SANAP Collaboration during COVID-19 – An Online Presence

SANAP Collaboration during COVID-19 – An Online Presence

           The SANAP symposiums is: “..the perfect platform for diverse disciplines to “cross-fertilise” ideas often leading to collaborations.  It is an exciting community; the people are so different, but the focus is on the same problems in the same place.” – Rosemary Dorrington

The 6th SANAP biannual symposium would have taken place this week; now postponed because of COVID-19. SCAR2020 has been cancelled and many more conferences, symposia and meetings. However, our SANAP platform allows us to continue to showcase our projects and highlight the work that we do. Therefore we need to utilize the mediums that are available to us for collaboration and use it to create awareness on national and international level. 

The 1st SANAP symposium took place in Stellenbosch in October 2007 over a period of 2 days hosted by Steven Chown of the Stellenbosch University and in 2009 the Symposium was held in Cape Town, on 8-10 February 2009.


In Grahamstown in 2014 the 3rd Symposium was hosted by Ian Meiklejohn and Rosemary Dorrington of Rhodes University. Rosemary in an interview with the daily dispatch said the following:” The symposium, last held in 2008, brings together researchers from diverse scientific fields including physics, oceanography, marine biology, terrestrial ecology, space science and astronomy.” “She said research was vital to predict consequences of global changes in climate, population resettlement and their impacts on the food chain. “It is one of the most important projects funded by the NRF, it has brought together some of the top people in their fields.”

In 2016 the 4th SANAP symposium was held at Pretoria University organized by Don Cowan, Thulani Makhlanyane and Miss Yashini Naidoo.





The last and 5th SANAP symposium was held in Hermanus organized by Michael Kosch of SANSA and Kenneth Findlay of CPUT.


Even though the symposium for 2020 is postponed the SANAP website will highlight research of those scientists and students that would have presented during this week. (follow social media to read more) The SANAP symposiums abstracts will be made available on the ALSA repository before end of 2020 on Speeches, Talks and Presentations collection. Please note that you are welcome to send us a file(pdf) of any presentation or talk, if you want it to be part of the digital repository. Let us preserve and build the science and research legacy of South Africa in the Antarctic Region, it will ensure that future generations can benefit from our work. The metadata for the 2018 Symposium abstracts has been done, all we need is your pdf of your presentation and this will be added to the repository. (Example: Christel Hansen) Email your pdf to

Sunday Science: Space Science- Aurora Australis

“Auroras provide direct visual evidence that the atmosphere is shielding life on Earth from the radiation hazards of space.” – Michael Kosch, SANSA.

Today Overwintering Teams are celebrating Midwinter. With this in mind we would like to share some information on Aurora Australis. The research on Auroras in SANAP would be under the jurisdiction of SANSA. Although they do not currently have an aurora program, there is a possibility of doing research on it in the future. The spectacular and beautiful auroras, usually seen at polar latitudes, are caused by high energy particles bombarding the upper-atmosphere. These particles originate from the sun and travel across the void towards Earth as the solar wind, moving at around 500 km/sec.

         About 10% of the solar wind becomes trapped on the Earth’s magnetic field lines in a process called magnetic reconnection, the rest is rejected and flows past the planet into deep space. The trapped particles accumulate, but this cannot go on forever. They are eventually released into the upper-atmosphere in a process called substorms, exciting the atomic oxygen and molecular nitrogen to produce the familiar green and red colours from oxygen, and sometimes the blue colour as well from nitrogen. Charged particles, such as electrons and protons, are constrained to follow the magnetic field lines, and since the Earth’s magnetic field is similar to a dipole bar magnetic, it is only in polar regions where the magnetic field lines reach down to the ground, which is why the auroras appear mostly in polar regions.

        Auroras appear in the height range 100 to 300 km above the Earth’s surface, typically with red, green and blue appearing near the top, middle and bottom, respectively, of this height range. The height of the auroras, and therefore their colour, depends on the energy of the particles, with higher energy able to penetrate to lower altitudes. Auroras are rarely seen at lower latitudes such as South Africa except during major geomagnetic storms, an example of which occurred in 1989 when auroras were visible from Durban.

