AEON Project Archive

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Phase II

Phase II - Preview (2009 - 2012) - Where We are Going


During the first 5 years, Inkaba yeAfrica has focused on building firm cultural exchanges based on integrating pure and applied science.

The focus has been on offshore and deep crustal probing. Whilst it is important to continue and expand some of these projects, in our next phase a concerted effort will be made to focus also more on the surface of the Earth and all that this entails for sustainable development, health, food security and conservation.


New questions will be asked and addressed:
How much of soil erosion in Africa is natural, how much is due to marginal farming practices or large scale deforestation, and other land uses or abuses? How much does this cost society?

Such knowledge development will form the basis for informed decision making about issues such as sustainable land use, harvesting of renewable and non-renewable resources, and protection of sustainable biodiversity, and, will act as stimuli for new technologies in the fields of materials, services and forecasting. A firm integration of, for example, landscape changes, early human colonization, evolving land and resource uses, and, urbanization, will form the basis for this type of work on understanding eco-dynamics.

The new proposals for research and training activities in Phase II represent much more than simply a continuation of Phase I.

Instead, they demonstrate substantial growth in terms of new disciplines and a broader scope of research with even greater emphasis on societal needs. Inkaba has more partners from science, government and industry in both countries, as well as new funding sources and enhanced training and networking platforms for both South African and German students.

Most of the research topics from Phase I are carried forward. But, all have acquired new avenues and fresh perspectives from the benefits of cross-disciplinary teamwork. Joining them in Phase II are two completely new initiatives, both designed to tackle Grand Challenges that are of particular relevance to South Africa:

  1. the extent and impact of global change on human habitat, and

  2. the growing demand for mineral resources coupled with the need for environmental responsibility and safety in exploiting them.


What’s New in Phase Two?

New disciplines and a broader scope in line with societal needs
Understanding how the Earth system operates requires looking back in time at past states and transitions, in other words, turning the clock back on past episodes of global change to study their causes and effects. South Africa preserves one of the most complete geologic archives in the world, spanning over 3.5 billion years of Earth History.

The awareness of global change and its impact on human habitat has moved from the scientific community to the public and political arenas. Nowhere is a systems approach to research, with integration of scientific disciplines and high-technology monitoring more important than here. South Africa is within the climate engine of the southern oceans and its natural climate archives present key information to understand the rates of change in climate and ecosystem, and to quantify the additional forcing due to modern human activity.


Integration of projects concerned with land use, ecosystems and vulnerability of the critical zone, that thin and fragile veneer of soil between the solid earth and atmosphere on which human subsistence depends. Anchored within Inkaba, this vital issue will be studied in a holistic way, with input from agronomists and soil scientists and also from geoscientists with expertise in surface uplift and erosion, satellite remote sensing, and climate change modelling.

The minerals industry supports a large percentage of the South African economy. The new initiative on mineral resources, mining and the environment reflects this importance. Research on ore formation processes guides exploration and mineral extraction strategies; important environmental issues at both the supply and consumption ends of the resource chain require monitoring and mitigation research.

More partners equals more expertise and greater opportunities
New institutional partners contributing to research on ecosystems and global change are the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa and Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. A large number of new university partners will contribute to Phase II, particularly in the new Living Africa themes. The South African Universities of the Free State, Rhodes and Pretoria are joining or leading projects, and on the German side the newcomers are the Technical University of Munich, the University of Regensburg, Bonn and Hannover.

Bilateral cooperation is the core of Inkaba yeAfrica but new partnerships with other African countries are growing, and institutions from Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia and Botswana are a vital part of Phase II.

Participation and cross-linkage with other international research networks and science coordination agencies are also increasing in Phase II, examples of new co-operations are with the German Priority Program (SPP 1375) Margins of Africa (South Atlantic Margin Processes and Links with onshore Evolution), with the South African ACCESS program for climate change, and with the United Nations (Vienna). This falls under the Margins of Africa theme.


Deployment of high technology and innovative research
The trademark of Inkaba yeAfrica is the ability to deploy advanced, high-tech methods and instrumentation. This is absolutely vital because the challenge of unravelling the dynamic Earth systems requires precise measurements and monitoring at an astonishing range of scales, from the hundreds of kilometres covered by orbiting satellite platforms or deep seismology experiments, to the nano-scale of molecular biology and mineral surface science.

Phase II calls for expansion and upgrading the GPS-based geodetic network in southern Africa, which is vital for regional studies of global change (Living Africa) as well as for research on continental deformation or atmospheric/ionospheric sciences (Heart of Africa).

We also have plans to build a new fundamental NRF outstation, Space Geodesy and Earth Observatory, in southern africa   to continuously monitor dedicated satellites locally. A ground and geotechnical survey of a proposed site for such a new observatory was completed in 2006. The site is in the southern Karoo, near Matjiesfontein. The proposed fundamental observatory is envisaged to function as a new geodetic site as part of a global network, and appears suitable to house a permanent differential global navigation satellite system (GNSS), a lunar laser ranger  (LLR) and radio telescope antennas for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) studies to determine Earth rotations and tectonic plate motions.

Marine research vessels deploying sophisticated geophysical and hydrographic equipment will continue to support a range of projects within the Margins of Africa theme, whereas the research themes Living Africa and Heart of Africa will see expanded use of satellite and airborne instrumentation as well as innovative applications.

Advanced laboratory techniques will be deployed to study dynamic processes at the near-atomic scale (weathering reactions and soils, rock deformation, ore formation), and for precisely dating geologic events and geomorphic surfaces. In this regard we intend to build Africa’s first integrated paleomagnetic-step heating Ar/Ar and noble gas laboratory to enable these measurements to be made routinely on this continent, in our own back yard so to speak, and not to rely only on taking samples for such measurements to laboratories overseas.


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