#03 2023

Meet the SAPRI research coordinators

Text supplied by Rabia Mathakutha, Abuyiselwe Athandile Nguna, Precious Mahlalela and Riesna R. Audh

NRF-SAEON has employed four research coordinators under the South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI) for each of its integrated facilities – Data, Products and Society (DPS), Terrestrial Long-Term Observations (LTO-Land), Ocean Long-Term Observations (LTO-Ocean) and Polar Lab. They will mainly be based at the SAEON Egagasini Node in Cape Town.

Rabia Mathakutha – Research Coordinator: Data, Products and Society (DPS)

Rabia is a registered Natural Scientist with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) in the field of Environmental Sciences. She holds a master’s degree in plant science with a focus on understanding plant invasion potential and climate change responses in the sub-Antarctic region. Rabia’s knowledge and background in sub-Antarctic and polar research place her well within the focus of SAPRI. Having worked as a freshwater ecologist and advising clients on relevant environmental legislation and policies as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, her experience in the environmental consulting industry has given her a range of capabilities that suit her new role as research coordinator for the Data, Products and Society Integrated Facility. Her work experience in the private sector has equipped her with leadership and stakeholder engagement skills and experience that will be valuable in her new role as a research coordinator and brings a fresh outlook to how science (and research infrastructure) is accessed, communicated and how data is managed – key functions of DPS.

Abuyiselwe Athandile Nguna – Research Coordinator: Terrestrial Long-Term Observations (LTO-Land)

Abuyiselwe, widely known as Abu, hails from the small town of Komani in the Eastern Cape. His passion for science led him to pursue postgraduate studies. He has been focused on periglacial aeolian process research for almost a decade now as he pursues his PhD in Geography. Abu has been part of two overwintering teams on the sub-Antarctic Marion Island, which has given him vast experience in sub-Antarctic and polar research. He is excited to take on his new role within SAPRI and SAEON, where he can continue to build his career and play a part in South African polar research reaching its potential and expanding to the rest of Africa. Abu’s work within the Sub-Antarctic Landscape and Climate interactions (SALCi) group has equipped him with skills in leadership, data management, proposal writing and efficiency, and of course a love for the sub-Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.

Precious Mahlalela – Research coordinator: Ocean Long-Term Observations (LTO-Ocean)

Precious holds a PhD in Ocean and Atmospheric Science with a focus on climate variability and brings a remarkable depth of knowledge and expertise to the team. She has a strong academic background in physical oceanography, atmospheric science and environmental science. This interdisciplinary training enables her to explore the intricate interplay between the ocean and the atmosphere, shedding light on the dynamic processes that shape our global climate. As a research coordinator, Precious assumes a pivotal role in supporting SAPRI’s long-term ocean initiatives. She actively contributes to the development and maintenance of data infrastructure, ensuring smooth research processes for the integrated facility stakeholders. Her meticulous attention to detail and analytical skills contribute to the collection and analysis of valuable data that will help the polar research community better understand our oceans. Outside of her research pursuits, Precious enjoys engaging in community outreach programmes and sharing her knowledge and passion for the environment with others. Through these efforts, she strives to inspire the next generation of scientists and foster a sense of environmental stewardship.

Riesna R. Audh – Research coordinator: Polar Lab

Riesna is the research coordinator for the SAPRI Polar Lab. She has a background in polar oceanography and a passion for all things Antarctica. She has helped to develop the field protocols employed by South African researchers on sea ice research and contributed to the knowledge and available data of the polar regions through her PhD research on the biogeochemistry of sea ice in the Antarctic marginal ice zone (MIZ).  Riesna believes that science should be accessible and inclusive and intends to use her position to showcase polar research among researchers and non-researchers alike. She is a firm believer that collaboration across institutions and disciplines is crucial for the future of polar research and that accessibility, inclusivity and visibility are vital in order to grow this field and encourage the next generation of polar researchers.

Read more about SAPRI (https://www.sanap.ac.za/south-african-polar-research-infrastructure-sapri-launch-of-the-preparatory-phase)

The article first appeared on the website of the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP).