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Research Programs


The currently funded research programs under SANAP are listed here. Follow the links for information on the various programs. A comprehensive list of past and present SANAP/NARF funded projects and programs can be found on the NRF website. Navigate to ‘NRF Funded Research Projects’ and search on ‘South African National Antarctic Program’. You can also visit the Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) and their comprehensive list of SANAP-NRF funded projects.

The list below is incomplete and will be updated as we collect all the relevant information.

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Antarctic Legacy of South Africa

Research Field: Humanities & History
Research Focus: Collecting and archiving the South African history in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic, managing the historical record of maps, journals, logbooks, newspaper articles, artworks, out-of-print South African research articles, unpublished papers residing in governmental archives, departments and museum.
Location: Antarctica, sub-Antarctic & South Africa
Website: ALSA
Principal Investigator & Institution: Ria Olivier from Stellenbosch University
How to Get in Touch: Email Ria Olivier at riaolivier@sun.ac.za
 Fitzpatrick Institute

Conserving Southern Ocean Albatrosses and Petrels

Research Field: Ornithology
Research Focus: This project combines focused studies of specific aspects of seabird biology with long-term studies of seabird populations and demography of selected study species at the Prince Edward Islands and Tristan da Cunha-Gough Island. The current three year project focuses on the trade-offs between moult and breeding in albatrosses and giant petrels, and also studies the conservation status of sooty albatrosses Phoebetria.
Location: Southern Ocean, specifically the Prince Edward Islands, Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island
Facebook Page: PFIAO
Twitter:  Fitztitute Ins
Principal Investigator & Institution: Peter Ryan from the University of Cape Town
How to Get in Touch: Email Professor Peter Ryan at peter.ryan@uct.ac.za

Foraging Ecology of Ross Seals in the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica

Research Field: Marine Mammology
Research Focus: We investigate the ranging and diving behaviour of Ross seals in an area of high relative abundance off SANAE III and Neumayer Stations, Eastern Weddell Sea. This is done by deploying satellite-relay time-depth-temperature-position recorders on hand-restrained Ross seals that haul out on the pack ice. We also research their diet through indirect (dive behaviour and stable isotope analyses) means, and compare their (and the other ice-beeding seal species’) distribution and abundance on the cruise track of the SA Agulhas II during the December-January voyages to Antarctica with earlier ship-board surveys. This to improve our knowledge of the way oceanographic conditions affect this rare species with a view to using them as bioindicators of apparent environmental change, perhaps due to global warming.
Location: Southern Ocean (Eastern Weddell Sea)
Website: Mammal Research Institute
Principal Investigator & Institution: Marthán Bester from the University of Pretoria
How to Get in Touch: Email Professor Marthán Bester at mnbester@zoology.up.ac.za

Gondwana Amalgamation and Correlation Research Project GAACRP

Research Field: Earth Sciences
Research Focus:  The focus of the project is on the amalgamation and fragmentation of Gondwana at ~550 Ma and ~180 Ma, respectively, as well as correlation between crustal blocks in a reconstituted Gondwana, involving southern Africa, Antarctica and Sri Lanka.

The amalgamation project is interrogating the veracity of a collisional orogenic model between North and South Gondwana in which a mega-nappe formed with N. Gondwana being thrust over S. Gondwana along the Damara-Zambesi-Lurio-Kuunga Orogenic Belt axis. The study is focussing on the timing, chemistry and structural setting of syn- to post tectonic granitoid intrusions, as well as the ages of the host gneisses to the intrusions.

The fragmentation project is examining the chemistry, age and structural setting of dolerite intrusions in western and central DML. This study will provide insights into how stresses, related to Gondwana breakup, have evolved and the nature of the sources of the basaltic magmas now seen as dykes, sills and lavas in DML. Palaeomagnetic studies will also permit comparisons with palaeopoles from Karoo-age rocks in southern Africa.

Location: Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica
Website: GAACRP
Facebook Page:  UJ Geology
Principal Investigator & Institution: Geoff Grantham from the University of Johannesburg
How to Get in Touch: Email Dr Geoff Grantham at ghgrantham@uj.ac.za

Landscape and Climate Interactions in the Sub-Antarctic Environment

Research Field: Earth Sciences
Research Focus: To understand the impact of climate on landscape development of Sub-Antarctic Marion Island. We use various methods and interesting gadgets (e.g. iButtons, UAVs, BSNEs ) to understand how past process (such as glaciations) as well as current day process (e.g. diurnal ground frost cycles) shape the landscape we see today. Any physical factors related to climate is of interest: rainfall, wind, temperature… and landforms of all shapes and sizes are important, we don’t discriminate: from sorted stripes to glacial striations, from dust to pronival ramparts! The landscape changes over time, and we want to ‘be there’ when it does…
Location: Prince Edward Islands, sub-Antarctic
Facebook Page: Landscape and Climate Interactions in the Sub-Antarctic Environment
Twitter:  SANAP LCI
Principal Investigator & Institution Werner Nel from the University of Fort Hare & David Hedding from the University of South Africa
How to Get in Touch: Email Professor Werner Nel WNel@ufh.ac.za

Marion Island Marine Mammals – Sensitivities to Global Drivers of Environmental Change

