AEON Project Archive

This site is an archive of a project of AEON

Research Perspectives

Earth Systems, including those of the solid Earth, interact at different scales and rates in ways that we do not yet fully understand.

The Inkaba yeAfrica programme endeavors to separate the long-term from short-term cycles of a number of geosystems, to evaluate their interactive feedback mechanisms and to trace their origins.

Key topics identified are:

  • Ocean floor spreading and horizontal displacement of the southern continents in establishing new ways, altering ocean circulation patterns and forcing climate change

  • Mantle-melt interaction with the lithosphere and the resulting magmatic plumbing systems in the southern oceans and along its continental boundaries

  • Continental lithosphere flanking the edge of South Africa and that of its conjugate sectors of South America and Antarctica

  • Structure and morphology of their adjacent continental shelves and margins

  • Vertical displacements of South Africa

  • Continental erosion and run-off, continental margin sedimentation and lithification around South Africa

  • Chemical composition of associated marine sediments

  • Heat flow, temperature and pressure histories within sedimentary basins, and their effects on organic matter fluxes

  • Biodiversity and organic-inorganic reactions on the continental shelves

  • Magnetic field variations across South Africa and the South Atlantic

  • Neo- and anthropogenic- tectonics of South Africa and its margins.

Forewarning society of natural disasters, sustaining economic growth without threatening the environment, and supplying an ever growing world population with industrial raw materials, food, clean water and energy - these are grand challenges facing industrialized societies.

All are inextricably linked with the natural dynamics of planet Earth, intertwined and interconnected with the effects of man’s recent agricultural and industrial activities. The true magnitude of natural change, be it biological, chemical or physical, is very hard to grasp, especially for the layman because our everyday lives are geared to events which last minutes, days, weeks and years; the scale of thousands or millions of years seems academic and far removed from life’s problems.

But events such as earthquakes and tsunamis, which manifest themselves in seconds to hours, result from stress built up over thousands and millions of years deep within the Earth and at distant locations.

Climate change is a similar story, with complex chains of cause and effect that operate globally and at different scales having an influence; man is not the only villain in the story.

Understanding the implications of far-reaching, complex changes of the earth and the environment to a degree that allows the provision of guidance to policy-makers and the public is a daunting task, but one which we are prepared to take on. Our ambitious goals are to make scientific advances that help address the grand challenges, and to increase public awareness as to the workings of planet Earth.

Where better to conduct these activities than in South Africa. Its uniquely preserved record of tectonic movements, volcanic events, natural resource formation, and climate change extend back more than 3000 million years. Southern Africa is at the centre of dramatic current changes in the Earth’s magnetic field and is the cradle of human culture. South Africa is the technologically and economically strongest nation in southern Africa and it is blessed with rich mineral resources.

The South Africa/German partnership in Earth sciences is truly symbiotic, with both nations facing the same grand challenges of sustainable, safe and clean sources of energy and raw materials needed for advanced technology, and of training a next generation of innovative, holistic scientists. All stand to benefit from joining together to unravel the workings of our planet from this special perspective.

Inkaba yeAfrica’s research aims at understanding global processes and the interaction between geosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. The focus of Phase I has been, and that of Phase II will be, high tech-based. We study and model relevant geoprocesses, monitor the status and trends of the system Earth, determine the physical/chemical/biological limits of critical conditions, as well as long-term monitoring of global and regional variations. Thus, near-Earth satellites, air-borne sensing systems, a global network of permanent geophysical and geodetic stations, mobile instrument arrays as well as integrated analytical and experimental facilities will be deployed.


The timescales on which Inkaba yeAfrica investigates


Three integrated German-South African teams of earth scientists, amalgamated as a holistic group, will continue to survey a cone-shaped sector of Earth from its core to space, enclosing South Africa and the Southern Oceans at its solid surface, and track the history of its components for at least 200 million years into the past.

Climate change, biodiversity, natural resources and hazards of Africa will be better understood once the geodynamics of the Earth's operating systems are differentiated and analyzed in the above manner. We have split the work into 3 foci, whose content is readily conveyed to the non-specialist by the terms Heart of Africa, Margins of Africa and Living Africa.

Heart of Africa studies energy transfer from Earth's core to the surface and beyond. Growth of the South Atlantic magnetic hole, already a problem for aircraft guidance systems and satellites, will continue to come under intense scrutiny. Revealing the deep structures and the evolution of the African continent since the distant past will provide new insights into ore-forming processes. The Earth and Ocean Monitoring Network for revealing how this and other natural phenomena impinge upon society is expanded from Phase I. The causes and rates of surface uplift are addressed in order to provide essential elements for predicting changes in aridity and erosion that are part and parcel of Living Africa.

Margins of Africa studies the causes, mechanisms and consequences of continental break-up and the development of the southern Oceans. This information is vital to reconstructing changes in ocean currents, the conveyer belts of heat that help drive climate, and for modeling the evolution of offshore sedimentary basis and their hydrocarbon potential. The vast outpourings of lava that occur during continental separation are catastrophic events of global impact, and their study gives insights into the workings of Earth's deep heat engine.

Living Africa presents the most tangible human link to geological processes, certainly as far as the non-specialist is concerned. Ecosystems and climate change are brought to the fore, using past archives and present-day records. Soil systems and land use is a completely new addition to the programme, linking human habitat with the dynamics of the solid earth. Mineral resources, mining and the environment, complete the list of topics that are of fundamental importance to the welfare and development of South Africa.



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