31 Jan 2024

Our Changing World – Trapping pollen

From Afternoons, 3:35 pm on 31 January 2024
A woman with long dark hair tied back wearing a tank top, long pants and sneakers adjusts a green metal contraption sitting on concrete blocks atop a rooftop with the Sky Tower and Auckland skyline in the background. The sky is cloudy and overcast.

Master's student Natasha Ngadi checks the pollen trap on the rooftop of the Auckland Museum. Photo: Justin Gregory / RNZ

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The view is what you notice first. 

It’s takes time to get up to the roof of the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hera but once you’re there, it’s worth it. A 360-degree turn takes in all the major sights of central Auckland. If you weren’t looking for it, you might not notice a green, medium-sized metal device placed just so to catch the breeze. This device, a clockwork volumetric spore trap, is the key to learning more about pollen levels in this country – a major cause of asthma and hay fever. 

New Zealand’s first pollen trap in 35 years 

Asthma affects approximately one in eight adults and one in five children in New Zealand, with rates higher than those in Australia or the UK. Yet, for the past three decades, the country has operated without a single pollen trap – until now. 

Associate professors Stuti Misra and Amy Chan from the University of Auckland co-lead a team operating the country’s first pollen trap in 35 years. Since July 2023, the team has been trapping pollen and spores, identifying and counting them. Their mission is to update the data on New Zealand's pollen and understand its correlation with the country's soaring asthma and allergy rates. 

A woman with blonde hair tied back wearing glasses and a lab coat peers into a microscope at a lab bench.

Doctoral candidate Laura McDonald counting pollen samples. Photo: Justin Gregory / RNZ

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