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A walkthrough of our journey at the SAEON Egagasini Node

By Gustav Rautenbach, Rudzani Silima and Darren Nathan Solomon, Marine Science Students, CPUT
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Gustav aiding with SkiMonkey calibration at the UCT pool

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Gustav (back) and Rudzani (front) visiting the RV Africana

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Darren presenting on the SkiMonkey III during National Marine Week

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Darren (front), Rudzani (centre) and Gustav (back) learning how to process CTD data at SAEON

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Rudzani attending the IAPSO conference in Cape Town

From 1 July to 31 November 2017, three Marine Science students - Gustav Rautenbach, Rudzani Silima and Darren Solomon from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) - completed their Work Integrated Learning (WIL) module through SAEONs’ Egagasini Node.

During this practical module the students were required to complete a research project, a technical report and a portfolio of evidence to qualify for their National Diploma in Marine Science.

Under the supervision of SAEON's Tamaryn Morris and Jethan d’Hotman, the students were handed the opportunity to get involved with a variety of activities relating to the marine science industry, and gaining an immense amount of knowledge and practical experience in the field. Additionally, involving the students in the industry allows them to network and meet new people in the Marine Science field to boost their chances of employment in the future.

With the support of SAEON, the students had sufficient support and resources to conduct diverse research and technical projects for their final WIL module.

Gustav Rautenbach

Using data from the Shelf Agulhas Glider Experiment (SAGE) conducted in 2015, Gustav focused his research project on the validation of sea glider physical oceanographic data, against data acquired using conventional ship-borne Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) sensors as the standard.

The innovative new ocean-going robot, Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider (WG), inspired Gustav to conduct his technical report on this instrument. Gustav compared the previous SV2 WG model to the new SV3 model to indicate reasoning behind the modifications to the WG such as dimensional changes to improve propulsion capabilities and solar panel capacity, new electronic thrusters which can be used for avoidance manoeuvring, and additional towing capability of 500 kg.

Piloting the WG during the Gliders in the Agulhas (GINA) experiment also allowed Gustav to identify issues relating to the WG and recommend potential improvements for future development.

Rudzani Silima

For Rudzanis’ research project, CTD and XBT data were collected between 2013 and 2016 from the Crossroads transect to compare the water properties of the Agulhas Current with those of the Agulhas Return Current. The project also compared water properties of the Agulhas Current on the Crossroads transect to the Agulhas Current further north along the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) transect.

Current- and Pressure-Inverted Echo-sounders (CPIES) are an emerging instrument in South African oceanographic research, which has encouraged Rudzani to focus her technical report on the fundamentals of this observation tool. CPIES is an instrument placed at the bottom of the ocean with an additional bottom pressure sensor and current meter, sending a low frequency pulse to and from the surface of the ocean.

CPIES measures the pressure at the bottom of the ocean, the velocity and direction of the water moving past the instrument, and the vertical acoustic travel time used to derive other oceanic parameters such as full water column velocity and dynamic height of the sea surface.

Darren N. Solomon

Data were collected over a period of approximately 18 days from six Argo floats (sponsored by Euro-Argo) that were deployed in a transect off Port Shepstone on 10 August 2017 from the RV Algoa. Darren analysed the data to assess the evolution of Argo float data, performance and trajectory to deduce vertical water column profiles (temperature, salinity and pressure) of the Agulhas Current along the Transkei shelf.

The SkiMonkey III, an underwater benthic camera system, is what Darren focused his technical project on where he explains all its components, how it works (ranging from operational procedures, calibration, maintenance, recommendations and so forth) and showing examples of the images produced during deployments.

Involvement in education outreach

The four months at SAEON exposed the WIL students to numerous opportunities, allowing them to grow in expertise and expand their knowledge in the field of Physical Oceanography.

As part of SAEON’s education outreach programme led by Thomas Mtontsi, the WIL students were involved in the Adopt-a-Float Day, the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists and the Ocean Observers programme (Marine Week). For Adopt-a-Float Day, six different high schools were invited to the Department of Environmental Affairs workshop at East Pier, V&A Waterfront, to formally adopt an Argo float deployed during the (South African MOC Basin-wide Array) SAMBA/SEAmester cruise in August 2017.

As part of the Eskom Expo hosted at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the WIL students were invited to judge projects created by primary and high school learners. With this opportunity the WIL students learnt how to judge other projects accurately and provide constructive criticism. The students witnessed first-hand the creativity of each project, how innovation was used to help improve the livelihoods of people and the environment, and ultimately learnt that science is a tool used to simplify and enrich the lives of people around the world.

During Marine Week, the SAEON education programme invited different high schools to the Foretrust Building in Foreshore, Cape Town, where the WIL students presented their instrumentation projects to enlighten the learners about the different monitoring platforms and tools used in oceanographic research.

Not only did the WIL students teach younger generations about Marine Science, but they too learnt several things about the industry. Handling CTD data properly was one, a skill obtained when the WIL students attended a CTD data processing workshop, teaching them how to process and present data extracted from a CTD.

Thereafter the students attended an Oceanographic Field Research workshop hosted by Adam Houk from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) of the University of Miami, where he demonstrated how to handle mooring instruments such as Nortek current meters and MicroCat CTDs before, during and after a cruise was conducted. The WIL students also attended some of the presentations at the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (IAPSO) conference hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. With regular trips to UCT, the WIL students were able to attend the Southern African Marine Science Symposium (SAMSS) conference review, donut talks and lectures, giving the students insight into the current work being done within the ocean.

Besides passively learning about the Marine Science industry, the students also gained expertise by being involved practically. At the very beginning of the WIL period, Rudzani and Gustav were taught how to pilot sea gliders and WGs where they became active pilots during the Gliders in the Agulhas (GINA) experiment. The students were also involved in calibrating the underwater camera system known as the Ski-Monkey.

A throwback to what we have learnt

It is safe to say that much can be reflected on, from the tiniest activity to the largest. In actual fact, more can be reflected on the small things learnt throughout the WIL experience, not taught in traditional textbooks; experience that has been gained by experts which they graciously shared with the students as they networked.

The students learnt much about physical oceanography itself, as broad as it is, more specifically in terms of the instrumentation used to study the ocean as well as the actual scientific writing using the data collected by the instruments. Instrumentation was seen first-hand, ranging from Argo floats, CPIES, sea gliders, WG and many more.

Information on how to care for and maintain these instruments was emphasised during the WIL period, as well as how the equipment is calibrated, operated and stored. In terms of research papers, the students’ scientific writing skills were not only improved, but their skills in downloading, uploading, processing, plotting and scrutinising of oceanographic data in order to derive accurate results were substantially enhanced.

In essence, if anyone wants to be showered with waves of opportunities? SAEON’s Egagasini Node is the island to be stranded on.

Supervisors' note 

At the end of the WIL module, a prize-giving session was held with the full CPUT student group, and the SAEON students achieved the following prizes: Gustav Rautenbach won Best Marine Science Practice Project, Best Research Project and Best Overall WIL Student prize. Rudzani Silima took the Best Academic Student honours, and Darren Solomons achieved second place for the Best Research Project award.

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