South African Environmental Observation Network

SAEON Seminar Series



7 Aug 2020

Jasper SlingsbyFynbos

Fire and Global Change in Fynbos

Global change is a complex topic. Even more so when overlain on an ecosystem with highly complex natural dynamics. Discerning the signal of change from the natural noise, or making projections for ecosystems under an uncertain future, are desperately needed to inform management and policy. This requires innovative ecological and statistical approaches. Here I present some of the complexities and some of the solutions my collaborators and I have been working on for Fynbos - from field surveys to satellites and mechanistic models. Many open questions and challenges remain, and our current solutions are far from perfect. With this talk I hope to pique your interest and encourage you to join us and play in this stimulating and rewarding space and/or encourage you to consider similarities or differences in the ecosystems you are most familiar with.

4 Sep 2020

Hayden Wilson, Caroline Mfopa, Marc PienaaruLwazi

The BioEnergy Atlas - Transforming Data into action

The BioEnergy atlas for South Africa aims to provide information in support of the BioEnergy industry. Assessing the sustainability of establishing a BioEnergy industry in South Africa is dependent on realistic assessments of feedstock availability, cost of feedstock transport, conversion costs and market access. Additionally, technology options for BioEnergy production need to be assessed in relation to competing energy options in order to determine which options meet management objectives for energy provision, water security, job creation and social justice.This presentation outlines the approaches used by the data science team at uLwazi in order to address some of these complex issues.

2 Oct 2020

Xolisa DlomoElwandle

Spatial upwelling indices in Algoa Bay and St. Francis Bay

Upwelling is the process that brings cold, nutrient-rich deep water towards the surface, thereby enhancing marine ecosystems through increased primary production. Winds, Coriolis Effect and Ekman Transport are the main external forces that drive upwelling. Substantial economic benefits are realized in areas where this physical process affects coastal ecosystems. Spatial and temporal variability in regimes of coastal upwelling may have profound effects on the distribution and local dynamics of coastal marine populations and entire communities. Currently available mesoscale indices for upwelling intensity lack the resolution needed to characterize and compare inner-shelf upwelling regimes at small spatial scales, which is often required to test relevant hypotheses in ecology, conservation, and management. We present local, quantitative indices of thermal variability, whose pattern across sites is largely driven by variation in coastal upwelling intensity at scales of a few kilometers. Index calculations were based on hourly records of in situ underwater depth-averaged temperatures, gathered at 6 sites in St. Francis Bay, and at 8 sites in Algoa Bay. Several univariate metrics were calculated using daily series of temperature anomalies, and combined to produce a multivariate ordination of sites (Multivariate Upwelling Zone Index of Cooling, MUZIC) that allowed us to compare sites across regions. Upwelling-induced variability at the scales documented here can have significant consequences on the ecology of coastal ecosystems. The basic data requirements (i.e. SST/ UTR time series) and the simplicity of calculation make these indices a useful tool to apply at a large number of sites around the world, and to examine the generality of community and population-level responses to physical forcing.

6 Nov 2020

Julia GlendayFynbos

Climate+Leaves+Roots+Soil and the challenge of putting vegetation into boxes: a discussion on how evapotranspiration is estimated in catchment models

Catchment-scale hydrological models are regularly used to inform water resources planning and catchment management decisions. These models necessarily reduce complex and dynamic hydrological processes in soils, vegetation, aquifers, channels, into sets of equations, logic statements, and parameter values. This seminar focuses on approaches used to calculate evapotranspiration (ET) in these models. An overview of algorithms, parameters, and methods of discretising space in a few commonly used modelling tools in South Africa will be presented to spark discussion. Model algorithms are a balance between our understanding of how a process works, levels of available data, and computational practicalities. These are changing all the time! We'd like to start a discussion between hydrologists, ecologists, ecophysiologists, micro-meteorologists, remote-sensers, and other interested '-gists' about ways our research and updated knowledge could improve estimation of ET within catchment-models. Please come ready to engage, thinking like a plant or your favorite biome!

