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ESASTAP workshop – inspiring greater collaboration between oceanographers

By Michael Hart-Davis, Masters Student of Physical Oceanography at the Nansen-Tutu Center, SAEON and the CSIR
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Dr Julie Deshayes of the French National Centre for Scientific Research presents on the ROMS ASAP configuration


Final day round table to discuss the plans moving forward

In October, oceanographers from all over Europe and South Africa convened in Cape Town for the ESASTAP workshop, facilitated by the SAEON Egagasini Node and funded through the NRF ESASTAP 2020 call.

Top scientists and students from different fields of oceanography met to discuss the current capabilities, key requirements and limitations of numerical modelling of the Greater Agulhas Current System (GAS) and the oceans around South Africa.

On the agenda were presentations by students and senior scientists whose work is playing key roles in GAS research, as well as open discussions about the future of GAS modelling. These presentations were separated into four different categories and were designed to illustrate what research is currently being done and to potentially open the door for collaboration between local as well as international scientists, with a focus on creating new opportunities for emerging researchers.

The presentations highlighted the need for observations along the coast of South Africa so that we can understand how well the numerical models resolve submesoscale processes. With the movement of numerical models to higher spatial resolutions, the use of observations to assess their ability will allow for the use of these models for several studies closer to the coast in both biological and physical studies.

The importance of the air-sea interactions in the Agulhas Current System was discussed, with the research from Dr Arielle Stela Nkwinkwa-Njouodo showing that “around 40% of the convective rainfall along the eastern coast of South Africa is generated by the Agulhas Current”.

The different numerical models that are currently being used to study the Agulhas Current region by the groups present (focused on Europe and South Africa), were presented. These models were developed for use in different studies along the coast of South Africa and to answer specific scientific questions.

This illustrated the importance of understanding which model a user should apply when investigating certain processes, as the use of the incorrect numerical model may lead to invalid results. The one method that was suggested to combat this, is to open up channels of communication and enhance collaboration between scientists in helping answer specific research questions and, therefore, improving the scientific integrity of research outputs. This would be a two-way street, as the biologists can provide in-situ observations to the modellers, which they can use to assess the ability of their models.

Several presentations illustrated the use of such numerical models in applications around South Africa, including larval connectivity, search and rescue, and plankton ecosystem studies. These studies emphasise the importance of numerical models in conducting research along the coast of South Africa.

Dr Francesca Porri, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, stated: “I appreciated the interest in the increased effort in improving the fine-scale resolution of models and a close-up focus towards the coastal realm, bathymetry and vertical structure of the currents. This shift will certainly benefit biologists interested in larval (but not only, e.g. nutrients, phytoplankton productivity) connectivity."

Developing numerical modelling capability

Overall discussions showed the importance of developing the numerical modelling capability of South Africa to be used to benefit present and future scientists. This can be done by training students and young scientists, both locally and internationally, to equip them with the appropriate tools that can be used in the present time and can be transferred to future students.

Dr Jonathan Durgadoo, GEOMAR, stated: There were very clear possibilities for international collaboration and some projects are already available to foster and frame such collaborations.”

Delegates stressed that workshops such as these were important for the development of the numerical modelling capabilities of South Africa as they provide a forum for communication between professionals about the existing capabilities and requirements for modelling the Agulhas Current.


Dr Zoe Jacobs, University of Southampton: “As a newcomer to the South African modelling community, it was great to hear about all the amazing work everyone is doing to help us understand this complicated system.”

Dr Pierrick Penven, Institute of Research for Development: “The meeting was a nice overview of the work that has been done recently in the region and pointing towards possible collaborations for ecosystems.”

Dr Jonathan Durgadoo, GEOMAR: “Agulhas Current System research in South Africa is being shaped by the broad scientific interests of early-career scientists and supported/framed by their respective advisors.”

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