The following are a few articles in the South African Journal on Antarctic Research available on the Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) digital repository

Geomagnetism and Aurora Programme in Antarctica  – Short summary of the Aurora and Magnetic Programmes in Antarctica by G Kuhn


WAND auroral imager for SANAE written by  G Hough and MWJ Scourfield.
Aurorae are optical emissions excited by the collisions of charged particles with the upper atmosphere at about 100 km, the altitude of the ionospheric E-region. In fact, the ionosphere has often been likened to a giant TV screen. For the latter, the electrons are fired from an electron gun, whereas the sources of high energy electrons that cause aurorae are located in the magnetosphere. One of the central problems in space physics is locating the sources and mechanisms causing the acceleration of auroral particles. The Wide Angle No Distortion (WAND) was designed, prototype built, and tested at SANAE-3 in 1993. The unique mirror optics removed the circular distortion of standard fisheye lenses, making the image of the sky recti-linear for a fixed latitude.

Magnetospheric electrons precipitating into the atmosphere by Pieter Stoker.

The International Magnetospheric Study (IMS) and the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere Aeronomy Year (ASHAY) by JA Gledhill

Text for post provided by Michael Kosch of SANSA. Principal investigator in SANAP

Images from ALSA repository contributed by
Gareth de Villiers, Harm Moraal, Beneke De Wet and Mark St Quintin

Article references provide by ALSA, all articles available on repository


Saturday Student: Luca Stirnimann

Saturday Student: Luca Stirnimann

Luca Stirnimann received his BSc at the University of Genova (Italy) in 2013, majoring in Environmental Science. He was introduced to his first marine applications of ecology and taxonomy during a summer school spent on the Linosa Island (Mediterranean Sea) as an undergraduate, investigating invasive marine alien species. During his MSc in Genova, he could study time series and regime shifts analysis on plankton systems. After graduated summa cum laude in Marine Sciences (2015) at the University of Genova, he spent one year at the Marine Biological Association (Plymouth, UK) attending the MRes in Marine Biology, where he could continue his studies on plankton and experimenting the life as a scientific researcher.

                            From 2017, he is a PhD student at the University of Cape Town. He analyses the samples he collected during several expeditions to Antarctica, in order to investigate zooplankton and phytoplankton dynamics in the Southern Ocean in the context of nutrient cycling and primary production. He is comparing ecosystem dynamics in the vicinity of Subantarctic island systems with the open Southern Ocean. Luca’s project falls under the current SANAP Project: “A nitrogen cycle view of atmospheric CO2 sequestration in the Antarctic Ocean” (Principal Investigator: Dr SE Fawcett, University of Cape Town)

Why you love your career in science?

Earth science, in general, has always been fascinating to me and since I was little, my desire was to discover and learn new things related to our oceans.
As I do love Sherlock Holmes stories, in this job I see myself as a detective that has to solve a case. In fact, any phenomenon in nature may be more or less complicated to be described or understood, but the samples and the analysis are like clues of a case and using them, it is possible to solve any scientific mystery.

          Thanks to oceanography, I can attend fantastic expeditions anywhere in the world, exploring from the icy polar seas to the warmer waters of the equator, spending weeks or even months on board of research vessels. During these trips, I always meet colleagues and extraordinary scientists that share the same interests and passions of mine, even if they are from different fields. Furthermore, coming to South Africa, I joined two great scientific communities: one is the SANAP group, where all the experts of the Antarctic systems meet all together to share their works and thoughts; and the second, the South African Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECSSA), which gives me the privilege to develop a South African group of scientists with the Polar Science as a common interest.
This is a great career that stimulates you at any moment of your life, and if you are curious, motivated, and resourceful, well… this job is waiting for you.

