#04 2021

Through the lens of science: Using today’s data to see how climate change will affect tomorrow’s environment and biodiversity

By Tsumbedzo Ramalevha and Joe Sibiya, SAEON Ndlovu Node

Each year, SAEON’s Ndlovu Node and learners from some of the schools in the Ba-Phalaborwa area gather for a terrestrial camp where scientists and technicians share their knowledge of the environment with the learners through a series of educational talks and activities. Due to Covid-19 regulations, this year’s camp was held in a virtual format on 7 August as part of the National Science Week celebrations. The virtual camp enabled other SAEON nodes to participate in the learning experience together with their learners and other stakeholders.

Making it possible through science, the theme for this year’s National Science Week, formed the basis for the talks and activities that demonstrated to the learners how science enables us to measure changes in the environment, how the data gathered can be used to study how organisms (the camp focused largely on animals) respond to these changes and how these data can form the basis for informed environmental decisions.

The key speakers were Dr Tony Swemmer, scientist and manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node, and Galaletsang Keebine, a junior GIS scientist from the SAEON uLwazi Node. The activities were led by Caitlin Ransom, a science engagement officer based at the SAEON National Office.

Misava yile ku cinceni – My world is changing 

Dr Swemmer took the learners through the fundamentals of global climate change in a presentation titled Misava yile ku cinceni – My world is changing. Using a series of pictures, he explained to the learners how different animals with different characteristics adapt to different environments and how changes to food security, water resources and biodiversity caused by global climate change will determine which species can adapt and survive based on their characteristics/traits.

Dr Tony Swemmer used pictures to explain to the learners how different animals with different characteristics adapt to different environments (images from Dr Swemmer’s presentation)

The presentation demonstrated why certain animals with certain characteristics are only found in certain environments and how global climate change could impact their adaptation and survival. Climate change could alter mean temperature, surface temperature, hot and cold extremes, marine heatwaves, rise in relative sea level and frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events, which could affect different organisms in different ways.

To evaluate the learners’ understanding of climate change and the importance of organisms’ characteristics in adapting to and surviving change in the climate and environment, learners were asked to create an animal of their own which would be capable of surviving in the changing environment.

Some of the animals ‘created’ by learners, stating the reasons why these animals would be able to survive in the changing environment

Importance of data  

Fundamental to making informed decisions, both as individuals and as decision-makers in private or public institutions, is the availability of reliable data. Galaletsang Keebine took the learners through a basic statistics presentation where she explained different types of data and how to do basic statistical calculations.

Learners were given familiar and understandable examples of data as an exercise to evaluate their level of understanding and take them through data analysing and presentation. This enabled the students to understand the importance of accurate data collection, data analysis and presentation.

SAEON GIS scientist Galaletsang Keebine explained the different types of data and how basic statistical calculations are done

The learners enjoyed participating in the Kahoot quiz, which evaluated their overall understanding of climate change, its impact, and basic statistics

Tanishq Sharma, a grade 11 learner from Kingfisher Private School in Phalaborwa, won the first prize in the Kahoot quiz.  

Kahoot quiz 

Towards the end of the virtual camp, Caitlin Ransom led a fun and informative Kahoot quiz to evaluate the learners’ overall understanding of climate change, its impact, adaptation by organisms and basic statistics. Tanishq Sharma, a grade 11 learner from Kingfisher Private School in Phalaborwa, won the first prize in the quiz.  

Feedback from learners 

The comments below describe what learners believe is the impact of climate change on human livelihoods and the importance of data in making informed environmental decisions.

  • Humans depend on animals for food and if a certain animal fails to adapt to the changing environment, that could impact human food availability.
  • Climate change will increase water and food insecurity, which will negatively affect human livelihoods.
  • Data will inform us what to monitor and what is valuable when making informed environmental decisions. This will assist in risk-reduction and cost-saving measures.