• New marine centre to study Africa's climate challenges

    Munyaradzi Makoni


[CAPE TOWN] A new collaboration between Norway and South Africa will collect oceanic data to help better understand and cope with the effects of climate change across Africa.

The Nansen-Tutu Centre for Marine Environmental Research was launched yesterday (20 May) in Cape Town, South Africa. It will gather information on the three oceans surrounding southern Africa — the South Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

The centre — a collaboration between the University of Cape Town Marine Research (MA-RE) Institute and the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre (NERSC) in Norway — will carry out systematic and long-term measurements of the oceans. It will also develop new methods of data integration.

The research will focus on modelling the state of the oceans, the marine environment and ecosystems, and the relationship between climate anomalies in different parts of the world.

John Field, director of the MA-RE Institute, told SciDev.Net that there was a gap in producing regular reports on ocean behaviour comparing with widely-available rainfall and weather forecasts.

The research centre will help fill this gap and help provide more accurate seasonal weather and rainfall forecasts. "Oceans basically drive the weather and we need this information," he said.

Field added that the centre would also offer bursaries to encourage students to pursue postgraduate qualifications.

Emlyn Balarin, manager of the MA-RE Institute, said they aim to educate at least five MSc and two PhD graduates in the first three years.

The University of Cape Town currently has about 35 post-graduate oceanography students, many coming from neighbouring countries, said Balarin.

The annual budget for the Nansen-Tutu Centre would be around US$0.5 million per year, which includes direct and indirect funding from the Norwegian and African partners, said Balarin.

"We aim to grow the Nansen-Tutu Centre dramatically over the next six years, increasing the current staff from six to 20," Balarin told SciDev.Net, adding that they expect the budget to grow to about US$1.5 million annually.

Norwegian ambassador to South Africa, Tor Christian Hildan, told SciDev.Net that the major thrust of the research centre — to develop modelling strategies — will be backed by his country's expertise in this field.

Hans Erstad, senior advisor at the Centre for Development Cooperation in Fisheries, Norway, said the centre provides an opportunity for South Africa to take the lead in marine research and training to expand this field in Africa.