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SA Agulhas II sets sail for winter research

SA Agulhas II sets sail for winter research

Jul 23, 2015

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) SA Agulhas II has embarked on a winter research expedition on  22 July 2015.

DEA collaborated with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Council for Scientific Industrial and Research (CSIR) to embark on the research voyage, which is estimated to take 25 days out in the Southern Ocean. The researchers on-board will gather physical, biological and chemical oceanographic data. The expedition aims to fill a significant research void in the ocean and climate numerical models, which are unable to accurately simulate seasonal processes.

The voyage provides a unique opportunity to map large-scale spatial patterns of phyto and zooplankton using the Continuous Plankton Recorder between the ice edge and Cape Town during winter. The data obtained from this cruise, along with data obtained from other seasons, will contribute towards a more detailed description and understanding of spatial, seasonal, inter-annual and multi-decadal changes in community structure as well as abundance and distribution of plankton in the Southern Ocean.

This voyage is particularly important as it will highlight changes in the abundance, distribution and diversity of plankton communities in the Atlantic and Indian sectors of the Southern Oceans to the South of Africa, which have generally not been studied in much detail, particularly in winter. As such this work forms part of DEA’s commitment and contribution (since 2011) to research done by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), which in 1991 established an international monitoring programme in the Southern Ocean to map spatio-temporal patterns of plankton, including krill.  It will also use the sensitivity of plankton species to environmental variability and Climate Change as indicators of the health of the Southern Ocean.

Furthermore the voyage will serve as a practical expedition for selecting postgraduate students in the field of Marine Biosciences and Southern Oceans research.  Students will gain first-hand experience in various research collection methods.  The training will also be complemented by technical skills which the students will be exposed to during the trip.

The scientific research to be undertaken on the voyage can be divided into three primary research areas which are distinct but complementary. They are, the third Southern Ocean Seasonal Cycle Experiment, South Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation South Africa, Southern Ocean Trace Metal and BioGeochemistry. Research on these areas will be undertaken through seven research projects.

South Africa is the closest country to Antarctica, which lies 4200km south of the country, it is also the only African nation with a foothold in Antarctica. The country therefore bears the responsibility to serve as a channel for broader African research in the Antarctic region.

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