#01 2021

Understanding the ocean through Argo floats

By Thomas Mtontsi, Sivuyisiwe Mbede and Moddy Pikiso, SAEON Egagasini Node

Even amid the global pandemic, SAEON’s Environmental Science Education team supported groups of high school learners to gain scientific knowledge and skills.

On 2 February 2021, the team hosted a virtual workshop for grade 11 science learners on the ways in which Argo floats contribute to our understanding of the oceans.

The participants were from schools in the Western Cape (Ocean View and Masiphumelele), Eastern Cape (Nombulelo Ntsika and Mary Waters) and Limpopo (Majeje and Kingfisher).

Argo floats are battery-powered robotic instruments that are programmed to collect information such as temperature, salinity and pressure. Once deployed, these instruments dive to depths of up to 2 000 metres and return data within 10 days.

During the workshop learners were introduced to working with Argo data that is freely available. They were shown how to visualise and interpret the data, thereby improving their competency in maths and science.

The workshop facilitators were Dr Tamaryn Morris, a marine scientist at the South African Weather Service who also serves on the International Steering Committee for ARGO, and Jethan d’Hotman, a marine science technician from SAEON’s Elwandle Node. The workshop commenced with an introduction from Kogie Govender, science engagement coordinator at SAEON’s National Office. Kogie also led a diagnostic quiz before the presentations to assess learner understanding of science; and after the quiz to assess the impact of the workshop.

The programme was directed by science engagement intern Moddy Pikiso and science engagement officer Thomas Mtontsi, both from SAEON’s Egagasini Node. Thomas introduced the learners to Argo floats by means of a brief discussion and a video and was later involved in learner online activities on Argo float temperature and salinity profiles.

Tamaryn’s exceptional presentation on the basics of Argo floats gave learners insight into what Argo floats are, what they do, how scientists use them to collect data and highlighted their importance in our everyday lives. She further conducted an activity with the learners based on comparing temperature profiles of an Argo float.

Jethan engaged the learners on the inner mechanisms or engineering of Argo floats. He then conducted an interesting activity with them that focused on how to access and use Argo float data using an Argo float deployed by SAEON.

The workshop was a true reflection of learner engagement through science, importing of knowledge and skills development through data analysis. In addition, it shed light on how oceanographers obtain data in the ocean to acquire knowledge.

SAEON’s Science Engagement team would like to thank all the facilitators and learners for their participation in the workshop.

What learners had to say about the workshop

  • I was exposed to new things that I had not learned before.
  • I enjoyed learning about the engineering aspects of the float. I have an interest in knowing how things work so I was excited to learn about the Argo float.
  • I enjoyed the lesson about Argo floats by Mr Jethan because it helped answer the questions I have been thinking about.
  • I enjoyed seeing how the Argo floats work.
  • It made me understand how Argo floats work and how important our oceans are.
  • Learning more about how scientists use technology to help them understand more about the oceans.
  • Knowing more about Argo floats.
  • Learning about the ocean because l live beside the ocean and l now know about Argo floats.

Ocean and Climate Workshop

By Yonela Mahamba and Rebotile Matabane, SAEON Science Engagement Interns

A day later, on 3 February, learners also participated in a climate change and ocean workshop coordinated by the Elwandle Node. Climate change is a topic in the grade 11 curriculum and is normally taught in the first term.

The workshop was an ideal opportunity to introduce learners to the topic before they returned to the classroom. New learners joined the group that participate in the SAEON online programme.

The day’s programme started with an introduction to climate change and how it affects the ocean. Learners were shown how human activities link to the atmosphere and the ocean.

The participants were actively engaging with the facilitators, which meant they could relate to the topic as it spoke to what they experience in their daily lives. The presentations focused on climate change, how human activities intensify carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere and how these affect marine and coastal environments. The presentations illustrated how people, climate and oceans are inextricably linked and how people can play a role in making the Earth a more habitable planet.

The second presentation showed how zooplankton responds to algal bloom, the impact of algal bloom on the ecosystem as well as its socio-economic impact. The presenter touched on the formation of red tides, a topic that is mentioned briefly in the Life Science curriculum.

The last presenter introduced learners to tsunamis and how they are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives. The presentation also gave them an insight into strategies that can be used to mitigate the impact of tsunamis in South Africa. Natural disasters such as tsunamis are topics to which learners are introduced in the Natural Science senior phase curriculum.

To enable the learners to understand how they can take care of our planet, an engaging carbon footprint activity was used to wrap up the day’s programme. Learners calculated their carbon footprint and suggested ways in which they could contribute to reducing their impact on the environment.

What learners enjoyed most about the Ocean and Climate Workshop

  • Learning about the world around us and being alerted to the harm humans inflict on the world.
  • The tsunami presentations.
  • I enjoyed learning about red tides. I never knew red tides existed, so it was a real eye-opener. It was an amazing experience and a real learning curve. I learned more about climate change and how I can help to reduce it.
  • Everything! All the presentations were great and l now know more about climate change. When l am back at school, I will be able to answer all the geography questions.
  • I enjoyed Mfundo’s lesson very much because it was educational, exciting and fun.
  • Learning about the human impact on the ocean.
  • How the ocean is affected by climate.
  • The presentation about our carbon footprint.
  • I enjoyed every lesson in the workshop because I got to learn more about the role of Argo floats in the oceans as well as climate change.

Screenshot of Argo Float Workshop with participants and facilitators

Dr Tamaryn Morris from the South African Weather Service explains how temperature profiles are read

Mfundo Bizani, a PhD student at SAEON’s Elwandle Node, facilitates a presentation on algal blooms