Neill Barr


Job title and place of work

Principal Technician, NIWA Wellington.

What is your role in the CARIM project? What work package are you contributing to?

My role in the CARIM projects is as a principal technician for both RA3 (Cliff Law’s mesocosm work) and RA4 (Vonda Cumming’s paua research) projects. My responsibilities include many aspects of the design and construction of control and monitoring systems for this research. In my role I have to continue to improve and adapt our systems as new experimental questions arise, but I do this always with the mantra in mind of keeping things as simple and flexible as possible. 

What do you do on an average work day?

On an average day at work when these ‘OA’ experiments are running I have to maintain and repair the various components of these systems, often on-the-fly. These systems are necessarily technically very intensive, for example there are a total of over 80 pumps of various descriptions in both the CARIM systems I look after. 

Why is studying coastal acidification important?

I view the study of ‘ocean acidification’ as the unequivocal manifestation of atmospheric ‘climate change’ in the ocean. It is tangible, demonstrable, and its effects will be far reaching into the future. So the research we do is critically important and it is good to feel I can make some contribution to the outcomes of this work.

What study did you do at high school? And after high school?

I have to say wasn’t a particularly good academic student at school but I always enjoyed inventing and building things. I have had a very varied working life so far, starting as woolscourer and eventually getting an adult apprenticeship as an electrician in the local freezing works. After that I worked overseas predominantly as a ship’s electrician on luxury motor yachts and also did a short stint on the MV Greenpeace. At the age of 34 I studied at the University of Auckland and 10 years later had earned a PhD in marine and environmental science specialising in seaweed ecophysiology.

What outcomes from CARIM do you think there will be?

I anticipate that this research will inform and advance our understanding of the future effects of ocean acidification. In some small way I hope this may help us very soon make better decisions about the future of our planet.

What excites you about working on this project?

I very much enjoy the challenges of developing systems for controlling basic aspects of seawater chemistry (like pH), to mimic and manipulate the cycles and patterns we see in nature.