4 Dec 2020

Jenny Jackson-VeitchEgagasini

South Africa's turbulent Oceans: diving deeper with ocean models

South Africa’s contrasting dry, arid west coast and lush, green east coast are the result of the very different processes of the adjacent oceans. The warm, narrow and fast-flowing Agulhas Current off the east coast is one of the worlds major western boundary currents, while the cool Benguela Current system off the west coast is one of the four major eastern boundary systems. South Africa’s position in the global ocean is unique in that it is the only place where an eastern and western boundary system directly interact. This interaction produces a tremendous amount of turbulence in the southern Benguela system and has important ecosystem implications. In this seminar I will discuss novel ways in which numerical models are used in order to better understand an environment, so vast and dynamic, that it is difficult to sample in a spatially and temporally cohesive manner. Please join us to find out why your biome needs the ocean and how numerical models are used to fill the gaps.

22 Jan 2021

Tony SwemmerNdlovu

The thickening of savannas with trees and shrubs. Does it really matter, and why has it happened?

Savanna ecosystems throughout the world have experienced various degrees of thickening over the past century, with large increases in the cover of trees and shrubs over vast areas that were previously open and dominated by grasses.Mulitple causes have been put forward to explain this so-called 'bush encroachment', with evidence supporting them varying according in different ecosytems and different parts of the world. Disruption of natural fire and herbivory regimes, changes in climate and increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 may all play a role. Despite decades of research the exact causes in any particular savanna are still not well understood. In constrast to plethora of studies on the causes of woody plant thickening, there are relatively few studies on the consequences of bush encroachment. Is widely accepted that the increases of trees and shrubs have led to losses of grass productivity and reduced biodiversity, but this is rarely supported with empirical evidence. This presentation will give an overview of research conducted by the SAEON Ndlovu Node on the causes and consequences of bush encroachment. This includes: 1) a long-term demographic studies that aims to determine causes of encroachment in drier savannas where fire does not play a role, and 2) the use of bush clearing experiments to understand the impacts of trees and shrubs on productivity and biodiversity

5 Feb 2021

Manish RamjeawonGrasslands

Using the GRACE satellite product to determine changes in groundwater storage in the Maputaland Coastal Plain

Up to 75% of the population in Africa rely on groundwater for daily use and this percentage is even higher in the Maputaland Coastal Plain (MCP) located in the north-east of KwaZulu-Natal. Groundwater plays a vital role in the ecology of the region, as wetlands, peatlands and lakes such as Lake Sibayi and the Kosi Bay Lakes, are predominately groundwater driven. The region is an important conservation area, including the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage site with several RAMSAR sites. In recent years a decrease in precipitation, an increase in abstraction and a growth in commercial forestry area have resulted in a decline in groundwater levels for the MCP. Previous studies have indicated that between 2004 and 2015, boreholes located in the north eastern part of the MCP, near the Tembe and Mbazwana communities, experienced a decline of between 0.7 m and 2.7 m, while areas in the south such as Richards Bay experienced a reduction in groundwater levels of between 0.7 m and 6.3 m for the same time period. Monitoring boreholes only provide point-based measurements of groundwater level change and are not evenly distributed across the MCP. Added to this is the lack of data to convert groundwater level to groundwater storage. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite-based product has been successfully applied in many studies to determine groundwater storage change over large regions. This presentation highlights the potential of GRACE to determine groundwater storage change in the primary aquifer located in the MCP.

5 Mar 2021

Justin Du ToitALN

Vegetation dynamics and biome shifts in the eastern Karoo

The eastern Karoo of South Africa is an ecotonal zone between the Nama-Karoo and semi-arid grasslands to the east. Vegetation includes two characteristic layers – a grass layer comprising perennial and annual predominantly tufted species, and a dwarf-shrub layer comprising succulent and non-succulent perennial species. Paleo records indicate that dominance between these two life forms has fluctuated over time. Since the mid-1800s, herbivore biomass has increased by orders of magnitude with the introduction of commercial livestock agriculture. Concomitantly, observations over the past century, and more, showed a deterioration of ecosystem health, with decreases in grassiness effecting an eastward encroachment, or biome shift, of the Nama-Karoo into the grasslands. Fast-forward to present-day and the opposite has arguably occurred: grasses have marched westwards, and much of the ecotone is better described as shrubby grassland than as Nama-Karoo shrubland. Using data from various long-term experiments and opportunistic studies conducted at the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute, we examine the relative effects of rainfall amount and seasonality, livestock grazing systems and stocking rate, and fire to explain grass/shrub interactions in the area, and make predictions about what might drive biome boundaries in the future.

