The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has declared June 2007 to be Antarctica Month to make South Africans more aware of the unique and exciting research done by our scientists on this frozen continent and the sub-Antarctic islands. The mission of the South African Antarctic Programme (SANAP) is to increase our understanding of the natural environment and life in the area through appropriate research, science and technology. SANAP research is undertaken in Antarctica, on the Prince Edward Islands (including Marion Island and Prince Edward Island), Gough Island and in parts of the Southern Ocean.
Two government departments are joining hands in managing South Africa's Antarctic initiative. DST, through the National Research Foundation (NRF), is responsible for science research while the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) takes care of logistical management. According to Dr Tshepo Seekoe, Manager of the Science Platforms Unit at DST, an Antarctic Research Strategy for South Africa (ARESSA) has been completed recently. 'South Africa increasingly recognises the importance of Antarctic research to understanding global scientific problems,' he says. ARESSA aims to create a demographically balanced Antarctic research programme that strives for high quality international research, links to other African countries and interdisciplinary research.
According to Dr Seekoe, the implications of SANAP research for South Africa and Africa are monumental. Much of the proudly South African effort on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean Islands is aimed at protecting them not only for future generations, but also for the entire planet. 'During this month, DST aims to inform South Africans why our researchers work in Antarctica, what their research entails, and what the benefits are to our country of having a base on this continent. Not only is this region a huge living laboratory, but it may hold the key to stopping global climate change, planetary weather and untainted biology,' he adds. This month furthermore marks the 46th anniversary of the first South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) team to over-winter on the ice.
South Africa's Antarctic research focuses on five main themes covering the geosciences, physical sciences, life sciences, the impact of human presence in Antarctica and the history, sociology and politics of our long term presence in the region. DST, through the NRF, co-ordinates, evaluates and funds the research projects. SANAE IV, the South African base in Antarctica, offers a well-resourced facility for the observation of various natural phenomena occurring in the cosmos, in the atmosphere or the electromagnetic field surrounding the earth, as well as in the crust of the earth itself. Auroras, solar winds and the ozone layer are some of the subjects of this research - with direct relevance to the navigation and communication systems upon which we have become so dependent. Geological investigations help to unravel the evolution of Gondwanaland, while meteorological and oceanographic observations provide clues to the process of global climate change. These are just some of the ways in which Antarctica offers us a window on the past, present and future of our world.
As the years 2007 and 2008 have been declared International Polar Years, the South African Expedition to Antarctica, SANAE 46, has appointed Anton Feun as IPY Scientist Responsible for International Polar Year projects while he is doing research in Antarctica. See his impressive IPY kite-flying activities on the IPY website.