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Community weather monitoring fills important data gap

By Nobuhle Mweli and Nqobile Lushozi, DST-NRF Interns at the SAEON Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node mail.jpg facebook.jpg

The SAEON Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node is expanding its monitoring sites in the Drakensberg Mountains and has used this opportunity to incorporate the sites into its science engagement programme.

The team selected for this mission comprised assistant node technician Siphiwe Mfeka and DST-NRF Grasslands node interns Thami Shezi, Nobuhle Mweli and Nqobile Lushozi. The team members were assigned to deploy automatic weather stations (AWS) in two new monitoring sites - Bambanani Primary School and the Okhombe community monitoring site .

“Bambanani Primary School was selected because of the commitment they have shown in the Calendar Garden project we initiated there, despite their limited resources,” says node coordinator Sue van Rensburg.

The node was introduced to Bambanani Primary School by Julia Colvin, who has been working closely with the school since 2014. Julia worked under the banner of Eco-Schools node coordinator until 2015 when she joined Water Explorers, focusing primarily on water issues.

Reflects Julia: “Of course all our work connects in one way or another so I am pleased that Bambanani now has the opportunity to network with other environmental projects. They have shown great enthusiasm and commitment to their environmental portfolio.”

The SAEON team hopes to use this initiative not only to support environmental awareness stimulated by Julia’s work at the school, but also to spark interest in the learners (who already seemed very interested on installation day) to learn more about science and environmental monitoring, and the importance of both.

“There is a wide range of science careers out there that children know very little about. We want to open these doors for the learners,” stresses Sue.

About one week prior to the deployment of the weather station at each site, the AWS was installed at an office for a test run. According to Siphiwe Mfeka, this part of the exercise is critical because it is the time used to check if the measurements recorded on the AWS are accurate. One way of doing this is by simulating weather variables such as rainfall, wind speed and wind direction, thereafter checking if the recordings on the station correlate with the simulations. Siphiwe used this exercise to teach and guide the interns on how best to set up the stations.

The first mission - Bambanani Primary School

On the day of the installation the SAEON team was invited to meet the principal, Mr Mpungose, who welcomed them and showed much interest in the work to be done at his school. Mr Mpungose introduced the team to some of the science teachers as well as parents who were present at the school for a meeting.

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The automated weather station is installed for a test run one week prior to deployment at Bambanani Primary School

A thumbs-up from the rooftop signals a successful installation at Bambanani

The team then got to work, firstly identifying the best location for the weather station taking factors such as safety as well as installation requirements (i.e rain gauge standard height) into consideration. It was decided that the weather station would be installed on the roof of the school to ensure the security of the system. The team got to work and spent a few hours on the roof of the school.

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Bambanini teachers are given a tutorial on how to download weather data from the station

After a successful installation, the teachers were given a tutorial on how to download weather data from the station. This will enable them to download and store the data in the school’s computers at the end of each month.

Okhombe community monitoring site

For this next challenge, the team followed the same procedure of pre-installing the weather station in the office for a test run before selecting the most appropriate installation site as advised by SAEON’s hydro-meteorologist Professor Colin Everson. Nobuhle opted for the task of augering on the site where the AWS was going to be mounted and the guys supported her by taking photographs and making her laugh.


Members of the team celebrate a successful installation at the Okhombe community monitoring site

After the successful installation on the Okhombe monitoring site, the team cannot wait for their next mission.

The stations will fill an important data gap for the node’s science programme. More importantly, the plan is to use these weather stations, working with the school learners and the community, to calibrate them against cheaper tools developed by GroundTruth. These tools will be combined with others already implemented in the Okhombe monitoring site for assessing water and grass cover on degraded and rehabilitated sites.

Empowering vulnerable members of society

“It is all about creating citizen science tools that are cheap, accessible and easy to use, and that can contribute meaningfully to science,” explains Sue. “The shared vision among those collaborating on this project is to empower the most vulnerable members of society to engage with monitoring the environment. By doing this they will be able to understand first-hand the global change impacts on the environment and see how, through restoration, we can build resilience against these changes.

A caring new generation of scientists

“What I find most exciting is that we have a new generation of scientists coming through the system that care a lot about society and want to give back to create a better future. To see our interns grow in technical and scientific skills, while at the same time working with the learners and the communities in the way they have been doing, gives me great hope for the future of our country. Well done to Team AWS Deploy!”

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