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SAEON’s role in regional operational oceanography

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Some of the OceanSAfrica Technical Task Group looking at new technology at the Institute for Marine Technology (IMT).
 
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SAEON is the first South African institution to purchase Argo Floats, whose progress can be viewed online real-time and will form part of South Africa’s operational oceanography network.
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Operational oceanography has the potential to be of great importance to southern Africa, situated as it is between the intense Agulhas Current western boundary system and the biologically productive Benguela Current upwelling system.
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SAEON’s Egagasini Node is actively involved in the education of learners and teachers and capacity building in long-term environmental monitoring.
- Dr Wayne Goschen and Dr Juliet Hermes, SAEON Egagasini Node for Offshore Marine Systems

 

Operational oceanography is concerned with the real-time measurement of variables that determine the state of the ocean. The aim is to produce hindcast, nowcast and forecast three-dimensional products that show the state and dynamics of the ocean over short (hour or less) and longer (month or more) timescales.

The majority of in situ measurements in operational oceanography are of a physical nature, such as currents, temperature, pressure, salinity and Chlorophyll-a. Operational oceanography combines these real-time (or near real-time) measurements with satellite imagery, weather and modelling outputs, as well as static databases, to produce useful information products. These products are then disseminated to the public and interested parties.

Operational oceanography has the potential to be of great importance to southern Africa, situated as it is between the intense Agulhas Current western boundary system and the biologically productive Benguela Current upwelling system. Highly variable marine meteorological and sea state conditions, particularly on the South African south and east coasts, often pose direct threats to industrial, transport and leisure activities.

A large amount of data is generated by operational oceanography systems. SAEON’s mandate is to preserve this data for long-term environmental monitoring and education.

On South Africa’s west coast the upwelled, nutrient rich waters provide the major part of our marine resources and are vulnerable to events such as harmful algal blooms. On longer time scales, the circulation and ecosystems of the region experience significant impacts from ENSO (El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation), Benguela Ninos, the Southern Annular mode and other climate modes.

Marine risk and safety

Operational oceanography outputs can be useful for marine safety (prediction of extreme events), the monitoring and protection of the marine and coastal environment (such as the prediction of harmful algal blooms and low oxygen water, and the protection against storm surges). Operational oceanography can also provide information for marine resources such as fisheries, marine ecosystems and the oil and gas industry.

There is the potential of distinct impacts on the well-being of coastal communities of South Africa and potentially on ecosystem functioning, thus these ocean environments need to be carefully monitored so as to reduce unnecessary risk. One major user destined to benefit from operational oceanography products is the scientific community, who can use the data for marine research and education.

OceanSAfrica

In South Africa there is an operational oceanography initiative, OceanSAfrica, which is currently in its formative stage. The initiative aims to develop a regional operational oceanography system through a holistic and collaborative approach that includes four key pillars: 1) in situ observations, 2) remote sensing, 3) modelling and 4) dissemination.

Overarching all of these pillars is training and education. SAEON’s Egagasini Node, working with SAEON Systems Engineer Wim Hugo, are leading the dissemination group and are members of the OceanSAfrica Steering Committee and Technical Task Group.

Of note is that SAEON is the first South African institution to purchase Argo Floats, whose progress can be viewed online real-time and will form part of South Africa’s operational oceanography network. In addition, SAEON has purchased on-line real-time dial-in underwater temperature recorders that are part of the South African operational oceanography network that is currently being deployed around the coastline of South Africa through the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Oceans and Coasts (DEA O&C) and the Bayworld Centre for Education and Research.

SAEON is also involved in the DEA O&C South African Data Buoy programme, where combined ocean and weather measuring buoys are deployed around the coast of South Africa and the data transmitted back to a shore-based data centre in real-time.

Archiving and distribution of long-term data sets

There are two main reasons for SAEON to form part of the South African operational oceanography initiative: data management and dissemination (the archiving and distribution of long-term data sets) and education outreach. A large amount of data is generated by operational oceanography systems. SAEON’s mandate is to preserve this data for long-term environmental monitoring and education.

Also falling in the work sphere of SAEON is the education of learners and teachers (in particular schools) and capacity building in that sector. With SAEON ensuring that the data is properly archived and freely disseminated, education and capacity building in ocean sciences is bound to be a long-term and stable platform.

SAEON has represented the South African’s operational oceanography initiative at several scientific meetings and conferences. Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node serves on the committees of national and international groups that are concerned with operational oceanography. Indeed, next year Dr Hermes will be presenting a talk on OceanSAfrica as part of the Ocean Observing Systems and Operational Oceanography session at the 10th International Conference on Southern Hemisphere Meteorology and Oceanography (ICSHMO) to be held from 23 to 27 April 2012 in Noumea, New Caledonia.

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