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.
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 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
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
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’
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.
Prof Alakendra Roychoudhury
Tel: 021 808 3124