9 Apr 2021

Zach SmithuLwazi

Searching SAEON's data; introducing the SAEON Data Portal

The SAEON Data Portal ( is a search engine comprising a variety of open source software to present SAEON's data offerings to the world. In this talk I'll demonstrate some of the functionality and features of the portal from a user perspective, before exploring some of the current and proposed back-end architecture and the implications for future functionality. Feedback welcome!

7 May 2021

Phumlile Cotiyane-PondoElwandleEpilithic diatoms along the coast of South Africa: Insights from baseline studiesDespite the rich information on the taxonomy of marine benthic diatoms of South Africa curated by Prof. MH Giffen, the knowledge on their composition, diversity, spatio-temporal variations, and ecology around the coast of South Africa remains limited. This presentation will provide an overview of the recent benthic (epilithic) diatoms research at the Elwandle Node, showing results obtained from large and small geographical scale studies, revealing highly variable epilithic diatom abundances, species richness, and a patchy distribution along the coastline. Secondly, epilithic diatoms are known and used as indicators of water quality in freshwater systems. Can this be applied to marine waters? Given the susceptibility of our coastal marine waters to pollution, the potential use of epilithic diatoms for monitoring purposes has recently been investigated. Results have illustrated the rapid temporal variation of epilithic diatom assemblages in relation to environmental conditions. The use of diatoms as potential indicators of change along the coastline will be discussed.

11 Jun 2021

Robert SkeltonFynbos

Drought tolerance in diverse temperate plants: solutions to long-standing problems

My research seeks to address these primary challenges by examining fundamental physiological mechanisms underlying broader plant processes and responses, with a particular emphasis on functionally and ecologically diverse plant taxa occurring in Mediterranean-type ecosystems. A fundamental difficulty of my work is finding meaningful ways to test critical hypotheses about the different types of responses plants might demonstrate to environmental stresses in natural communities. I address this through a novel combination of detailed, innovative physiological measurements made within a laboratory setting and in situ experimental manipulations and long-term monitoring observations. Specifically, I incorporate data of plant functional traits with results from comparative plant physiology, experimental manipulations of abiotic stresses and long-term monitoring of in situ plant functionality during natural disturbance events. In this seminar I will highlight some recent advances that have emerged from my research, including a novel conceptual framework for quantifying plant drought tolerance, and solutions to long-standing problems in the field of plant hydraulics. I will demonstrate how these advances can improve our ability to predict lags in plant recovery from drought, forecast plant vulnerability to future drought, and prioritize biological groups and areas of conservation concern.

2 Jul 2021

Nicole du Plessis and Erika BrownEgagasini

Ecosystem Accounting and Ocean Accounts: What? Why? Who? and How?

Ocean Accounting is a component of the UN Natural Capital Accounting & Valuation of Ecosystem Services Project (led by Stats SA and SANBI nationally) which aims to assist the participating partner countries to advance the knowledge agenda on environmental and ecosystem accounting and initiate pilot testing of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) and Ecosystem Accounting (EA), with an aim to improve the management of natural biotic resources, ecosystems and their services at the national level as well as mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems in national level policy, planning and implementation. South Africa is one of five countries participating in this project.

6 Aug 2021

Marlize MullerNdlovu

Drought effects on floristic diversity in the threatened Woodbush Granite Grassland of South Africa

SAEON Egagasini, Elwandle and uLwazi Nodes are participating as part of the recently established NRF Communities of Practice - ‘Western Indian Ocean: Assessing the applicability of the ocean-accounts framework’ to trial part of the OAF within South Africa.

