International research teams are combining their expertise to investigate the Antarctica in a bid   assess the impact of climate change. The researchers boarded a Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov at the Waterfront in Cape Town today, for this unprecedented expedition.

The international researches are part of the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute. The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) is sponsored by Swiss philanthropist Frederik Paulsen who is also underwriting establishment of the new Swiss Polar Institute. The project has established a partnership with Russia which is providing infrastructural support through the research vessel, Akademik Treshnikov.

Surrounded by three oceans, South Africa’s geographic advantage, and its proximity to Antarctica make its participation in such an expedition crucial. The country is also one of the 12 original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty.

Launching ACE today (20 December), Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, said South Africa was strongly committed to extending and actively encouraging cooperation in the fields of science and technology in the years to come.

This ambitious initiative, comprising 55 researchers from 30 countries working on 22 research projects, will circumnavigate Antarctica. The purpose of ACE will be to measure and quantify the impact of climate change and pollution in the Southern Ocean.

“We value such cooperation as an important contribution towards addressing complex research issues and global challenges, not only for the benefit of the people of Switzerland and South Africa, but also for mankind as a whole,” said Minister Pandor.

The Minister said the research that will be undertaken on the Antarctic ecosystems between December 2016 and March 2017, would contribute to the understanding of climate change and its impact on the environment.

Most importantly, the Minister said, the six young South African scientists who are involved in the voyage would come with new knowledge, making them better scientists who would contribute to the betterment of this continent and beyond.

The Swiss Deputy State Secretary, Krystyna Marty Lang said the scientific relations between Switzerland and South Africa allowed them to jointly perform excellent science in areas of strategic importance for both countries since 2008.

“ACE is just another proof of the dynamic relations we are entertaining with South Africa,” said Ms Lang, wishing all the participants great success in the expedition to fight climate change. 

A better understanding of Antarctica is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet. The poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth. Moreover, they play a central role in providing oceans with strong underwater streams that regulate the world’s climate from the poles to the equator.

Today, scientific progress depends more than ever on communication between diverse scientific domains. Polar studies are no exception. For example, marine biology depends on complex mathematical models currently being developed by oceanographers. Meanwhile, microorganisms that play an important role in transforming the atmosphere, can help climatologists to make more accurate predictions.

In order to foster an interdisciplinary culture, ACE has combined competences and know-how from a broad range of scientific disciplines. It’s the only way to understand Antarctica and its global role in today and tomorrow’s climate issues.

South Africa’s participation in the global initiative, sees the country’s researchers working on a project called, “Profiling the Southern Ocean’s Microbial Community”, led by the University of Cape Town’s Sarah Fawcett.

The project involves participants from a number of tertiary institutions including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria. Other institutions include the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Environmental Affairs, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the South African Environmental Network.

Prof Isabelle Ansorge from the University of Cape Town has managed the South African participation in the international initiative.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) became the agency responsible for grant making on behalf of the DST. South African National Antarctic Programme slips neatly into the NRF's vision of bringing knowledge to life, especially its aim of a prosperous South Africa and African continent both steeped in a knowledge culture and proud contributors to the well-being of humanity..

The list of SA researchers are as follows:

1.         Dr Sarah Fawcett (PI - UCT)

2.         Prof Rosie Dorrington (RU)

3.         Dr Tommy Bornmann (SAEON)

4.         Dr Stephanie de Villiers (DEA)

5.         Dr Hans Verheye (DEA)

6.         Dr Issufo Halo (CPUT)

7.         Prof Ken Findlay (CPUT)

8.         Dr Sandy Thomalla (CSIR)

9.         Dr Katye Altieri (UCT)

10.       Prof Peter Ryan (UCT Fitzpatrick)

11.       Prof Bettine J. van Vuuren (SUN)

12.       Dr Peter le Roux (UJ)

13.       Prof Marthaan Bester & Dr Nico de Bruyn (UP)

14.       Dr Keith Machutchon (coastal marine technology)