In 2018 at POLAR2018 (SCAR/IASC Open Science Conference 2018) he was awarded with the 1st prize for the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) Poster Awards (Sector: Africa and Middle). Poster Title: “The Island Mass Effect (IME) on carbon cycling in the plankton ecosystem around the Prince Edward Islands archipelago”.
Luca is current a committee member of APECSSA. Follow @LStirnimann and @apecssa on Twitter

Friday Freelancer : Sydney Cullis

Sydney Cullis’s hobby turned out to be a bonus for the preservation of the Legacy of South Africa in the Antarctic region. ” It all started in 1993 when our son, James, was in Matric he had to produce a talk for one of the school societies and, as the Fiennes/Stroud “In the footsteps of Scott” expedition to cross Antarctica unsupported was in the news, he decided to choose it as his subject. To provide him with some guidance I started reading about the history of Antarctic exploration – and the more I read, the more fascinating I found it – and the more South African connections I came across. I was probably more receptive than I might otherwise have been as the first film I ever went to see (aged 6) was “Scott of the Antarctic” in 1948 and I have never forgotten the haunting soundtrack music of the Vaughan Williams’s 7th Symphony as they struggled up the Beardmore Glacier.

Sydney and Catherine at “furthest South”

Shackleton’s grave, South Georgia

Although born in Pretoria, I was at school and university in Cape Town. My surgical training started with internship at Groote Schuur Hospital and I was then fortunate to spend time in Zimbabwe, London, Edinburgh, Durban and, by then married to Catherine who I met in the pub after a hockey match in Durban, we returned to Cape Town. In 2007 , as per our partnership agreement, I retired from the practice but continued to assist my partners in theatre – and also celebrated my semi-retirement by undertaking a cruise from Ushuaia in Argentina to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula as far as Petermann Island, just north of the Antarctic Circle. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic I have now retired fully as it is recommended that surgeons over 60 should stay out of theatre.

John Cooper and Sydney at the Simon’s Town Historical Museum for a luncheon to commemorate the Centenary of Scott’s Midwinter Dinner – 5th June 2011

We visited the UK in 2008 and with my newfound interest in Antarctic history I contacted the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge about the possibility of looking for further South African connections in their archives. Bob Headland, then the Director, replied with an invitation to visit them and he recommended that I read an article he had written on the very subject – “A history of South African Involvement in Antarctica and at the Prince Edward Islands” which to this day is still the definitive article on the subject. His co-author was John Cooper – and it was only when I returned home that I discovered that he was the same John Cooper that I’d been running with three times a week for several years – and was instrumental in the start of ALSA. I was totally unaware of his interest in, and wide knowledge of, Antarctic history and, needless to say, over the years since then we have continued to run together and John has passed on a wealth of information to me.

Initially my interest was in trawling through the published accounts of the Heroic Era expeditions for South African connections-and discovered that, not only did many of the expeditions use Cape Town or Simon’s Town as a revictualling port, but many of the members of those expeditions had spent time in South Africa either before or after their visits to Antarctica – Maclear (Challenger), Scott, Shackleton, Wild, Joyce, Ferrar (Discovery), Pirie (Scotia), Davis (Nimrod),Oates, Mears (Terra Nova), Gray (Aurora)and James (Endurance) are some of them. As I delved deeper into the subject, I realised that it was part of our history that was not well known here in South Africa. The only visible evidence of this that I was aware of was the Scott Memorial near to the fountain at the bottom of Adderley Street and a small display on Marion Island at the Iziko Museum.

                   (Above: Cape Town Plaque,  Plaque outside British Hotel and at Jubilee Square, Simon’s Town) I therefore tried to find ways of highlighting the concept that Cape Town and Simon’s Town were “Gateways to Antarctica” – by creating presentations to historical societies, U3A’s, UCT Summer School, and Ship Societies both in Cape Town and Durban. I also facilitated the erection of plaques listing the Antarctic expeditions that passed through Simon’s Town in Jubilee Square and the British Hotel there. Another plaque containing the list of the 17 historic Antarctic expeditions that had made use of Cape Town was made with a view to it being erected somewhere in the V & A Waterfront – but unfortunately it is still gathering dust somewhere there.

