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Meet EFTEON’s new chief technician


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Dr Kerneels Jaars joined SAEON’s Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON) in July this year.

SAEON eNews caught up with this dynamic young scientist to learn more about his prior exposure to national and global research and the challenges he will be facing in this ground-breaking new position.

0301.jpgDr Kerneels Jaars has a keen interest in close interdisciplinary collaboration at the interface between fundamental and applied research 

1. You grew up in the Northern Cape. When and how did your interest in the environment start?  

I grew up in the Karoo, which is a harsh environment. Once I realised that my generation would be the first to see and inherit serious issues brought about by climate change, I wanted to know more. I learnt that human actions are the main causes of climate change and that the Karoo would be impacted to a great extent by these changes.

2. What attracted you to this key position? 

EFTEON is an exciting project that will be of great benefit to the local and global science community. Globally we face serious environmental challenges – pollution, climate change and species extinction, to name a few. These challenges will require significant adjustments in the way we work, play, live and govern. Through this project I think I can contribute my bit towards solving some of the problems.

3. Did you have any prior experience of SAEON and its projects? 

Although I don’t have any prior experience of SAEON projects, I’ve known about this great research platform and the work they do.

4. You have been exposed to several international research institutions*. How do you foresee that this exposure to global research will benefit your work at EFTEON?  

While collaborating and working at these research institutions, I was exposed to a wide range of skills ranging from theoretical to practical knowledge. I worked in various environments and on diverse projects, which I think would greatly benefit me in my work at EFTEON.

5. Please give our readers a concise overview of what your position at EFTEON is going to entail. 

As Chief Technician I will develop processes, procedures and protocols for the monitoring systems that are to be installed and roll out the EFTEON monitoring infrastructure to six locations around the country. I will moreover ensure that procedures are being adhered to and that data quality objectives are being met. The position also involves training and mentoring of technical and scientific staff and engagement with the science and policy-making communities.

6. In terms of the training and mentoring of site and laboratory technicians, will those be technicians other than the technical staff currently employed at the SAEON nodes? Will your work be integrated with that of the technicians at the various SAEON nodes?  

The technicians to be employed at the EFTEON sites are new appointments and will work closely with technicians at the various SAEON nodes. The EFTEON landscapes and SAEON nodes are complementary. The EFTEON landscapes are focused research platforms that shine a spotlight within the broader context of the work that SAEON nodes are undertaking. There is a national need for scientific skills relating to instrumentation, both for research projects and long-term observation. EFTEON and SAEON are in a great position to train and develop these skills sets for the country.

7. How will you ensure that your instrumentation and sampling protocols and procedures remain current and comply with international best practices? And with measurement traceability to national (NMISA) and international standards? 

We will be looking for opportunities to collaborate with networks such as ICOS, NEON, CERN, TERN and ILTER (perhaps through the Global Environmental Research Infrastructure that SAEON is instrumental in developing). These and other organisations have developed a huge amount of experience in instrumentation and sampling protocols and procedures. We would want to draw on these competencies in planning and rolling out our own infrastructure.

8. You have a PhD in Environmental Sciences from North-West University. You have considerable measurement experience as well as operational experience in observational infrastructure. How do you see this science-technology interface you’ve been exposed to being of benefit to your work in your new position?  

My qualifications and experience make me ideally suited to the challenges posed by this new position. I have a highly analytical and systematic approach with good organisational, planning, problem-solving, self-management, coordination and reporting skills. I have experience and demonstrable success in the technical training, mentoring and capacitation of junior staff. Moreover, I can take the initiative and work independently in remote environments.

9. A lot of the work conducted at SAEON and envisaged for EFTEON has a strong biological/ecological component, while your skills and experience are largely chemistry based. How do you see your skills set translating across disciplines? And how would you describe the value you bring to such an interdisciplinary project? 

I have a keen interest in close interdisciplinary collaboration at the interface between fundamental and applied research. Interdisciplinary research is an important way to go for new research questions. Many important and interesting research questions can only be answered by attacking them with interdisciplinary research. I have a broad research background in atmospheric chemistry, aerosol, micrometeorological and meteorological measurements.

10. Please tell our readers more about the experience you’ve been gaining as a Royal Society Newton International Fellow. 

I participated in a major international consortium field campaign led by UK institutions in collaboration with partners in India. While the campaign offered an outstanding opportunity for training in advanced micrometeorological flux measurement techniques, the project of my own design widened the science questions to be addressed by the campaign to include an assessment of the contribution of biogenic emissions to atmospheric composition and air quality in a rapidly growing and industrialising megacity.

11. You were the recipient of an NRF Freestanding Innovation Doctoral Scholarship in 2014. What did that entail? Do you foresee that innovation will play a prominent role in your new position? 

The scholarship helped me to do research on a critical and globally important area, which is reactive gas from vegetation. Innovation will unquestionably play a prominent role in building a pipeline of the next generation of skilled technicians, scientists and researchers in South Africa by contributing towards the increase in the number and quality of postgraduate students at the Masters’ and Doctoral levels. Through this position I will strive to foster young scientists that can manage to look at problems differently and come up with solutions others cannot, and provide an endless stream of value to South Africa and the world.

12. We are approaching critical environmental limits – nationally, Africa-wide and globally. What role do you see your work at EFTEON playing in the prevention and mitigation of climate risks and climate change? 

There is a saying that you cannot manage what you aren’t measuring. The role of SAEON in general, and EFTEON in particular, is providing long-term measurements to inform the science, to provide the necessary background and to drive science or knowledge-based policy development at a variety of scales. If EFTEON can provide those datasets that are useful in pushing the science and informing policy, it is fulfilling its role.

* Including the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University in England, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and University of Helsinki in Finland


FAST FACTS ABOUT KERNEELS

  • Kerneels Jaars has a PhD in Environmental Sciences from North-West University. 
  • The title of his thesis is ‘Volatile organic compound measurements at a grazed savannah grassland in South Africa’. 
  • Kerneels is the Early Career Scientists’ Head of the sub-Saharan Africa Network of the Integrated Land Ecosystem-Atmosphere Processes Study (iLEAPS). 
  • The mantra he lives by is from Martin Luther King Jr: “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 
  • Hobbies: Hiking, running, paintball and reading.
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    Related content:

    ‘A new kind of environmental scientist’ appointed to lead EFTEON 

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