Our forests and other land areas may be sucking up to 60 per cent more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than previously thought and we can likely thank our native trees for much of it.

That's according to new research led by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) scientists, who further found much of the new-found uptake is occurring in the southwest of the South Island.

Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas and responsible for most of the human-induced warming in the atmosphere.

Globally, carbon sinks, such as oceans and forests, have helped mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing about half the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities during the past few decades.

New Zealand's forest carbon uptake played a key role in meeting our commitments under the Kyoto Climate treaty and is expected to play an important role in meeting the country's climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In the study, just published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a team led by Dr Kay Steinkamp and Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher used an "inverse" modelling approach to estimate the amount of carbon uptake.

This was done by measuring the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere at a network of sites, and then using high-resolution weather models to determine what parts of New Zealand the air had passed over before reaching the site.

Simulations from a land model, run by partners at GNS Science, and ocean carbon data, provided further information.

From there, the team calculated the best combinations of sources and sinks to match the data.