NRF-SAEON Celebrates 21 Years of World-Class Environmental Research Platforms for a Sustainable Society

NRF-SAEON Celebrates 21 Years of World-Class Environmental Research Platforms for a Sustainable Society

The National Research Foundation (NRF) is delighted to announce the celebration of the South African Environmental Observation Network’s (NRF-SAEON) 21st anniversary. A prestigious celebration event will be held at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the Waterfront, Cape Town on 07 September 2023. Journalists are invited to the event which will feature an address by NRF CEO, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo; NRF-SAEON Managing Director, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape; and representatives from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) and environmental science researchers.

The event will also kick off a series of 21 impactful projects that NRF-SAEON has planned in celebration of its 21st anniversary milestone. The projects will be implemented through NRF-SAEON nodes and the science engagement programme.

Event details

Venue: Two Oceans Aquarium in Waterfront, Cape Town
Date: 07 September 2023
Time: 09:00 – 14:00
Parking: Portswood Parking (Near the Two Oceans Aquarium)

For enquiries, please contact:

Kogie Govender
NRF-SAEON Science Engagement Coordinator or +27 84 901 5027; or
Bongani Nkosi
NRFMedia Relations Officer or +27 61 477 3064.

Over the past two decades, NRF-SAEON has advanced knowledge, transformed lives and inspired the nation through its world-class environmental research platforms. NRF-SAEON was established in 2002 after a process of deliberation within the research community about the need for an institution that would perform long-term ecological research for the benefit of Southern Africa’s indigenous biodiversity, landscapes and oceans. Following extensive consultation with its sister departments, the then Department of Science and Technology (DST) took the lead by mandating and funding the NRF to develop SAEON as an institutionalised network of departments, universities, science institutions and industrial partners.

The facility hosts nodes through which it performs environmental monitoring and research. These are four terrestrial nodes, two marine nodes, one data node and three environmental research infrastructures of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).

Research platforms, innovative tools and data dashboards which aim to improve our understanding of the current state of the environment have been developed. Cutting-edge solutions such as catchment monitors were developed to assess the impact of invasive alien trees on water resources and the use of remote sensing products to detect changes in critically endangered habitats. These products assist local and provincial governments to develop plans to maintain the state of the environment for the delivery of essential ecosystem services.

Supported by the DFFE, NRF-SAEON implemented the South African National Climate Change Information System (NCCIS); a web-based platform for tracking, analysing and enhancing South Africa’s progress towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. The NCCIS offers a series of decision-support tools to inform policy and decision-making, including a database of adaptation and mitigation actions undertaken by stakeholders nationwide.

“NRF-SAEON has provided hundreds of users, both nationally and internationally, with data to advance knowledge generation in addressing the global change grand challenge. These platforms also provide a rich training ground for the hands-on technical and academic development of young scientists, empowering them to address societally relevant challenges,” says Dr Bopape. “Notably, NRF-SAEON is currently participating in an EU-funded project led by Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) called the Knowledge and climate services from an African Observation and Data Research Infrastructure (KADI), which aims at identifying the observation requirements to support climate services across the African Continent.”

NRF-SAEON has also made great strides towards supporting postgraduate students studying biological and environmental sciences through funding, supervision, use of research platforms, field schools and training workshops. NRF-SAEON research infrastructures and research scientists have supported well over 500 postgraduate students throughout the 21 years of operation. The training of postgraduate students forms part of the NRF’s Vision 2030 mission to promote the availability of an excellent, transformed and sustainable South African cohort of researchers. Certain skills continue to be limited in South Africa’s environmental science job market.

Says Dr Bopape, “Programmes offered by SAEON have enabled close interaction and nurturing of students who have progressed to undertake MSc and PhD training or full-time employment within the earth and environmental sciences space.”

She adds that, “At local levels, NRF-SAEON works with communities adjacent to or within their long-term sites to generate context-relevant research and stimulate co-learning towards more sustainable land and water resources management. The hosting of the Maputaland Coastal Plain Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON) landscape by Mabasa TC. and the Northern Drakensberg Collaborative Forum are some examples of societal impact programmes. EFTEON is one of the SARIR programmes hosted by NRF-SAEON which is implementing six landscapes across the country. We engage in and promote citizen science to build a more democratised science landscape where people are empowered to observe their water resources and become better stewards of these resources.”

NRF-SAEON also hosts the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA), which offers an array of interactive, digital decision support tools such as indicator dashboards, infographics and a searchable atlas.

Data from an array of shallow subtidal and deeper moorings of underwater temperature recorders along the coast of South Africa deployed as part of the Shallow Marine Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI), a SARIR programme, assisted the government and scientists in better understanding the drivers of the large-scale fish kills that took place along the eastern and southern cape coasts in March 2021 (and smaller events more recently). Implementation of

South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI) is also ramping up and will assist with the collection of long-term data in the deep oceans, Antarctica and the Islands, as well as the establishment of a polar lab at the University of Cape Town.

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