German scholar tests new waters

10 October 2005

Global exchange: Prof Gerold Siedler is at UCT to flesh out his work on global ocean currents.

For a long time, traffic on the prestigious Humboldt Research Fellowships, awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, was all one way - from South Africa to Germany. Obviously South African "Humboldtians", as they are called, didn't mind as they got to spend time at some of the best institutions there. But a few years ago the National Research Foundation began to reverse the flow by establishing the Humboldt/South African Research Awards, allowing internationally renowned German scholars to work from South African institutions. This year, the Department of Oceanography hooked one of these liberal awards, and is now at liberty to pick the brain of Prof Gerold Siedler, emeritus professor of physical oceanography at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences of Kiel University. Siedler is spending an initial three months - he'll come back once or twice more - at UCT with the Ocean Climatology Research Group headed by Prof Johann Lutjeharms, who nominated him for the Humboldt award. Siedler's interest lies in the large-scale circulation patterns of the oceans adjacent to Southern Africa, in particular the interaction between the Agulhas Current and the South Indian Ocean Current, and their influence on global climate. His colleagues at Kiel University are drawing up a model for what is known as the global thermohaline conveyor belt that passes on water from ocean to ocean via a series of currents. He hopes that the information he picks up at UCT will feed into that work. Lutjeharms is ecstatic to have attracted Siedler, who has held visiting positions at some top-notch institutions in the US and Europe, and has also served on a host of leading international organisations. "It's a real feather in UCT's cap that a man of this distinction wants to work here," says Lutjeharms.

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