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SAEON visits Japan to further collaborative climate change research


From left: Dr Tomoki Tozuka, Dr Juliet Hermes and Dr Mathieu Rouault on the campus of the University of Tokyo.


Juliet is dwarfed by ginkgo trees on the campus of the University of Tokyo.


Juliet visits the Tokyo fish market, which she describes as “an incredible experience”.

- Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager, SAEON Egagasini Node

As one of the investigators of the South African component of the subtropical dipole research in collaboration with Japan, I spent two weeks in Tokyo at the end of last year to facilitate the collaborative work on this project under the auspices of SATREPS (Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development).

The first week was spent discussing collaborations and proposed research with key scientists from JAMSTEC (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology) and the University of Tokyo and getting to grips with the climate change work currently underway in Japan.

In-depth discussions were held with Dr Swadhin Behera and Dr Tomoki Tozuka of the University of Tokyo, South Africa’s two main collaborators on the subtropical dipole research project, Dr Richter, who is investigating Benguela Ninos and Dr Nagura, who is investigating the impact of the Indonesian throughflow on the South Indian Ocean, in particular on the formation of subtropical dipoles. This work is of particular interest due to the potential link to mesoscale patterns in the Agulhas regime. I also had the opportunity to have discussions with Dr Kida about his nested high-resolution model over the Indonesian throughflow.

The plans discussed include using the OFES (Oceanic General Circulation Model for the Earth Simulator) model to investigate the subtropical ocean dipoles. These dipole patterns in sea surface temperature are strongest during austral summer and, during positive events, consist of positive warm anomalies in the west of the ocean basin and negative anomalies in the east. During a negative event the opposite pattern is seen. Anomalies in sea level pressure due to a strengthening and southward shifting of the subtropical highs (positive event) as well as anomalies in wind and heat flux, drive the dipole pattern. These sea surface temperature anomalies can influence weather and climate patterns over southern Africa.

Links between dipole patterns

The links between the dipole patterns occurring in the South Indian, South Atlantic and potentially South Pacific ocean need further exploration. In 2011 SAEON’s Egagasini Node will be investigating the impact of this interannual variability on the regional oceanography, including the Agulhas and Benguela regions.

From the discussions it became clear that SAEON will work closely with Drs Behera, Tozuka and Nagura. It is hoped that a new PhD student coming to South Africa from Japan will be able to further collaboration with Dr Richter.

The second week involved structured discussions and workshops as well as a two-day IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) symposium where I presented. Discussions were held with University of Tokyo students. These meetings facilitated some stimulating discussions and highlighted the scope for work between Japanese and South African scientists. In particular, the Japanese team have some excellent analysis skills and programmes including the SOM (self-organising map) analysis, whereas the South African scientists have an excellent understanding of the region and strong regional knowledge of the oceanography and work being done.

Fellow South African Mathieu Rouault from the University of Cape Town and I were given a detailed tour of the campus of the University of Tokyo, followed by fruitful discussions with Tomoki Tozuka as well as detailed discussions with Dr Izumo around the impact of the Indian Ocean on ENSO (El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation). Matthieu and I, with Prof George Philander of ACCESS (Africa Centre for Climate and and Earth Systems Science) listened to some short student presentations and gave an overview of South African work being done.

Some very detailed discussions followed on the physics behind the different climate models. These discussions helped to bring together a number of research ideas.

When Dr Neville Sweijd from ACCESS arrived on the Wednesday a more structured mini-symposium was held with researchers from JAMSTEC and the University of Tokyo on a variety of topics. This was followed by a reception evening where we were able to meet some of the key managers and administrators of JAMSTEC and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

IOC Symposium

The last two days of the trip were spent at the International Symposium “Roles of the Indo-Pacific Oceans in Climate Change and Variability in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the IOC/UNESCO”. On the first day I attended a number of presentations by eminent oceanographers. The second day was devoted to the Indonesian and South African SATREPS projects. I presented an overview of key climate models in the South Indian Ocean, as well as some of the key regional and international projects involved in this research.


The highlights of the trip were the opportunities to further discussions with the two key collaborators, to plan the collaborative research, to gain a better understanding of the other work being done and to provide constructive feedback and suggestions to improve these studies.

It became evident from this trip that there is a good deal of work being done by the Japanese and South African scientists which has clear linkages and needs to be expanded on. However, the concern is that there are a good deal more people working on the key questions in Japan, including a number of dedicated research scientists and postdoctoral students. It is essential that a postdoctoral student (together with appropriate funding) is found to work with SAEON’s Egagasini Node (and other collaborating SA scientists) to be able to maintain a similar level of research productivity.


The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the University of Tokyo and SAEON are all gratefully acknowledged for making this trip possible.

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