3 Sep 2021

Paul GordijnGrasslands

Socio-ecological legacy effects on grassland transformation in the biodiversity rich Drakensberg mountains

This study assessed land use and land cover change (LULCC) over contrasting tenure systems in the ±1000 km2 Cathkin area of the biodiversity rich uKhahlamba Drakensberg; wherein communal, private and protected land tenures exist. In this long-term study, the success of detecting secondary grassland (e.g., vegetated old fields) was maximized by using the earliest available, from 1945, and most recent high resolution (±0.5 m GSD) orthophotos from 2016, for visual classification of land cover. Once disturbed by agricultural activities such as cultivation, grassland plant diversity is not known to recover. Over seventy years, 25% of the 647 km2 untransformed grassland was lost. Grassland was most stable under protected tenure where only 4.6% was transformed; 36% and 48% of communal land and private grasslands, respectively, were transformed by 2016. The main transitions away from grassland included transitions to cultivation (largely in private lands), degraded-vegetated areas (i.e., old fields) and plantations. Outside protected areas, Hierarchical Generalized Additive Modelling of grassland transformation revealed that by including land tenure, in addition to abiotic and settlement density predictors, the amount of explained variance increased by 11.4%. In general, flatter, wetter and lower elevations were more vulnerable to transformation, however, these dynamics have changed over time reflecting ingrained socio-ecological legacies. The limited remaining grasslands in foothill communal and private areas are critical habitat and ‘climate corridors’ for future species migrations under global change. Erosion, particularly in communal areas, signals an existing threat to grassland functioning and biodiversity. Indigenous and alien woody ingression into grassland pose significant threats to remaining grassland biodiversity.

1 Oct 2021

Gina ArenaALN

Expanding grasslands? Structural biome shifts in the dryland rangelands of the eastern Karoo revealed through long-term observation of climate, vegetation and land use change

The overarching drivers of early 20th century dryland degradation in South Africa have been attributed to high stocking rates and overgrazing by domestic livestock. In response to these concerns, appropriate research and government interventions were implemented to address rangeland and livestock mismanagement. However, the role of long-term climate trends as a driver of semiarid vegetation change was poorly understood, particularly for changes occurring at the interface of the Nama-Karoo and Grassland biomes where shrubland encroachment could be detected along a gradient of increasing annual rainfall. It is this gradient that controls the natural biome transition from shrub-dominance to grass-dominance. However, the prediction of shrubland encroachment was refuted when research in the early 1990s revealed that the vegetation of this region (known as the ‘eastern Karoo’) had undergone an increase in grass cover; a trend that persisted into the early 2000s. Findings indicated that an increase in annual rainfall drove the increase in grass cover, but the generality of this relationship across the broader rainfall gradient of the biome transition had not been examined. In addition to rainfall, grazing by domestic livestock has also influenced the relative proportion of grasses and shrubs in the eastern Karoo. While other studies have alluded to changes in land use, few data have been presented and the relative influence of land use change has usually been under-estimated. The availability of historical vegetation surveys and landscape photographs, climate station records and magisterial district livestock censuses makes it possible to develop a more comprehensive synthesis of how vegetation has changed across the rainfall gradient in order to address questions around biome shifts. The PhD study, therefore, aimed to determine whether a biome shift is related to a broader shift in the climate regime through the assessment of long-term vegetation change along the rainfall gradient, in relation to climate and land use change since the early 20th century.

5 Nov 2021

Athi Mfikili


Foraminiferal research – tapping into unfamiliar territory to understand past coastal marine environment

Foraminifera are single-celled micro-organisms with a shell test that is either secreted (i.e., carbonate, organic or siliceous) and/or agglutinated with foreign particles. Unlike their counterparts, diatoms, foraminifera are exclusively found in marine environments, often found floating in the water column (planktonic) or living on the sea floor or estuarine environments such as salt marshes (benthic). Foraminifera have an evolutionary history that extends back to the Cambrian (i.e., > 500 Ma) and have evolved since then with approximately 60,000 fossil and modern species validly recognised. To date, there are over 16,000 living foraminiferal species belonging to 1691 genera, making this group one the most abundant microfossils in the marine realm. Although foraminifera have a cosmopolitan distribution throughout the entire marine realm, the individual taxa are restricted to specific environmental niches, e.g. benthic species occur in the shallow continental margin and intertidal areas, such as salt marshes, whereas planktonic species are exclusively found in open waters of the ocean.

