Inaugural oceanography symposium by and for students

05 March 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 5 min.
The “Ocean Meets Sky” symposium organising committee: (Back row, from left) Liisa Shangheta, Wade de Kock and Wanjiru Thoithi, (Front row, from left) Faith February and Precious Mahlalela.
The “Ocean Meets Sky” symposium organising committee: (Back row, from left) Liisa Shangheta, Wade de Kock and Wanjiru Thoithi, (Front row, from left) Faith February and Precious Mahlalela.

At a recent symposium hosted by postgraduates from the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town (UCT), students had the opportunity to showcase their research to their peers, locating their work in global conversations about climate, biodiversity, food production and environmental resource management.

The symposium, titled “Ocean Meets Sky: Oceanographic Research – A Global Perspective”, was hosted by the department on Wednesday, 4 March. It was the first oceanography departmental symposium at UCT.

Sponsors and collaborators of the symposium were A Mari Ocean Gin, Shackleton Brewing Company, OceanHub Africa, UCT’s Careers Service and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Environmental Observation Network.

The symposium was organised by a committee of UCT PhD and master’s candidates: Faith February, Wade de Kock, Precious Mahlalela, Wanjiru Thoithi and Liisa Shangheta.

February, who is pursuing her PhD in physical oceanography and Thoithi, whose MSc is in ocean and atmospheric science, are also members of the inaugural cohort of Ocean Womxn. The programme is supported by UCT’s Advancing Womxn Initiative, championed by the vice-chancellor (VC), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

The organising committee said the aim of the symposium was to “showcase the exciting research and the breadth of the work currently being carried out by the students within the department”.

“[And] what was so special was that this was a symposium planned and organised by the students ─ for the students!”

Range of research

Students and staff in attendance at the symposium heard from 14 speakers about their research on a range of oceanographic topics.

Inaugural oceanography symposium by and for students
Organising committee member Wade de Kock presented his research on large rainfall events during the extended summer winter rainfall.

Members of the organising committee were among the list of speakers. February presented on the influence of the southeast wind on sea spray aerosols in False Bay; De Kock shared his work on large rainfall events during the extended summer winter rainfall; and Mahlalela presented her work on the interannual variability and trends in rainfall characteristics over the Eastern Cape region.

The rest of the research presented were:

  • “Sea ice in the global context” (Riesna R Audh)
  • “Productivity and carbon export potential in the Weddell Sea, with a focus on the waters near Larsen C Ice Shelf” (Raquel Flynn)
  • “Summer observations of sub-mesoscale instabilities in the ice-free Antarctic Seasonal Ice Zone” (Isabelle Giddy)
  • “Interannual variability of transport success in the southern Benguela upwelling system” (Moagabo Ragoasha)
  • “Not all models are created equal…” (Jonathan Rogerson)
  • “Aerosol acidity in the Southern Ocean” (Sive Xokashe)
  • “The kinetics of ammonium uptake and oxidation during winter across the Indian sector of the Southern Ocean” (Mhlangabezi Mdutyana)
  • “Lagrangian evolution of two Madagascar cyclonic eddies” (Tamaryn Morris)
  • “Mesoscale Convective Systems over the east coast of South Africa” (Dedricks Morake)
  • “Impact of the Agulhas current on storm development” (Jason O’Connor)
  • “The Agulhas current enhances the productivity of the subtropical Indian Ocean” (Kolisa Sinyana), another member of the 2020 Ocean Womxn cohort.

Fourteen PhD and MSc candidates presented their work to their peers at the symposium. There was also a poster-making competition.


Participants and attendees were also treated to a plenary talk by Professor Juliet Hermes from the NRF’s South African Environmental Observation Network Egagasini Node in Cape Town.

Initiative and opportunities

Taking initiative and making the most of the opportunities that come one’s way formed some of the advice shared by the VC with the budding oceanographers.

The VC attended the symposium to deliver the opening address, focusing on the career advice she wished someone had given her earlier on her own journey.

“Opportunity is very interesting because in and of itself, it doesn’t produce anything. It is what you do with it that matters,” said the VC.

Inaugural oceanography symposium by and for students
Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng and organising committee member Faith February share a moment after the VC’s address.

She added that the symposium presented students with many new opportunities and that it might be the start of a new career journey for them.

“So, my advice is that you grab the opportunities that come towards you; use them and create more opportunities.”

Professor Isabelle Ansorge, head of the Department of Oceanography, said she was proud of the organising committee for taking the initiative.

“This is an amazing opportunity for the students and lecturers from the oceanography department to come together as a single body. The excitement shared by all today was truly inspirational and I know that this is the first of many annual symposiums … I feel very privileged to be head of this department with such astounding and talented students.”

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