#05 2023

NRF-SAEON, SAPRI and SMCRI represented at the first Southern Ocean Observing System Symposium in Hobart

By Dr Anne Treasure, South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI)

The Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) is an international initiative of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR). Its mission is to facilitate the sustained collection and delivery of essential observations of the Southern Ocean to all global stakeholders, through the design, advocacy and implementation of cost-effective observing and data delivery systems. 

SOOS has been operating since 2011 and has built a vast network of stakeholders and contributors, all working together to facilitate and enhance global Southern Ocean observations.

SAEON’s Juliet Hermes (Egagasini Node and the South African Polar Research Infrastructure – SAPRI), Tommy Bornman (Elwandle Node and the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure – SMCRI) and Anne Treasure (SAPRI) attended the first Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) Symposium in Hobart, Tasmania, from 14 to 18 August. The SOOS Symposium theme, Southern Ocean in a Changing World, recognises the important role of the Southern Ocean in the Earth system.

The symposium served as a forum for assessing progress in providing observing systems, observations and regional programmes that deliver timely and accessible information for the Southern Ocean. The event was also an opportunity to address the challenges faced in providing long-term observations that address policy and societal issues as well as advancing our scientific understanding of the Southern Ocean. The sessions, workshops and plenary presentations provided venues for science discussions around these topics and challenges.

Juliet gave a presentation on SAPRI in the session ‘Reshaping long-term observatories with a focus on Antarctic and Southern Ocean: Drivers, implementation and outcomes’. Anne gave a poster presentation on Opportunities and challenges in establishing a polar data centre, and, as a member of the SOOS Data Management Sub Committee (DMSC), attended a full-day annual meeting on 19 August. Anne also visited the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the Australian Antarctic Data Centre and the AAD Communications Department.

Tommy presented a poster on Using a circum-Antarctic plankton isoscape to identify areas of importance for carbon export and long-term observation in the Southern Ocean. Tommy and Juliet also co-convened a special session on “Emerging technologies enabling future Southern Ocean observations”.

South Africans attending the SOOS Symposium, including South African delegates representing international institutions.

Members of the SOOS Data Management Sub Committee (DMSC). The DMSC held its annual meeting on 19 August. The Australian polar research vessel, the RSV Nuyina, is in the background.

Highlights from the visit

South Africa was well represented at the symposium, an interesting mix of science, observing and governance, and a great opportunity to highlight the significant work being done in South Africa as well as SAPRI. There was ample opportunity to engage with other Antarctic research institute directors and discuss problems facing SAPRI. It was interesting to hear that many institutes face similar problems.

Anne attended the annual meeting of the SOOS DMSC (Data Management Sub Committee), of which she is a member. This membership will be extremely valuable to the establishment of SAPRI and the SAPRI Data Centre. An important component of the SAPRI mission is coordination and collaboration with the international Antarctic community. Conversations and engagement with the committee were extremely valuable to enable SAPRI to contribute to the SOOS community and to talk about aligning our systems where possible.

While visiting the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) in Kingston, Tasmania, Anne held valuable meetings with the team at the Australian Antarctic Data Centre and Standing Committee on Antarctic Data Management (SCADM), as well as other AAD scientists, to enhance the impact of the SAPRI Data Centre through collaborations, product development and alignment of systems. Anne also visited the AAD Communications Department and collected useful materials to take back to South Africa for ideas for SAPRI communications.

Tommy used the opportunity to establish and strengthen collaborations with other phytoplankton scientists working in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, in particular Dr Ruth Eriksen from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Dr Luke Brokensha from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania. Discussions were also held with CSIRO technicians regarding their new ADCP Lander for shelf deployments. SMCRI will collaborate with CSIRO to build our own lander moorings.

Juliet and Tommy were able to take the time in Hobart to meet with Michelle Heupel, director of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System, and continue to foster the growing relationship between SAEON Marine and Coastal and IMOS, in particular around data sharing, impact measurements and global research infrastructures. Juliet also met with Paul van Ruth, head of IMOS science, to discuss best practices. Finally, Juliet met with Anna Lara Lopez who runs the Beaker Street Science Festival to understand how they are engaging the community with science.

SOOS Symposium 2023 closing statement 

The Southern Ocean is a critical component of the global climate system. It largely controls the uptake of human generated heat and carbon into the ocean. Yet, we are currently observing critical changes in the Southern Ocean that are seen in the record low levels of sea-ice extent, record high temperatures and dramatic shifts in penguin populations, among other striking changes.

The chronic lack of observations for the Southern Ocean challenges our ability to detect and assess the consequences of change. It is more pressing than ever to have a sustained and coordinated Southern Ocean observing system to provide an understanding of current conditions, inform predictions of future states, and support policies and regulations for the benefit of society.

The symposium gathered leading researchers and data managers to discuss the current observing system, the status of this system, its gaps, and the next steps and opportunities needed for addressing these gaps. (Photo: https://soos.aq/soos-symposium-2023)

Key outcomes 

The SOOS Symposium provided an opportunity to investigate the challenges faced in providing long-term observations that address policy and societal issues as well as advancing our scientific understanding of the Southern Ocean. The symposium and networking with other global marine and Antarctic entities and research infrastructures have strengthened the work SAPRI and SMCRI are doing, especially with regards to enhancing our international presence.

The symposium presented a platform to learn from other Antarctic programmes about the challenges they face. It was also an opportunity to strengthen SAEON/IMOS relations. The meetings and networking opportunities will help to enhance the impact and efficiency of the SAPRI Data Centre through collaborations, product development, data integration and alignment of systems. Awareness of SAPRI and South African polar research was strengthened through social media posts and communications during the symposium and meetings.


We are grateful to NRF-SAEON, SAPRI, SMCRI and Stellenbosch University for providing funding and for allowing Juliet, Tommy and Anne to attend the conference.