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Marine forecasting expertise to be developed for Indian Ocean Rim

By Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager, SAEON Egagasini Node

As a representative of OceanSAfrica, I attended the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) - meeting of ocean forecasting officials aimed at building capacity to progress, validate and apply Indian Ocean forecasting systems.

The objectives of the workshop were to initiate a joint effort by all participants to arrive at priorities for their own constituents; attract substantial funding for an international multi-year capacity-building activity in ocean modelling and associated forecasting; and to facilitate South Africa's involvement in the international coordination and sharing of resources to support national and international objectives in Indian Ocean data collection, analysis and application for management and governance.


  Workshop participants (Photo courtesy of Sayedur R Chowdhury)

The workshop was led by Dr Andreas Schiller of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), with support from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Other countries present included the United Kingdom and the majority of Indian Ocean Rim countries.

At the beginning of the workshop participants were given an aboriginal welcome, during which we were informed about the importance of the ocean to the aboriginal people.


United States Consul General Aleisha Woodward hosted a reception in her home that celebrated intergovernmental cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. Guests included diplomats and Honorary Consuls from IOC-ARC countries, along with representatives from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as Austrade, who were in Perth to share ideas as part of a workshop on this specialty area (Photos courtesy of the Consul General and Sayedur R Chowdhury)


Status of operational oceanography

Prior to the workshop each participant had to complete a report providing information about operational oceanography in their country, providing technical information, existing and planned instrumentation, capacity and application, as well as local and regional societal priorities and drivers. These reports were presented during the first three days and gave rise to interesting discussions. From these it became apparent that there were advanced systems in place in India and that South Africa had considerably fewer people committed to operational oceanography compared to many other countries.

Two afternoons were spent training to get to grips with Australia's ocean forecasting system BLUElink, in particular investigating how the BLUElink model is able to represent key oceanographic features in the regional oceans of the different countries. A useful spin off has been that we have been given access to the full set of Bluelink data to use in a current MSc project which is assessing the ability of different global operational models to accurately represent the Agulhas Current.

Following an interesting presentation by Dr Mike Bell of the UK Met Office, we have also been given the rights to use an operational, assimilated model over the South East Atlantic in our future investigations of the Benguela Current.

Day 4 was mostly spent workshopping, which was particularly useful. We split into regions - I was part of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) group, which focused on the synthesis of national gaps, needs analysis and identification of key priorities. In general it was felt that in the WIO the following were of importance (in order of priority):

  • Food security (e.g. fisheries);
  • Natural/unnatural hazards;
  • Natural resources;
  • Oil and gas, mining;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Severe weather/climate extremes;
  • Transport; and
  • Naval applications.

Most of the other groups had similar priorities. Other topics of discussion included the identification and prioritisation of actions in approaches to meet regional needs and to fill gaps; and the identification of potential national and international funding agencies. All groups highlighted capacity development as an overarching issue, with particular gaps and needs in marine and IT infrastructure; education and training; research (linking physics with biology; upwelling; spawning; coral bleaching) and employment.

A critical and immediate need to raise capacity

Following the meeting a draft communiqué was sent around for comment. This has now been finalised. The key outcome of this was that the representatives of IOR-ARC member countries present at the Perth workshop voiced a critical and immediate need to raise capacity within the Indian Ocean oceanographic community so that available oceanographic information, tools, knowledge and capacities can be fully realised and utilised, thereby providing societal, economic and environmental benefits.

In addition, there is a tremendous opportunity to leverage previous, current and prospective efforts to build capacity in the region to enhance and extend this information and to incorporate local expertise and local observations.

The IOR-ARC constituency of ocean researchers, applied practitioners, managers and users proposed to accelerate and sustain capacity development in order to harness what is available now and in the imminent future for the delivery of the benefits across a range of high-priority community issues.

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   Workshop participants enjoy the view of Perth from the US Consul General’s home (Photo courtesy of Sayedur R Chowdhury)

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