Obituary: Dr Precious Thembumuzi Mahlalela

Obituary: Dr Precious Thembumuzi Mahlalela

It is with great sadness that we announce the untimely passing of Dr Precious Thembumuzi Mahlalela.

Dr Mahlalela, Research Coordinator of the South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI) LTO-Ocean Integrated Facility, passed away on 28 November 2023 after a short battle with cancer.

Dr Precious Thembumuzi Mahlalela (1)

Dr Mahlalela joined NRF-SAEON (host of SAPRI) in May 2023 at the same time as successfully finishing off the corrections for her PhD in Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences thesis, entitled Variability and Trends in Rainy Season Characteristics of the Eastern Cape. She was due to graduate in December.

Upon joining the SAPRI team, she threw herself straight into the adventure, assisting with SEAmester and providing great support at sea. As soon as she was back on dry land she flew to China to learn about moorings. Although this was her first international trip, she approached it like the other challenges she has faced, with a calm and humble attitude, open to learning and new experiences. Upon her return, she insisted on accompanying the SEAON team on a science engagement roadshow in the Western Cape to inspire young minds. She continued to work with the same positive energy and gentle sense of humour that endeared her to everyone.

“In the short time she was with us at SAPRI she became part of our family. Taken from us far too soon, her light will continue to shine through the friendships she made, the individuals she worked with, and the souls she ignited with inspiration. Fair winds and following seas, shipmate. We have the watch now” Prof Juliet Hermes – SAPRI and SAEON Egagasini Manager. 

Dear Precious

Your warmth and gentle spirit shone so brightly that any room you walked into lit up with a soft glow. You were an angel on this earth who combined both a bubbly and calming presence and we will miss you more than any words can convey. We were so honoured to have worked with you. 

Go gently dearest Precious. With love, from the SAPRI team. 

The SAPRI team and SAEON Egagasini team will miss you dearly.

Our deepest condolences to Precious’s family, friends and everyone who had the privilege of meeting her. 

Obituary of Precious Mahlalela by Juliet Hermes, Tammy Morris, Anne Treasure, Errol Julies, Anche Louw, Abu Nguna, Rabia Mathakutha and Riesna R. Audh, 30 November 2023. 

Jobs Alert: Marion Island

Jobs Alert: Marion Island

Applications open for:

  • Overwintering Birder 
  • Overwintering Killer Whaler 
  • Overwintering Sealer (2x positions) 

The National Research Foundation (NRF) supports and promotes research and human capital development through funding, the provision of National Research Facilities and science outreach platforms and programmes to the broader community in all fields of science and technology, including natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities.

The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) is a research platform funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) since 2002. SAEON is mandated to observe and research ecosystems on land, in coastal regions and the oceans to understand how those systems function and might change over time and space when influenced by socio-economic driving forces including climate change. We deliver our data online and offer tools, services and advice for informed environmental policy-making.

SAEON Egagasini Node, based in Cape Town, Western Cape, requires the services of suitably qualified individuals to be responsible for collecting field data on birds and mammals, to be used for conservation and academic purposes as part of the South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI). The birder will be contributing to the project ‘On-island impacts of climate change on the Southern Ocean’s iconic seabirds’ run by the FitzPatrick Institute (University of Cape Town). 

The Marion Island research station is managed and administered by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). 

Apply before: 07 December 2023

Click here!


Anche Louw, South African Polar Research Infrastructure, 27 November 2023

Gough Island Expedition 2023: South African Weather Service

Gough Island Expedition 2023: South African Weather Service

More about the South African Weather Service team on the recent Gough Island takeover expedition.
Gough Island Expedition_2023_SAWS

L-R: James Joubert Burns, Velelo Mazele, Samkelisiwe Thwala, Khuliso Collen Maphaha, Fulufhelo Brenda Khobo and Kelcey Maewashe.

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has been part of the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) from the beginning, when the first team was appointed to stay on Gough Island. The metkassies (meteorological overwintering team members) continue to contribute to a long history of data collection on Gough Island. This includes an automatic weather station that measures temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, and pressure.

What can the new overwintering team on the island look forward to?

The metkassies when on shift do visual observations which includes cloud height and type, horizontal visibility, precipitation type, weather present and past and sea temperature. Formal observation is done every hour from 06:00GMT until 15:00GMT and then every 3 hours during night shift. This is done every day of the week.

TEAM South African Weather Service (SAWS)
Project NameAtmospheric and Ocean interaction studies
Principal InvestigatorDr. Jonas Mphepya
Takeover Team Leader
Samkelisiwe Thwala
Takeover Technical Support MemberVelelo Mazele
Senior Meteorological Technician (Gough68) Khuliso Collen Maphaha
Assistant Meteorological Technician (Gough68)Mphumzi Brooklyn Zilindile
Assistant Meteorological Technician (Gough68)Tshililo Kharivha
Senior Meteorological Technician (Gough69)Kelcey Maewashe
Assistant Meteorological Technician (Gough69)James Joubert Burns
Assistant Meteorological Technician (Gough69)Fulufhelo Brenda Khobo

Check out the SAWS Marine Portal

Follow SAWS on Facebook | Follow SAWS on X  | Follow SAWS on Instagram  


Project information supplied by SAWS. Images supplied by Mbulaheni Kelcey Maewashe and James Burns (G69 team members). 

Anche Louw, South African Polar Research Infrastructure, 09 November 2023. 

Job Advert: SAPRI Operations Coordinator

Job Advert: SAPRI Operations Coordinator

SAPRI_Jobs_Operations Coordinator

The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Egagasini Node, managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) requires the services of SAPRI Operations Coordinator responsible for the day-to-day operational and logistical management of the South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI).

