SANCOOP Research Project

Potential of Sustainable Oceans

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The South Africa - Norway research programme – SANCOOP has financed 19 research projects on climate change, the environment and clean energy since 2013. Each project includes researchers from both South African and Norwegian institutes seeking to enhance knowledge-based policies and decisions in both countries. 

The projects are financed through the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa and the Research Council of Norway (RCN) and aims to contribute to expanded research opportunities and improve research cooperation based on equal partnership between South African and Norwegian researchers within the selected thematic areas. The purpose is to achieve scientific excellence, human capital development and relevance to the identified thematic areas while ensuring gender equality and redress for mutual benefit. 

One of the projects is a collaboration between Stellenbosch University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). They have studied how rising ocean temperatures affect the habitat conditions for one of the Southern Ocean's most important inhabitants, the phytoplankton.

Southern Ocean phytoplankton absorb roughly 10 per cent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions each year, thereby reducing the impact of the currently high consumption of fossil fuels. On the global scale, phytoplankton account for more CO2 uptake than the entire world’s rainforests combined.

Can phytoplankton cultivation in fact slow global warming?

The researchers are working to find out more about how phytoplankton populations and species respond to marine changes, particularly to conditions of light and iron availability. We expect rising ocean temperatures to change these important growth conditions for phytoplankton. 

One of the theories the researchers have studied is whether phytoplankton are able to grow at low concentrations of iron and therefore outperform other organisms under these conditions. To test out this hypothesis the researchers have gathered hundreds of samples phytoplanktons with different iron concentrations from different parts of the Southern Oceans, and experimented with growth of algae on board of the South African icebreaking ship Ahgulas II.

Estimates have indicated that approximately 50% of all carbon dioxide emitted by human activity is stored in the Southern Ocean. Incremental changes in the production of phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean will influence carbon dioxide uptake and release, this will greatly influence global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, surface temperatures, and climate to name a few.

The project will be presented at the closed SANCOOP-event on Monday December 4th. During the same week - the South Africa Norway Science Week 2017 will have the Green Maritime – Sustainable Use of the Oceans on Wednesday, December 6th at the NRF Conference Centre in Pretoria.  Topical issues such as Global Ocean Science and the Potential of Sustainable Oceans will be discussed by esteemed speakers and programme directors.

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