Simulating and forecasting southern Africa's ocean

About Us

SimOcean is a multi-institutional initiative to develop ocean modelling and forecasting capacity in southern Africa. The modelling platform supports ocean research and operational activities, providing an arena in which modelling expertise, model output, and forecasts are shared and show-cased.

Following a workshop on the implementation of an operational oceanography system for southern Africa, held in Cape Town in July 2009, the inception of several national initiatives and international bilateral agreements, the urgent need for a southern African ocean modelling strategy has emerged.

In 2008 the Department of Science & Technology (DST) adopted a 10 year innovation plan: the Global Change Grand Challenge, which aims to implement measures to deal with global climate change. One of their key areas of research and development is to improve understanding of our changing planet. Through this initiative DST aims to include interventions to support the implementation of the research results and the identification of areas for accelerated technological development and innovation. Resulting initiatives such as the African Centre for Climate and Earth System Science (ACCESS), and regional project tenders such as the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) and the Agulhas-Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystem project (ASCLME) have furthermore identified the need to develop regional capacity in ocean modelling.

Considering the dynamic nature of the ocean surrounding southern Africa, its marine resources and proximity to one of the most energetic current systems in the world, the Agulhas Current, the need for operational oceanographic monitoring is well defined. The Agulhas Current exhibits intense mesoscale activity, including eddy shedding events at the Agulhas Retroflection, the interaction of eddies from the Mozambique Channel with the Agulhas Current core, and large meanders of the Agulhas Return Current. The unpredictability and intensity of the currents represent a direct threat to the industrial, commercial and leisure activities, for example, accidental pollutants, such as oil spills, which may advect onshore to the detriment of the coastal environment. In the years following the catastrophic Prestige wreck in Galicia, 10% to 15% of the ships at sea still do not conform with international safety regulations and represent a risk for further accidental pollutions. Furthermore, the Benguela Current system, which hosts one of the worlds most productive fisheries, is known to be sensitive to climate change and climate variability associated with, for example, the El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Understanding these dynamics and their role in ecosystem functioning, is an important part of resource management.

Numerical modelling is an essential component of integrated ocean monitoring efforts, and is one of the most important tools helping oceanographers, marine biologists and coastal managers to cope with the complexity of space and time scales that drive variability in the regional and coastal environments. The development of meaningful early warning and forecast systems requires that the physical processes of the system are thoroughly understood. In this regard,numerical modelling techniques can be an invaluable tool and, for this reason, we propose the development of an ocean modelling working group for southern Africa: SimOcean.

Currently, the ocean modelling activity in southern Africa is sub-critical. Building capacity and Local expertise in numerical ocean modelling and operational forecasting forms a key component of SimOcean. International bilateral agreements between South Africa and institutes in Norway, France, and Japan are in place, or are being negotiated and provide important links with the international community and potential for local training and development. Furthermore, successful international programmes such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE) provide frameworks for the international coordination of an efficient global ocean measurement network for better ocean observations and ocean forecasts. SimOcean would benefit greatly by aligning its activities with such initiatives.