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Major boost for marine sciences research in the South
Author: Media and Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 10/08/2017

Marine science research in South Africa has received a major boost after the signing of a high-level agreement between South Africa, Brazil and the European Union for technical cooperation in the study of the Atlantic ocean spanning from the Arctic to Antarctica.

Currently the Southern Ocean and South Atlantic basin are the least studied in the region, which is incommensurate with their influence on global environmental and climate change.

The South Atlantic Research and Innovation Flagship Initiative will improve scientific knowledge of marine ecosystems and the links between oceans and climate change, food and energy systems, as well as the dynamics of the Atlantic Oceans and its interconnected circulation systems from Antarctica to the Arctic.

The agreement was signed on 13 July 2017 in Lisbon’s historic Belém Tower by Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation; Gilberto Kassab, Minister of State for Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications of Brazil; and Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology of South Africa, during a high-level ministerial and scientific event.

Prof Alakendra Roychoudhury, head of the Department of Earth Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), was one of the scientific delegates who represented South Africa at this high-level meeting that took place from 12 to 14 July.

He says it is critical that South Africa develop the critical mass that will be necessary to meet the requirements of a country surrounded by three oceans: “Much of the ocean below Africa is under-studied and relevant data from the region that is crucial to global climate models or to understand long-term trends in climate variability is lacking.”

Other areas of concern are ocean chemistry, ecology, biodiversity and the potential for a sustainable exploitation of natural resources. According to the South-South Framework document, habitats, species, ecosystems, sources, sink and internal cycling of carbon, micronutrients and contaminants are also not well known and studies are mainly restricted to the margins of continents.

The agreement will now allow for a more coordinated effort and include more effective use of marine research vessels such as the SA Agulhas II, as well as better coordination in terms of observations and sharing of data.

At SU, Prof Roychoudhury was instrumental in the establishment of the highly-specialised research group focused on trace and experimental biogeochemistry in 2015 with a view of developing it into a centre of excellence in Africa. The group’s research and training activities focus on the Southern Ocean in order to understand its long-term impact on the global carbon cycle, ocean acidification and climate change. The group’s research is closely linked to the international GEOTRACES program, which involves scientists from 35 nations working together to improve understanding of biogeochemical cycles and large-scale distribution of trace elements and their isotopes in the marine environment. The group also works closely with the CSIR’ Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory (SOCCO), which focuses on bringing Southern Hemisphere nations together to undertake ocean studies.

“The South-South Framework is a major boost for marine chemistry, a field critically lacking capacity in South Africa. It means there will be a lot of research activities in this field, with new opportunities for postgraduate students and researchers. Stellenbosch University is in the ideal position to take advantage of its geographical location and expanding the existing intellectual capacity,” Prof Roychoudhury concludes.

On the photo above, South African delegates pictured here with the Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor at the launch of the European Union - Brazil - South Africa Atlantic Research and Innovation Cooperation summit that took place from 12 to 14 July 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. 

Contact details

Prof Alakendra Roychoudhury

Tel: 021 808 3124