Easy access to environmental research data

27 April 2022

Scion’s National Forestry Herbarium is part of a new website that provides easy access to a large range of environmental research data.

New Zealand’s seven Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) have created the National Environmental Data Centre (NEDC) website to make the environmental information held by CRIs more accessible to all New Zealanders.

The datasets include a huge range of information from climate and atmosphere, freshwater, land and oceans, including biodiversity and geological data. They will be of benefit not only to advance science, but also for a myriad of uses by Māori, central and regional government, businesses, researchers and the general public.

Chair of Science New Zealand John Morgan says the website demonstrates the active collaboration of our CRIs.

“The site is a representation of the extensive research and development CRIs undertake for the benefit of New Zealand. Bringing all of this freely available research data together creates a significant advantage for all our users,” he says.

Scion’s National Forestry Herbarium, a nationally significant collection, specialises in cultivated tree species associated with forestry and amenity planting. Established in 1945, it is home to about 40,000 fully catalogued, geo-referenced specimens at Scion’s Rotorua campus. The herbarium also houses specimens of indigenous and introduced species collected in the central North Island and the Bay of Plenty.

Herbarium curator, Matt Buys, says the specimens and their associated data are an irreplaceable national biocultural asset.

“The collection not only provides access to the physical dried elements of the collected plant, but also to data associated with the collection event such as date of collection, georeferenced locality details, habitat description and plant abundance. Such distribution data, over time, informs, amongst other things, the effect of any disturbance, such as climate change or a new pest, on New Zealand’s biodiversity,” he says.

The CRI research data hosted on the NEDC is extensive and, although much of it is already being used, the new website substantially increases accessibility and convenience. It contains a wide variety of tools and resources that range across seven environmental categories from atmosphere to land and ocean.

The “Global eradication and response database - Gerda” – hosted by Plant & Food Research – is a collaborative database that looks at the rates of invasion of unwanted species from around the world. This has been intensified by the increased rates of international trade and travel, by climate change and by the urbanisation of pest species.

“Our Future Climate New Zealand” (Climate change projections) – hosted by NIWA – enables the user to make climate change projections for New Zealand. By employing a range of maps and charts the user can choose from a variety of scenarios to help forecast climate change. Such projections are invaluable for urban planning by central and local governments, and individuals can use the material to better understand the future of a specific region.

The “National Tsunami Hazard Model” – hosted by GNS Science – is an all-encompassing dataset that not only defines the maximum expected tsunami height, but also provides links about tsunami monitoring, tsunami understanding, public awareness and more.

“Biota of New Zealand” – hosted by Manaaki Whenua – is New Zealand’s principal resource for taxonomic information about fungi, land invertebrates and plants, and plant pathogenic bacteria and viruses. This resource plays a critical role in the identification of unknown organisms at New Zealand’s borders. It is also our catalogue of rare and threatened species – an invaluable record of New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.

NIWA’s chief scientist, environmental information Dr Jochen Schmidt represents the joint CRI Expert Group behind NEDC. “We have populated NEDC with a range of data sources,” he says, “and we will add more. The website will continue to develop, and the open access will allow better collaboration in the development of top-class data modelling and computer design.

“This is a living data source that will be updated when new information is supplied. It will also ensure any data source remains supported.”

Manaaki Whenua informatics team leader Nick Spencer agrees, and says, “This important collaboration paves the way for the CRIs to provide even greater value from the information we care for on behalf of New Zealand. Making data easier to find and access will support data-led decision-making and enable new research insights that will help New Zealand adapt to environmental change.”

The website can be found at: https://nedc.nz