As per job advertisement:

Key Responsibilities:

  • Coordinate Supply Chain Management activities at SAPRI to meet organisational objectives and ensure compliance
  • Coordinate the compiling of promotional content management, progress reports (monthly, quarterly and annually)
  • science engagement and annual performance plans
  • Provide lead support to ensure effective communication and coordination between SAPRI stakeholders
  • Day-to-day responsibility of operational and logistical management of the South African Polar Research Infrastructure
  • Provide assistance to a range of services that support sound management and the sustainable development of SAPRI, underpinned by good logistical coordination
  • Support the SAPRI manager and Ocean and Polar Coordinator, with other operations and reporting, including drafting relevant documentation in support of the portfolio, including contracts, MoUs and MoAs, promotional content management, progress reports (monthly, quarterly and annual), science engagement and annual performance plans
  • Work closely with the key SAPRI stakeholders (NRF SANAP, DFFE and scientists and technicians) to ensure that there is effective communication and coordination for efficient operations
  • Support the promotion of transformation within polar science by mentoring and supporting PDPs and emerging polar scientists and technicians in logistics and operation management


Apply before: 13 November 2023

View the full job advert here:

SAPRI Operations Coordinator at NRF National Research Foundation job in Foreshore, Western Cape | CareerJunction 


Anche Louw, South African Polar Research Infrastructure, 01 November 2023

Gough Island Expedition 2023: Trace Metal Biogeochemistry Research

Gough Island Expedition 2023: Trace Metal Biogeochemistry Research

Research team on the recent Gough Island takeover expedition. 

Gough Island Expedition_2023_Trace Metals (2)

Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live in the ocean, and just like plants on land they need to have enough food to grow and be happy. However, some places in the ocean don’t have enough food for them whereas some places do. The Southern Ocean Carbon & Climate Observatory (SOCCO) team based at CSIR, Trace Metals team based at Stellenbosch University (TracEx) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment: Oceans and Coasts team are trying to figure out where those places are (in the Southern Ocean). 

During the Gough Island takeover expedition:

The Trace Metal Biogeochemistry research teams sampled upstream and downstream of Gough Island to look at how the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) interacts with the island to resuspend sediments from the seafloor. This resuspended sediments acts as a source of trace metals to the surface mixed layer in support of phytoplankton blooms. The team used a 12 bottle mini-CTD rosette system (see image below, right) to sample for dissolved trace metals, particulate trace metals and organic trace metal chemistry.

TEAM Trace Metal Biogeochemistry
Projects Name Seasonal Iron speciation in the Southern Ocean, from open ocean environments to naturally fertilized sub-Antarctic Islands (Marion and Gough Island)
Principal InvestigatorDr Thomas Ryan-KeoghSenior Researcher at the Southern Ocean Carbon-Climate Observatory (SOCCO), CSIR South Africa
Co-Principal Investigator (On board DFFE team leader) Dr TN MtshaliDepartment of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)
Co-Principal InvestigatorProf AN RoychoudhuryStellenbosch University (TracEx)
SOCCO/TracEx on board team leaderOlie ValkTracEx
On board team member (PhD Student)
Thapelo RamalepeSOCCO-TracEx
On board team member (MSc Student)
Miranda SitofileSOCCO-TracEx
On board DFFE team memberMutshutshu TsanwaniDFFE
On board DFFE team memberKanyisile VenaDFFE
On board DFFE team memberHassan IsmaelDFFE
On board DFFE team memberMbulelo MakhethaDFFE
On board team membersIncluding all ship-based scientists sampling for trace metals

The project in more detail:

The Southern Ocean (SO) is one of the largest high-nutrient low-chlorophyll regions in the World’s Ocean, where primary productivity is limited by iron bioavailability, thereby impacting the strength and efficiency of biological carbon pump. There are, however, exceptions with large phytoplankton blooms persistently observed downstream of the sub-Antarctic Islands. While extensive research has focussed on iron-biogeochemistry around Kerguelen and Crozet islands, no such studies have been conducted at Marion and Gough islands.

Furthermore, whilst our previous studies have made substantial advances toward addressing the gaps in seasonal data coverage through the Southern oCean seAsonaL Experiment (SCALE) 2019 winter and spring expeditions, there is still a paucity of dissolved iron data in the SO, especially from autumn to late spring. This is severely hampering our understanding of the full seasonal biogeochemical iron cycle and its impact on primary production. This project aims to continue its focus on seasonality by expanding seasonal coverage of iron measurements to include autumn (Marion) and late-spring (Gough) expeditions for more comprehensive coverage of the SO seasonal cycle, with a particular focus on quantifying biogeochemical cycling of iron-pool around these understudied islands.

This project is funded by: The National Research Foundation, South African National Antarctic Programme funding (NRF-SANAP). 

Current NRF-SANAP funded projects

Visit SOCCO here!  Visit TracEx here!  

Featured Image: L-R (Back): Kanyisile Vena (DFFE), Ole Valk (TracEx), Hassan Ismael (DFFE), Mbulelo Makhetha (DFFE); (front) Miranda Sitofile (SOCCO-TracEx), Thato Mtshali (DFFE), Thapelo Ramalepe (SOCCO- TracEx), Mutshutshu Tsanwani (DFFE). 

Project information supplied by Dr Thomas Ryan-Keogh. Images supplied by Thapelo Ramalepe. 

Anche Louw, South African Polar Research Infrastructure, 30 October 2023. 

© South African National Antarctic Programme • Managed and administered by Antarctic Legacy of South Africa • Photo Credits