WITH World Environmental Day upon us (June 4), it seemed an apt time for the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (the South African Academy of Science and Arts) to name UCT's A-rated oceanographer, Professor Johann Lutjeharms, as this year's winner of its prestigious Havenga Prize for Physical Sciences.
This makes him the first researcher from the environmental sciences to receive the award.
The Havenga Prize is among the Academy's most prestigious, awarded annually for original research in the fields of natural sciences and/or technology. The prize can be made only once to any individual.
Founder of UCT's Centre for Marine Studies (CMS), Lutjeharms is considered among the world's leading physical oceanographers, and has been honoured with a stream of international awards. His main field of interest has been in establishing, quantifying and understanding the large-scale circulation patterns of the oceans adjacent to Southern Africa and their influence on weather and climate.
Some of his most distinguishing work has been on the Agulhas and Mozambique Currents.
He has for the past few years worked closely with teams of international collaborators, notably those from the Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ).
In addition to collecting the Academy's Gold Medal, Lutjeharms will now join a celebrated pantheon of previous winners, including Dr Meiring Naude, Dr Alwyn Burger and UCT's Professors Wilhelm Frahn and Guillaume Brummer. "Being included in such a distinguished group is a great honour, but rather humbling," said Lutjeharms.
Being the first person from the environmental sciences to win the award has made the occasion that much more special, he added. "This reflects acknowledgement of the growing importance of the environmental sciences for our country.
"I feel this recognition is long overdue at a time when global warming, habitat destruction and increased climatic variability is putting increasing strains on the countries of southern Africa (viz drought in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe). What also pleases me enormously about this award is that it recognises the great enthusiasm and wonderful work of members of the Ocean Climatology Research Group in the Department of Oceanography at UCT."
According to Lutjeharms, this group of researchers and students has compiled an outstanding research record over the past 10 years, and has produced a significant proportion of all publications in the field of physical oceanography and marine meteorology coming from South Africa. "This award is as much theirs as it is mine."
He added that the award brings further acclaim to the work done by the UCT Department of Oceanography.
The Havenga Prize will be formally handed over to Lutjeharms at a gala event at the University of Stellenbosch later this month.