Another source of information has been the study of newspaper reports of their visits – thanks to the South African library. One such report on the departure of Aurora from Cape Town in 1911 mentioned how one of the huskies had fallen overboard and had been rescued by a passing dinghy. This enabled the episode to be recorded in a painting of her departure by Jeremy Day which was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Aurora’s visit to Cape Town. In 2015 John Cooper had alerted me to the risk that the series of Peter Bilas paintings of Antarctic ships on SA Agulhas I might get lost or damaged when being transferred to the new S.A. Agulhas II. We therefore arranged for them to be restored (sponsored by GAC Shipping) and exhibited in the Iziko Maritime Museum at the V&A waterfront.

The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955-8 was the first to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea – which Shackleton had failed to do in his Endurance expedition of 1914-17. The meteorologist on that expedition was Hannes la Grange, who thereby became the first South African to reach the South Pole and in 1959 he was appointed leader of the first South African expedition to Antarctica (SANAE 1).  The surplus after the expedition established a fund and each year, as a result of Hannes’s participation, South Africans are able each year to apply for a grant for Antarctic research. In 2010 I applied for, and received, a grant which enabled an Antarctic display to be established at the Simon’s Town Historical Museum. Last year a poster entitled “Simon’s Town-a Gateway to Antarctica” was added to the Wall of Memory in the centre of the town(Top image with Sydney Cullis).

I have enjoyed the opportunity whenever Antarctic historians have visited Cape Town to show them our “Antarctic sites” – most memorably when showing Bob Headland around Simon’s town we discovered that Discovery’s badge had been added to those on the wall of the Selbourne drydock. Discovery had undergone an extensive refit in 1926 in the dock prior to her departure on a research voyage to South Georgia which paved the way to the international ban on whaling enacted in 1936

                           (above: Display at Simon’s Town Museum) The significant anniversaries of the historic Antarctic expeditions have been useful to raise awareness of them in South Africa. In December 2021 it will be 250 years since Marion Dufresne spent a month in Cape Town prior to his re-discovering the island which now bears his name and, as a result of its annexation 1947-8, it is an integral part of South Africa. We hope it will be suitably commemorated. Having a niche interest such as this has provided the opportunity when travelling away from Cape Town to search out items of Antarctic interest – (article on ALSA repository) I have been very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to develop a new interest/hobby which has resulted in my meeting so many very helpful individuals. I hope that it may have generated a more widespread interest in this relatively unknown facet of South African history.” This is definitely a field where research in the humanities and history of South Africa in the Antarctic can be done.

Text and Images supplied by Sydney Cullis

Wednesday Women: Sandy Thomalla

Wednesday Women: Sandy Thomalla

                          Sandy Thomalla  only ever wanted to be two things in my life; when I was really young I wanted to be a pilot, and from the age of about 10, I wanted to become a marine biologist. Which is perhaps a bit surprising for someone that grew up in Brakpan (yes that is a real town and not just the butt end of South African jokes), which is VERY far away from the sea. But like a lot of typical ‘inlanders’, we made our way to the Natal coast for family holidays and according to my parents I could snorkel in a rock pool before I could walk. My love of the sea (and all creatures in it) was also fueled by my father who is passionate about the ocean and an avid yachtsman (who gave up on his dream of sailing around the world when he had my sister and I …. Sorry Dad.). We spent countless hours swimming in the sea (jumping over and diving under waves) and exploring rock pools in search of starfish and anemones. By the time I was in high school I had my sights firmly set on UCT as my university of choice to study marine biology and made sure that I took all the right subjects to matric to be eligible to register for a Bachelor of Science degree. In my third year at UCT I majored in Marine biology and Oceanography and at honours level I chose biological oceanography as the field of research that would support the rest of my career. Unlike marine biology (more typically rocky shore invertebrates and vertebrates such as fish, dolphins, whales and sharks), biological oceanography deals with organisms at the smaller end of the spectrum such as phytoplankton and zooplankton. This field of research focuses on how marine organisms interact with and adapt to their environment, and what processes control their distribution in the ocean. As such, work in this field is highly interdisciplinary and often involves aspects of microbiology, physical oceanography and marine chemistry.

