monitors for about two to three weeks to help build a better understanding of how indoor air varies between homes. The Invercargill project is part of NIWA’s Community Networks for Air (CONA) programme that empowers communities to assess their air quality, then develop and evaluate solutions. 

Animations and data from the Invercargill ODINs will be available on the NIWA site soon. https://niwa.co.nz/atmosphere/research-projects/air-quality-issues-in-new-zealand-towns-2020-results#invercargill