10 Dec 2021

Melissa Schmitt and Keenan Stears


Integrating herbivore distributions, assemblages, and vegetation structure to reveal optimal strategies for managing biodiversity in the face of global change

Savannas are structurally heterogenous ecosystems and the spatial and temporal variation in this structure is influenced by both biotic (e.g., herbivory) and abiotic (e.g., fire, climate) factors. This heterogeneity provides diverse niches for wildlife to occupy, thereby contributing to the diversity of patterns and processes synonymous with savanna systems. However, under current conditions of anthropogenic disturbance, both local and global drivers are resulting in increased density of woody plants in savannas through processes known as woody plant densification and encroachment. An increase in woody plant cover causes heterogenous savannas to shift to more homogenous landscapes. To combat this increase in woody plant cover, land managers are implementing various vegetation management practices, including large-scale tree clearing, to reduce woody plant cover. Changes in vegetation structural heterogeneity, whether through management practices or increases in woody plant cover, are likely to influence the large mammal community via strong linkages between herbivores, vegetation structural heterogeneity, and the trade-off between predation risk and food rewards. Despite this, there are surprisingly few studies that quantify how the herbivore community responds to large-scale changes in woody plant cover. Thus, we first aimed to model habitat use by herbivores at the landscape scale as a function of woody plant cover, and then use the habitat use model to predict how climate-induced changes to vegetation may alter herbivore distributions. Finally, we employed a model-based clustering approach to understand herbivore community responses to extensive vegetation management (i.e., tree clearing).

21 Jan 2022Glenn MoncrieffFynbos

Machine learning for vegetation monitoring

The simultaneous rise of computing power, explosion of ecological data, and advancement of machine learning have created a wealth of new opportunities for monitoring vegetation at very large scales with low latency. I highlight research conducted by SAEON's fynbos node combining machine learning and data on vegetation distribution, abundance and function to improve vegetation monitoring capabilities. These examples include using object detection to locate rare tree species in aerial imagery, mapping land cover change in near-realtime from satellite imagery, and automated detection of hydraulic failure in plants under water stress. Our rich and unique ecosystems and large archive of freely available environmental datasets that are well suited to the application of machine learning methods present a great strategic opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research that is of societal relevance.

4 Feb 2022Laura BrabyEgagasini

Rough seas - never before seen measurements of the Agulhas Current

Seasonal changes in temperature and salinity across the Agulhas Current are not well understood because there have been limited hydrographic data collected in this region during austral winter. Weather and swell conditions have been known to limit operations at sea, as well as other obstacles including hydrographic winch capabilities. In this study, we use a decade worth of observations over the same transect of the Agulhas Current at 34 °S, including the first winter cross sections collected across the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) line as part of the South African SEAmester programme ( These sections are able to capture features in the upper water column and over the continental shelf that are unresolved by the ASCA mooring array. Two full crossings and one partial crossing were occupied by the SA Agulhas II during the winters of 2016, 2018 and 2019 and we exploit this data to investigate any seasonal changes in water mass properties and transports within the Agulhas Current for the first time.

4 March 2022

Rowena Harrison


Gaining insights into the hydropedological characteristics of three Afromontane catchments

The overall aim of my PhD is to understand how the movement of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is affected by the hydropedological character of a catchment. Gaining an understanding of the internal processes that control the way water moves through a catchment is the first important step in achieving this. We used a digital soil mapping tool, the Arc Soil Inference Engine (ArcSIE) in the Cathedral Peak research catchments, with the aim of creating an understanding of the hydropedological behaviour of the soils of three of these research catchments. Once we had successfully created these maps, we used them together with a combination of measured hydraulic properties of the soils to improve the accuracy of SWAT+ hydrological models simulated for these catchments. We set up two identical SWAT+ models for each catchment and then changed the specific lateral time inputs for one of the models, based on information from the hydropedological maps as well as the hydraulic properties of the soils. This improved the modelling accuracy in all statistical parameters used, R2, PBIAS, ST DEV, NSE and KGE. The study highlighted that relevant soil information, based on reliable site-specific data, is essential in hydrological modelling. It also helped me to gain an insight into how water moves through the catchments, and this is now being used to understand the processes that control DOC movement.