Why you love your career in science?

                                                  There are many reasons why I love my career and these have also changed over the years. The first, and probably most important one, is that I get to go to sea. I get to sail on ships in wild oceans like the Southern Ocean and experience epic storms that drive 15m waves and winds so strong they whip off the crests of the waves and yet still are no match for a .Wandering Albatross that holds its own in any weather. Or sail across the equator on a sea that is mirror still and so blue that it defies your eyes, while flying fish burst the surface leaving a trail of ripples as their tail fins propel them through the air. My career has also allowed me to travel extensively to many countries around the world for cruises, conferences, meetings and workshops. With each trip (particularly before I had children) I would always make sure I took some time to explore the country or city I was visiting, be it India, Russia, Croatia, Iceland or South Korea. Then there are the people, I would have to say that scientists in general are just pretty awesome people. They are typically down to earth, aware, curious, rational, open minded and free of bias. I have had the pleasure of meeting, working with, and getting to know so many wonderful people from around the world, and I treasure every one of them. In more recent years, being able to teach, supervise students and pass on some of my knowledge and passion has also been very rewarding. Finally, the science itself is very stimulating. Every day you learn something new, and you will never stop learning and reading and expanding your horizons, as this is core to what it means to be a scientist, to gain and share knowledge and understanding.

Message to future scientists researchers:

                              Hmmm ….. I guess I have a few:

  • It is extremely important to love what you do for a living. You will spend an overwhelming majority of your adult life at work, so try to ensure that you enjoy what you do. This, in my opinion, is more important than the size of the paycheck as it is more likely to sustain your mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • I would recommend a scientific career in which your research can make a tangible difference to the world we live in. It means a lot to me knowing that by studying phytoplankton, I contribute to the knowledge required to address sustainability and help constrain climate risk and the associated societal challenges of the 21st century.
  • You don’t need to be particularly clever to be a scientist. Getting a PhD is more about guts, stamina and determination than anything else. I struggled my way through matric and first year maths and chemistry. It never came easy to me. Indeed, I failed first year chemistry and had to repeat the whole course in second year. Maths, physics and chemistry are now a part of my everyday life and although perhaps still not considered among my strengths relative to biology, nonetheless, here I am.

Latest research or study you’re working on?

                             My latest research is a very exciting study that uses autonomous underwater robots (called gliders and floats) that are deployed in the oceans to profile the water column from the surface to 1000m. My colleague Thomas Ryan-Keogh and I have developed a proxy that uses the sensors on these robots to determine the degree of iron limitation of phytoplankton. Iron is a micronutrient in the oceans that is necessary for phytoplankton to photosynthesise, and as such affects the ability of phytoplankton to remove CO2 from surface waters and subsequently from the atmosphere (thus impacting climate change). Preliminary results suggest that phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean are becoming more iron limited over time, which could negatively impact the important role that they play in removing carbon.

Find more information about Sandy on the World Wide Web
Articles: SA Scientists gather cold facts about global warming &
Secrets of the Southern Ocean Probed
Documentary Film: Woman and Oceans – Sandy Thomalla – The Unknown South
Video: Using science and Innnovation to understand the role of the 
Southern Ocean in a changing climate
Twitter @SOCCOgliders & Facebook: Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory
Collection of Images will be available on ALSA repository by end of 2020
Text and images supplied by Sandy Thomalla
TEL: +27 (0)21 405 9400
Physical Address

East Pier Shed, East Pier Lane,
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town,
South Africa

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