France, SA set up lab to study climate change

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Cape Town – France and South Africa have set up a joint laboratory to study the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems in the Indian, Atlantic and southern oceans.

The agreement resulted in the launch of the International Centre for Education, Marine and Atmospheric science over Africa (Icemasa) on Tuesday at the Department of Environmental Affairs’ offices at the Cape Town Harbour.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Mare Institute, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, France’s developing-country research arm the Institut de Recherche Pour Le Developpement (IRD) and the France’s University de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO).

Through Icemasa researchers will also study ocean circulation and the effects of global change on fisheries.

Johan Steyn, chief director of marine resource management at Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, welcomed the setting up of Icemasa which he said would build on existing co-operation between the two countries.

Steyn said the department had already been involved with France for 14 years with various other marine research programmes and added that these programmes had helped to train many South African scientists over the years.

Co-operation had previously focused mainly on biological and oceanographical research on the West Coast’s Benguela current system, but would now be expanded to include the effect climate change is having on both coasts.

President of the Institut de Recherche Pour Le Developpement, Michel Laurent, said South Africa formed an important meeting place for three different ocean systems which makes the area one of the most interesting to study.

Added to this, he said South Africa, and particularly UCT, was a leading player in marine research on the African continent and had also for more than 10 years been implementing an ecosystem approach to fishing, which is internationally recognised, he said.

“It has thus become a real model for countries of the north and the south,” he said.

He said another key focus of the agreement was that of capacity building, pointing out that IRD presently had 16 laboratories with 1 500 scientists and engineers plus almost as many professors from the French side.

The agreement between the two countries will see the development of an International Master in Atmospheric, Oceanographic Sciences and Climatology between UCT and UBO, the participation of Icemasa scientists in lectures and seminars in South Africa and by training African students and junior scientists to use quantitative research methods.

At the present time, eight French visiting scientists have already been posted at UCT for a four-year period – the duration of the first phase of Icemasa. They are supervising one Master and three PhD students who are receiving funding through Icemasa

Laurent said the IRD had allocated 50 000 euros to Icemasa and had an in-kind collaboration of 1.2 million euros.

UCT deputy vice chancellor Daniel Visser said the agreement would greatly advantage the university in its goals to become a university that is relevant to the continent and that contributes both to south-south integration and regional integration.

“I would like to express my absolute delight at being part of this venture,” said Visser. – BuaNews¬†

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