1 April 2022

Maletsatsi Mohapi

Arid Lands Node

Soil and geomorphological characterisation of selected ephemeral pans in the Northern Cape Province

About 50% of wetlands in South Africa are either lost or threatened through anthropogenic activities – a situation that is exacerbated by limited research on their importance and biodiversity. Their variation results due to inherent geomorphology including: soil properties, parent material, topography, organisms, and climatic conditions. South Africa’s climatic conditions promote extensive occurrence of ephemeral wetlands in the Northern Cape Province. These ephemeral wetlands are essential for water supply and purification, flood reduction, groundwater recharge and discharge, erosion, socio-cultural significance and education. Therefore, rehabilitation, conservation and maintenance of these wetlands must be prioritised. The aim of this study was to investigate the soil physico-chemical properties, environmental context and their interaction within and between the ephemeral pans and their geomorphic provinces. Soil samples were collected from the crust and soil horizon in 98 ephemeral pans from four geomorphic provinces: the Kalahari, Bushmanland, Ghaap Plateau, and Upper Karoo. These soil samples were analysed for soil pH, EC, soluble and exchangeable cations, CEC, P, Fe, Mn, and texture. The environmental context including wetland types, parent material, vegetation, topography and climate were determined from the land type data and Environmental Potential Atlas of South Africa shape files, using both ArcMap and QGIS GIS interfaces. The physico-chemical and environmental context interactions were compared using ANOVA and homogeneous subsets. The results indicated that all regions consisted of alkaline soils (pH mostly >7.5). Most geomorphic provinces were saline (EC >4 dS m-1), except for the Ghaap Plateau geomorphic province which had non-saline soils (EC <0.11 dS m-1). The majority of the soil clay minerals were deduced to be kaolinite, since the CEC of clay was less than 10 cmolc kg-1 clay. Plant available phosphorus was higher in other geomorphic provinces as compared to Ghaap Plateau geomorphic province. The free Fe content in the soil was higher as compared to the Mn oxides content except for the soils in the Ghaap Plateau geomorphic province. The Upper Karoo, Bushmanland and Kalahari geomorphic provinces showed similar soil properties compared to the Ghaap Plateau. The environmental context results indicated that Kalahari and Bushmanland geomorphic provinces had more wetlands as compared to the Ghaap Plateau and Upper Karoo geomorphic provinces. Gordonia Duneveld vegetation was dominant in the Kalahari, while Bushmanland Basin Shrubland vegetation was dominant in the Bushmanland. Ghaap Plateau Vaalbosveld vegetation was dominant in the Ghaap Plateau and Upper Karoo. Pebbly calcareous conglomerate mudstone and sandstone geology was predominantly underlying the Kalahari and Upper Karoo geomorphic provinces. The Bushmanland geomorphic province is mainly underlain by shale and migmatitic quartz-feldspar, while the Ghaap Plateau geomorphic province is underlain by dolomite. The Ghaap Plateau geomorphic province have the highest elevation and steepest slope compared to Bushmanland, Kalahari, and Upper Karoo geomorphic provinces. All geomorphic provinces except the Upper Karoo had a linear curvature (-0.3 and 0.3). The Northern Cape Province has mean annual temperatures below 20°C and mean annual rainfall below 448 mm. In comparison, the soil properties and environmental context interaction indicated that all pans differed significantly within and between the geomorphic provinces. Pan soils within the Kalahari geomorphic province differed the least from each other, while pans in the Bushmanland, Ghaap Plateau, and Upper Karoo geomorphic provinces differed significantly from each other in terms of almost all the soil and environmental properties studied. The significant differences observed among the four geomorphic provinces showed that the physico-chemical properties and environmental context do distinguish within and between the geomorphic provinces should therefore have an effect on the classification of ephemeral pans. Finally, this study demonstrated that the soil properties and environmental context are crucial in understanding the behaviour and biodiversity observed in ephemeral pans and that all pans are not created equal. These results can also be used to improve the identification and delineation of ephemeral pans in the Northern Cape Province. Future research should include other soil properties such as organic matter, total nitrogen, organic carbon, hydraulic conductivity. Based on data presented here, pans should also be carefully selected according to their requisite properties for further analyses.