Research Field: Pinniped Research
Research Focus: Halfway between South Africa and Antarctica, Marion Island is the terrestrial base of southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina (SES), sub-Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis (SAFS), Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella (AFS) and killer whales Orcinus orca (KW). Long term monitoring of these top predators at Marion Island allows us to investigate top-predator interactions, ecology and measure the response of these animals to environmental change in the region.
Location: Prince Edward Islands, sub-Antarctic
Facebook Page: Marion Island SealsMarion Island Killer Whales
Twitter:  Marion Island Seals; Marion Island Killer Whales
Principal Investigator & Institution: Nico de Bruyn from the University of Pretoria
How to Get in Touch: Email Profrssor Nico de Bruyn at pjndebruyn@zoology.up.ac.za

Ocean Utilisation in Marine Top Predators

Research Field: Marine Mammology
Research Focus: There is a growing recognition of the importance of studying multiple marine top predator species at the ecosystem-level to gain insights into large scale environmental changes. As these top predators generally target areas of high productivity, they have also increasingly been used to identify ecologically important areas for conservation-based spatial planning. This project focuses on diet and foraging distributions within the marine top predator guild at the Prince Edward Islands to allow for the identification of important habitat and to assess long-term changes in prey species inhabiting the marine environment surrounding the Prince Edward Islands.
Location: Prince Edward Islands
Facebook Page:  MAPRU Marine Apex Predator Research Unit
Principal Investigator & Institution: Pierre Pistorius from the Nelson Mandela University
How to Get in Touch: Email Dr Pierre Pistorius at Pierre.Pistorius@nmmu.ac.za

Subantarctic Fur Seals at the Tristan da Cunha Islands

Research Field: Marine Mammology
Research Focus: To use these top predators as bioindicators of environmental conditions and as tools for suitable management of natural resources, we aim to determine the seasonal at-sea movements of both adult female and weaned pup Subantarctic fur seals from the four TdC Islands. We also measure and contrast the growth rate and/or weaning mass of pups at the different colonies, the result of the 10-11 month nursing period. Scats (with indigestible prey remains) and whiskers (for stable isotope signatures) are collected to determine the seals’ diets. Censuses to determine population size (from pup production) and population trend of the subpopulations at all four TdC islands are carried out, and we accumulate information on possible anthropogenic influences (entanglements, disturbance).
Location: Atlantic Ocean (Tristan da Cunha)
Website: Mammal Research Institute
Principal Investigator & Institution: Marthán Bester from the University of Pretoria
How to Get in Touch: Email Professor Marthán Bester at mnbester@zoology.up.ac.za

Surface Ocean Physical Dynamics of the Southern Ocean: Fine Scale Dynamics to Large Scale Climate Sensitivities

Research Field:

Research Focus: Ocean colour remote sensing can provide routine, synoptic and highly cost-effective observations of biological responses to physical drivers across oceanic ecosystems, over decadal time scales and at high frequency. There is thus a need to maximise the value of these observations by developing ecosystem-appropriate products. A primary focus this SANAP project is on gathering the necessary bio-optical and physiological data to develop and validate regional ocean colour algorithms for the Southern Ocean. This information in conjunction with radiative transfer models will allow us to use satellite derived ocean colour data to investigate biological responses to event, seasonal and inter-annual variability in physical drivers. These approaches will allow us to assess the potential for carbon cycling and carbon sequestration at the regional scale.
Location: Southern Ocean; Antarctica
Twitter: SOCCO – CSIR
Principal Investigator & Institution: Seb Swart from the University of Cape Town
How to Get in Touch: E-mail Dr Seb Swart at seb.swart@gmail.com

TraceEx – Southern Ocean Trace Metal & Marine Biogeochemistry

Research Field:

Marine Biogeochemistry
Research Focus: Studying macro-nutrient (e.g., N, P, Si) and trace metal cycling in the modern ocean (e.g., Fe, Mg, Zn, Cd, Co, Cu), interactions with biological organisms (especially with microbes and algae), and impact of atmospheric deposition (dust).
Location: Southern Ocean; Antarctica
Website: TraceEx
Facebook Page:


Principal Investigators & Institution: Susanne Fietz & Alakendra N Roychoudhury from Stellenbosch University
How to Get in Touch: Via the Website or e-mail Dr Susanne Fietz at sfietz@sun.ac.za

Understanding the Biogeochemical Response to Physical Drivers in the Southern Ocean Using Bio-Optics

Research Field:

Research Focus:  The Southern Ocean is a region rich in dynamics in terms of fine scale and high frequency variability of the surface ocean as well as the enhanced forcing of the atmosphere on the upper ocean. There is increasing evidence that seasonal to subseasonal temporal scales, meso- and submesoscale physical processes play an important role in understanding the sensitivity of ocean primary productivity to climate change in the Southern Ocean. However, surface ocean processes are poorly quantified due to lack of observations made at the right time and space scales. These scale gaps have been recognized by the global science community as being a key link towards improving our understanding of the sensitivity of the Southern Ocean to climate change. This project aims, for the first time, to thoroughly and systematically observe and investigate the role and scales of which these processes have in modulating the full seasonal cycle of upper ocean physics in the Southern Ocean.
Location: Southern Ocean; Antarctica
Facebook Page: Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory
Twitter:  SOCCO – CSIR
Website: SOCCO
Principal Investigators & Institution: Sandy Thomalla from the University of Cape Town
How to Get in Touch: E-mail Dr Sandy Thomalla at sandy.thomalla@gmail.com
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