Professor of Soil Science, Head of Centre for Soil and Environmental Research
New Zealand is promoted as 'clean and green' and as '100% pure'. But is this really true and what do we need to do to keep New Zealand green?
Many people are worried about pollution of rivers, lakes and groundwater. Water contamination by nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, can cause an increase in the growth of weed and algae in rivers and lakes. This depletes the water of oxygen and makes it more difficult for fish to survive. The weed and algae also make it more difficult to go swimming or kayaking. Water can also be contaminated by microorganisms and this can make it unsafe to swim or drink the water. Nitrate contamination of drinking water supplies is also a health risk. Therefore we need to conduct research to try to find ways to fix these problems and to develop more sustainable agricultural production systems. Better environmental management and planning is also needed to help keep New Zealand green.
Climate change is happening every day. The increase in 'greenhouse gases' (GHG), in the atmosphere is thought to be causing changes in global climate patters and this represents a major threat to future generations living on planet Earth. An international treaty has been established (called the Kyoto protocol) to encourage countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. About 50% of New Zealand's greenhouses gases come from agriculture. These gases are methane (which is about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) and another gas called nitrous oxide (which is about 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide). Research work is urgently needed to find ways to reduce New Zealand’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and this will require significant advances to be made in agricultural science and environmental science.
There is increasing concern about a loss of biodiversity. This is a global problem where the number or diversity of plant, animal and other species is becoming less and less with time. Some of this loss of biodiversity is due to the way we farm the land, fish the sea, or harvest forests. Once a species is lost it is gone forever from the planet and we cannot go back in time to recreate it; so it is very important that we protect biodiversity for future generations. Conservation and ecology research work is needed to try to reduce the loss of biodiversity that we see occurring today. We also need to find ways to improve New Zealand’s biosecurity in order to reduce the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering New Zealand and harming our agriculture/horticulture systems and native species.
So, how do we keep New Zealand green? We need to conduct research work to help us to improve knowledge and develop new systems and technologies to reduce the impact that we are having on the planet. This is challenging work and needs the best and brightest students to help solve these problems. Are you going to be one of them?