Shaking down SA Agulhas II in Southern Ocean
Its strategic location, surrounded by vast oceans, makes South Afric a significant maritime nation," says André Share, chief director for oceans and coastal research at the Department of Environmental Affairs. "It is important for us to understand the ocean around us," he says.
He stands like a sailor - his feet apart and his hands clasped behind his back - as the SA Agulhas II lurches through the waters off South Africa's east coast. Yesterday, the new polar research vessel - which is dedicated to South African icon Miriam Makeba - entered Cape Town harbour, completing its 26-day shakedown voyage.
The vessel travelled from Cape Town, through the Southern Ocean to Marion and Prince Edward Islands, both of which belong to South Africa, and back to Cape Town via Port Elizabeth.
The aim of the voyage was to test the R1,3-billion vessel, which arrived from Finland in May this year. Unlike her predecessor, the SA Agulhas, the SA Agulhas II is designed to carry supplies to the country's research stations in the Antarctic and can perform scientific experiments on board.
Dr Isabelle Ansorge, who was on the vessel for the "shakedown" voyage and is part of the University of Cape Town's Marine Research Institute, says research in the Southern Ocean is critical. "It is the only ocean that is not surrounded by land, but by other oceans.... It is almost like the lungs of the world's water."
This makes South Africa a strategic location for oceanographic research because "we're at a crossroad of ocean currents", Ansorge says.
Ocean research is gaining international importance because the health of the oceans is one way to gauge the effects and extent of climate change, says Share. The Department of Environmental Affairs' flagship projects include coastal research, predictive modelling and Southern Ocean research.
"The oceans are a fundamental producer of oxygen and the biggest natural consumer of carbon dioxide," Share says.
Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and thus climate change.
"This ocean links in with all the other oceans. So if we want to know what's happening in the Atlantic or Pacific, we can look at the Southern Ocean," Ansorge says.
There are a number of scientists on board, looking at different aspects of the oceans, coasts and weather - with all the scientific instruments required for their research.
One of these is the Moon Pool on one of the lower decks. A hatch opens in the deck, uncovering a large metal chamber.
It's called a Moon Pool, says Mthuthuzeli Gulekana, a marine scientist with the Department of Environmental Affairs, because when the sun is shining outside, it makes the water inside the chamber glow.
Hanging menacingly above the pool is a "CTD" machine, which Gulekana says stands for "sea, temperature and depth", which is what the apparatus measures.
"It can go down to about six kilometres," he says. The "CTD" information is sent to the main computer and the water contained in it is analysed for "chloroform, nutrients, dissolved oxygen ... the indicators of a healthy ocean".
The nutrients feed cytoplankton, which is food for zooplankton, which, in turn, is eaten by small fish, and so on, he says. "Nutrients are at the bottom of the food chain. If the nutrients are not there, nothing lives." Researchers look for nutrients and test the water temperature and salinity, among other things, at different depths.
The scientists who work in laboratories in the bowels of the vessel are smug when they talk about marine biologists, the ones who study larger marine animals and birds. "They go to the Monkey Island because they have to see the animals. It gets very cold there - I wouldn't want to be them," one scientist says.
The ship has eight decks, excluding the Monkey Island viewing spot, which is the highest place on the vessel.
The South African Weather Service also has a presence on the SA Agulhas II, which releases a weather balloon once a day at 12:30.
"There is a payload on board to measure the pressure, wind speed and direction, and GPS (co-ordinates), which are transmitted in real time," says Natheer Tofa, who is with the service. The balloon, with its payload, costs about R2 000, and "never comes back".
The main reason for having so many scientists on board is that this kind of research is expensive, and one wants to make the most of it. As one scientist with the Department of Environmental Affairs says: "It costs about R250 000 a day to be out at sea. We cannot waste time."
Source: Business Day via I-NET Bridge
For more than two decades, I-Net Bridge has been one of South Africa’s preferred electronic providers of innovative solutions, data of the highest calibre, reliable platforms and excellent supporting systems. Our products include workstations, web applications and data feeds packaged with in-depth news and powerful analytical tools empowering clients to make meaningful decisions.
We pride ourselves on our wide variety of in-house skills, encompassing multiple platforms and applications. These skills enable us to not only function as a first class facility, but also design, implement and support all our client needs at a level that confirms I-Net Bridge a leader in its field.
Go to: http://www.inet.co.za