A Seaborne classroom makes science cool

On Monday July 1, a group of students, professors and scientists embarked from Cape Town aboard the SA Agulhas II to participate in the SEAmester program.

During an immersive 11-day program at sea, students will engage in a busy lecturing program and work on deck and in the labs. The ship sailed from Cape Town to the heart of the Aiguilles Current and returned to port on July 11. During the trip, students will also participate in ongoing oceanographic research on the Agulhas System Climate Network (ASCA).

“It’s inexplicable – the experience of being at sea, living on a ship, meeting all the speakers,” said Thobile Dlamini, who attended SEAmester last year while completing his Masters in Conservation from nature at Tshwane University of Technology.

“It’s so amazing to learn all the tools to study our oceans.”

Dlamini’s SEAmester experience in 2018 made it possible to participate in a research cruise to Marion Island and to join this year’s SEAmester trip as a researcher.

This is exactly the spirit that Professor Isabelle Ansorge, head of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town, intends to create by SEAmester.

Ansorge said of the program: “Science has to be cool, it has to be engaging, it has to be interactive. This is how we excite the next generation of scientists. “

Ansorge founded the program in 2016 to help more students access South Africa’s world-class research vessel and get a taste for research at sea.

“The SA Agulhas II is a national facility, but if you have no connection to the Antarctic research program, you traditionally do not have access to the ship,” Ansorge said.

SEAmester, now in its fourth year with funding from the Department of Science and Technology and support from the Department of Environmental Affairs, has enabled many students to become involved in marine research at sea. This year, 41 university students and institutions from across South Africa secured their places on the trip through a competitive application process. For many students, SEAmester will be their first experience at sea.

“We are the first country to offer this kind of thing, open to all students,” Ansorge said. “It’s moving to see the students come together and go through their differences. We are all the same on board and even teachers and students can interact more freely [than on campus]. “

Frank Mohlele, a Honors student from the University of Johannesburg, enjoyed networking with the SEAmester speakers during the 2018 trip.

“When I applied, I wanted to find a potential master’s project. I’m more of a practical person, so the theory was difficult, but I enjoyed the practices. I have found a potential project that I can think of for the future, ”he said.

This year’s SEAmester program features 30 lecturers from universities and institutions including University of Cape Town, Wits University, Free State University, Nelson Mandela University, Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South African Weather Service, South African National Space Agency. , Department of the Environment, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and French Institute for Development Research.

Students choose between two areas of interest for their academic program on SEAmester:

The “tools of the trade” include many technical aspects of ocean measurement, weather forecasting, mapping and remote sensing.

“Oceans in a Changing Climate” focuses on the biology of the oceans, from the smallest microbes to the largest marine mammals, and how humans influence marine life.

A science team is also on board to measure ocean conditions and marine life along the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) – an oceanographic project to record long-term observations of the Agulhas Current. The network stretches 200 km south-east of Hamburg, in the Eastern Cape, and consists of moorings and instruments designed to measure the volume of water displaced by the current, as well as the transport of heat and of salt in the southern Indian Ocean.

“The currents of the western border like the Agulhas current integrate winds over the entire basin, so they are very sensitive to climate change. This is why it is important to monitor the current of the Needles, ”said Dr. Neil Malan, lecturer in oceanography on the 2018 trip.

“The Needles Current also has a significant effect on rainfall and climate in South Africa.”

“Essa Harris, a student at the University of Cape Town, was a student at SEAmester in 2017 and returned as a researcher in 2018. Regarding the scientific work aboard the SA Agulhas II, Harris said:“ This has been incredibly difficult. Scientific work is continuous and the hours are ridiculous.

But, despite the hard work, Harris is grateful for his SEAmester experience which helped him find a supervisor and a postgraduate degree project in biogeochemistry.

“The field of oceanography was very large for me, and I didn’t know where to go. Doing real life science on SEAmester has helped me find my niche that I enjoy so much.

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