#03 2020

Towards an intercontinental environmental mega-research infrastructure

By Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON

Compared with several global players, SAEON’s infrastructure investment may seem humble, but the fact that South Africa has a dedicated organ of state to provide a coherent framework for servicing and enabling the global change research community is considered a critical success factor for long-term sustainability by international organisations such as ILTER (International Long-Term Ecological Research Network), the Global Ecological Research Infrastructure (GERI) and the G20 Group of Senior Officials (GSO).

South Africa is considered a world leader in having an organisation such as SAEON dedicated to coordinating a holistic approach to earth and ecosystem observation science and research infrastructure.

SAEON’s contributions to the development of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) and SAEON’s structural design as a single research institution for terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems, culminated in 2017 in the funding by the Department of Science and Innovation of two National Research Infrastructures directly dependent on SAEON staff and administration. Those are the Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON) and the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI). The SARIR awards doubled SAEON’s funding level.

In 2020, the Department of Science and Innovation further designated SAEON to host the South African Marine and Antarctic Research Infrastructure. This development offers a unique opportunity to harness all the available resources by seamlessly integrating these three national environmental research infrastructures to reach from the Limpopo River in the north to the SANAE 1V Base in Antarctica in the south along a distance of 6 000 km. By so doing, South Africa will have created an unparalleled intercontinental environmental mega-research infrastructure.

A grand opportunity for systemic innovation has arisen and SAEON aspires to be recognised by the Group of Senior Officials as a “National Facility of Global Interest”. It is early days yet but taking a long view, I sense that this is a signal of the next progression of South African mega-science programmes to follow in the wake of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA).

SAEON as the lead implementing agency of the national environmental research infrastructure must collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure that the country benefits from its geographic advantages such as biological and sociological diversity and our key positioning in the southern hemisphere.

“National facilities of global interest are national facilities with unique capabilities that attract wide interest from researchers outside of the host nation. Antarctic or ocean drilling facilities are typical examples. Existing Research Infrastructures with the potential for wide international utilisation (for instance, facilities that leverage geographical advantages or exhibit unique opportunities for advanced research) may fall under this category. Countries may accordingly propose those national facilities that have the potential to be opened for global participation, taking due care of balancing international and national interests.” (Group of Senior Officials on Global Research Infrastructures, 2017 GSO Framework, G7 Science Ministers Meeting, Turin, 27-28 September 2017 https://ec.europa.eu/research/infrastructures/pdf/gso_framework_for_global_ris.pdf

Annotation: By integrating three SARIR research infrastructures under SAEON, South Africa will have established an unparalleled intercontinental environmental mega-research infrastructure covering a distance of 6 000 km across the Earth’s surface from the Limpopo River in the north to SANAE IV in Antarctica down south.

“SAEON as the lead implementing agency of the national environmental research infrastructure must collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure that the country benefits from its geographic advantages such as biological and sociological diversity and our key positioning in the southern hemisphere.” ~ Johan Pauw

SAEON eNews has been upgraded

This edition of our bimonthly electronic newsletter seems so diverse in scope that for some readers it may be quite a diversion to wade through the contents in search of items covering their own interests.

With this edition we cover the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas III for the Department of Science and Innovation, the first South African recording of a freshwater invertebrate species in a temporary wetland, the breeding system of a sought-after medicinal plant, the launching of EFTEON’s first eddy-covariance flux tower tests sites, the cooling effect of a Western Indian Ocean cyclone on a marine heatwave event, the development of an Ocean Accounts Framework in South Africa, a comparison across African Savanna and Coral Reef ecology, fieldwork training to ground hydrological modellers, the development of a citizen science programme in a rural setting, the SAEON e-learning tool on the Biomes of South Africa and a three-day event in a national park to introduce rural learners to Climate Change science.

To keep abreast of the rapidly evolving requirements of our readers, SAEON eNews has been redesigned to function on a variety of platforms – mobile, tablet and laptop. Using feedback from our readers, we opted for a fresh new design to improve readability and with easy-to-navigate contents, enabling our readers to zoom in on the section(s) most relevant to them. Readers can now just click on an image to view a larger version.

We would like our newsletter to ignite and encourage conversations and we therefore included sharing buttons to a variety of social media. We encourage our readers to share those articles they find interesting or pertinent to current conversations.

We continue to provide value to our readers by sharing our research and our take on the latest trends and events in the disciplines we represent. We also highlight SAEON’s science engagement activities, which are aimed at demystifying our science for the general public, communicating the value of our science for society and encouraging our country’s bright young learners to consider careers in the environmental sciences.

Please send your comments to the editor.