Environmental Physics

Environmental Physics

Welcome to the Environmental Physics Group Home Page. The environmental physics group is part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy  and is a member of  Gateway Antarctica and  at the University of Canterbury.

The main focus of this group is to examine how the climate has changed in response to man-made changes associated with ozone depletion and greenhouse gases. This is done by gathering new fundamental knowledge on processes in the atmosphere. To achieve this goal requires a combination of observations, from satellites, ground based instruments at field sites in New Zealand and Antarctica and climate modelling.

We have a broad range of interests and are active in remote sensing and modelling many aspects of the atmosphere from ground-level up to 120 km for details of this work see the McDonald Group. Our second major research thrust of meteor studies extends our range well beyond the solar system.

The two lead academics in the group are

Our research interests can broadly be summarized:

  • surface climate using SNOW WEB 
  • polar climate research
  • the dynamics of the troposphere and stratosphere 
  • the structure and dynamics of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere using meteor radar techniques (Professor Jack Baggaley)
  • the orbital characteristics of meteors and planetary astronomy (Professor Jack Baggaley)

In addition, Dr Bob Bennett and Dr Grahame Fraser are senior fellows attached to this group whose interests revolve around radar physics and the use of radars in various problems relating to the dynamics of the atmosphere.

To support these research interests we have run instruments in New Zealand, Antarctica adn the Southern Ocean. Graeme Plank coordinates our field work programme.

The McDonald Group at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has a number of opportunities for PhD and MSc research projects. Interested students should contact Adrian McDonald to discuss available projects.


A wide range of funding is available for students with appropriate academic backgrounds and details of many of these scholarships can be found at the University of Canterbury Scholarships Office Database.  
Search for specific Physics and Astronomy scholarships in the Scholarships search engine:

  • Professor C C Farr Memorial Scholarship (no application required)
  • Lord Rutherford Memorial Research Fellowship
  • Sims Empire Scholarship
  • B G Wybourne Scholarship in Physics or Astronomy (no application required)

University of Canterbury College of Science Doctoral Scholarships (deadlines in May and October each year). The PhD Scholarships, open to both international and domestic students, provide a stipend of NZ$25,000 per annum and cover tuition fees for a period of three years.

External to UC, the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee (NZVCC) has a searchable database with a variety of scholarships on offer. Of particular interest to prospective UC atmospheric students is the Edward & Isabel Kidson Scholarship

Scholarships associated with our work in Antarctica are offered by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and  Antarctica New Zealand.

Antarctic Research

Our group has a long history of research in Antarctica and this provides most of our students with the unique opportunity of carrying out research on the ice.

Currently we run a medium frequency (MF) radar based at Scott Base to measure winds in the upper atmosphere. The system has been continually improved since its commissioning in 1982 and since 2004 produces continuous near real-time data. The dataset from this instrument is the longest of its type in Antarctica and sought after in the atmospheric science community. We acknowledge the continued support from Antarctica New Zealand.

Our studies investigate the Antarctic middle atmosphere's response to natural and man-made factors which change climate, and the feedbacks in the atmosphere which couple this change to climate change at the surface. The measurements made by the Scott Base MF radar provide valuable climate information about how the flow in the middle atmosphere (70-100 km) has changed. The Scott Base radar record along with observations from satellite instruments, allows the coupling between the middle atmosphere and the surface over Antarctica to be examined; this coupling is often associated with wave-like motions in the atmosphere that the MF radar is particularly good at observing. This type of study is important because improvements in the predictive ability of the current generation of climate models may be particularly sensitive to the coupling processes that we examine.

For academic enquiries

E.g. research collaboration, outreach, prospective students please look through our people and research pages to determine the most appropriate point of contact.

Adrian McDonald

Director of Gateway Antarctica
Beatrice Tinsley Rm 416
Internal Phone: 92064

For enquiries regarding field work please contact

Graeme Plank

Specialist Teaching and Research Technician
Ernest Rutherford 322
Internal Phone: 95357

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