6 May 2022

Hayden Wilson

uLwazi Node

Developing mobile data systems for the collection of scientific and operational information - Lessons learnt from developing the SMCRI Operational Information Management System.

With the advent of powerful mobile devices, in-field data collection has become increasingly accessible and integrated. Technologies such as XForrm allow for end users with familiarity in excel to easily design and deploy web applications to mobile devices, allowing for standardised field applications to be deployed to multiple devices. These applications are responsive and allow for both online and offline data submissions. 

Within SAEON, as the number of instruments deployed and sites that are being monitored increases, there is an increasing administrative burden being placed on technicians to service and maintain equipment that has been deployed into the field. Additionally, there is a need to maintain detailed field records, notes and metadata so that data provenance is maintained. Previously, this has been achieved through a combination of field notes and lengthy spreadsheets that are maintained by the technicians, however, these systems become increasingly onerous to maintain as the complexity of the systems that are deployed to the field increases. Additionally, as these systems rely on spreadsheets, version control of the spreadsheets itself adds to the technicians administrative load. Furthermore, due to the spatial extent of our monitoring sites and the varied service schedule associated with the different instrument types, field trip planning and instrument service scheduling needs to be performed in an automated fashion. 

This presentation will showcase the operational information system that is being developed for the Shallow Marine Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) and discuss how the various aspects of the system are integrated with existing workflows to provide technicians with a system for standardised operational data collection. The systems behind the SMCRI Operational Information system are scalable and can be adapted to a variety of use cases, allowing for novel use cases to be developed within SAEON for both scientific and operational data collection.

3 June 2022

Shirley Parker-Nance

Elwandle Node

BELTER the way forward: a new LTER platform to inform on benthic change.

The Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) Benthic Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research (BELTER) platform joins a suite of SAEON LTER platforms designed to observe environmental change. The focus is to report on marine benthic biodiversity, community structure, species abundance and distribution and their response to environmental variables, especially those related to climate change, temporally and spatially. Still in its infancy, BELTER is built on research conducted over the last decade which informed on best practices, implementation, management, and maintenance of this new national platform in line with SAEON’s mandate. Please join us for an informative talk on BELTER and a colourful introduction to the benthic reef biota of SAEON Elwandle Coastal Node’s Algoa Bay Sentinel Site.

1 July 2022

Faith Jumbi

Fynbos Node

Understanding the impacts of land cover change on landscape flow pathways in critical water source areas for improved modelling and resource management'

Land use and cover types and changes thereof influences a variety of landscape surface and subsurface properties and processes, which combined determine the net impact on water resources. Numerical catchment models aim to represent the many interacting processes and can be used to predict changes in streamflow due to changes in land cover. However, high levels of uncertainty remain, largely because there are very few cases in which changes across the multiple contributing processes have been measured in the field in South African systems. To achieve this understanding, detect changes and reduce uncertainty, long-term hydrological monitoring is crucial. SAEON manages some long-term research catchments such as Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg Mountains of KZN and Jonkershoek in the Cape Fold Mountains of the Western Cape, which provide a unique opportunity to describe impacts of cover changes on surface runoff, infiltration into soils, interflow, groundwater recharge, and groundwater discharge to streams. 

I shall be giving a talk on our research focus for the two catchments aimed at improving our understanding of water movement and distribution in these critical water source areas as any changes in their hydrological responses could have significant social, economic and environmental consequences.