Monday Men : Werner Nel

Monday Men : Werner Nel

Werner Nel was born and raised in East London. He was educated at the University of Pretoria with a BSc in Earth Sciences: Atmospheric Science, BSc Hons in Environmental Analysis and Management and an MSc and PhD in Geography. His MSc was on the Quaternary landforms on Marion Island (overwintered with M56) while his PhD was on the climate attributes and its geomorphic effect in the Drakensberg.

Why you love your career in science?

                              Very simply for the fact that science take me places and allows me to meet new people. (Above L-R: Aktru Glazier in Siberia, Huangshwen in China, Abisko mountains in Sweden) Since I was a young boy I always yearned for adventure (I still do) and field research gives you that. There are very few careers which allow you to be creative (making maps and figures and writing papers), work with your hands (setting up and maintaining field equipment) and challenges you intellectually. However more importantly, being able to work with people is the best thing about my career. I have had the honour of mentoring some wonderful students, each unique in their personality and approach to life. I have also met some magnificent people through research and travel. My best friends are my research partners and colleagues. I have had the privilege to be on numerous expeditions and travels to far off places with some of the best people, and even though we have different nationalities and come from different cultural backgrounds, I have learned that people are just people and field scientists (young and old) are the best of them all.  

Latest research or study you’re working on ?  

        I am involved in many things. (Above fieldwork in Antarctica L-R; Flarjuvan, Robbertskollen and Lorenzpiggen) Firstly, at Fort Hare, I supervise many students across diverse fields of research interests in Geography and Environmental Science and to keep abreast of all this work takes a large chunk of my research time, but is the best part of my job. Then as for my own current research, I am involved in a very exciting collaboration with colleagues from Nanjing University in China where we are looking at the effect of weathering and human activities on heavy metal pollution in the Pearl River Basin. Then I am also involved in some climate and landscape interactions work on Mauritius and it’s off shore islets with SA colleagues (Paul Sumner, David Hedding and Jay le Roux) and our friends from the University of Mauritius and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Then of course my SANAP sub-Antarctic research with Dave Hedding and students are the most important to me. We are currently busy with a number of ongoing research projects on the contemporary periglacial geomorphology of the island. We are also re-examining the glacial reconstruction and timing of deglaciation on Marion Island through the use of new funky cosmogenic dating techniques in collaboration with colleagues from SUERC in Scotland and the British Antarctic Survey.

Werner’s Message:

Ja, well there are better paying jobs out there and I guess jobs that give you more status in society (if this is what you are looking for). But I think no other career gives you more freedom to express yourself. Also, unlike what most people think, you don’t need to be particularly clever. Most of the top researchers that I know are just ordinary people that have a passion for what they do and they just put in the time. A willingness to learn (and read), to explore, and not be scared of new things are all you need. Science also allows you to break free from stereotypes and permits (actually insists) you to be who you are. And the rewards are amazing. To see your students graduate and go on to do wonderful things (and be great in their jobs) and to meet truly inspiring and interesting people are way more rewarding I think. And even though it seems that every academic in the universe is perpetually broke you can make a decent living from being an academic. However more importantly, given the flexibility a lot of us enjoy, you can still be there for your family when they need you, and you can always count on a fellow field researcher to buy you a beer.  

Werner Nel is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Fort Hare. He lectures climatology to first, second and third year students and geomorphology to post-graduates.  He has successfully supervised more than 20 Masters students and seven PhD students and serves on the joint International Association of Geomorphology/ International Geographical Union steering committee for Geomorphology and Society and he is a member of the South African National Committee for SCAR. He has been actively involved with SANAP research since 1999 and has been Chief Scientist for shore-based science on relief expeditions to Marion Island and Antarctica.

See profile on Google Scholar and Researchgate and an interview with Russian media at the Aktru research station in Siberia.

Photo Credits: Werner Nel 


Wednesday Women:   Bettine van Vuuren

Wednesday Women: Bettine van Vuuren

I completed all my science degrees at the University of Pretoria after some time at Wits studying law. I was fortunate to be appointed at Stellenbosch University in 2000, spent 2001 in France, and returned to Stellenbosch University in 2002 where I worked first as a Senior Technical Officer, then as a  Researcher and finally an Associate Professor before relocating to the University of Johannesburg in 2011, and became a Full Professor in 2012. Our research group at UJ transitioned into a Research Centre, and we currently house a number of postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. We have collaborations with a number of groups both within South Africa, and internationally.

I have been involved in research on the Prince Edward Islands since 2004 and have been fortunate to work with some of the legends as well as bright upcoming researchers (then students, now fully established and leading their own research groups). For my sins, I was appointed as Chief shore-based Scientist in 2006 (the first time that a woman held this position), and managed to get all people to relevant huts on time, even though we almost had to put together a rescue party to retrieve Valdon Smith and Sarette Slabber from Mixed Pickle (typical Marion Island bad weather meant that they could not walk over Azorella Kop). Thankfully the weather cleared, and all shore-based people made it back to the SA Agulhas I.

Bettine van Vuuren is currently the Chair of the South African National Committee for SCAR, and a Principal Investigator in the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) – see Biocomplexity: Understanding biological patterns in space and time.

Why you love your career in science?

I have always thought that animals are interesting and wondered why they act in certain ways. Why do some dogs get on well, while others fight? How do bees know where to find flowers and pollen, and how do they get back to their hives? Are they really all female? Why are some species so successful while others are continuously threatened and faced with extinction; especially considering that our world is changing much faster than ever before?       

Once I understood that the answers to most of these questions have a strong genetic basis, I was hooked. My work allows me to search for the answers to many of these questions, and I work in some of the most extraordinary and beautiful places on earth (from our hot and dry desert and semi-desert regions to extremely wet and cold sub-Antarctic islands). I am privileged to work and interact with extremely talented people (both within and outside South Africa; old and young); there is not a day that I am not thankful for the way my life turned out. What is perhaps the strongest motivating factor is that I can make a difference in the lives of younger people (through education, working at the University of Johannesburg), and this is priceless.

Why you believe more women should pursue a career in science?

The first thing to say is that I believe there is nothing that any person can’t do if they apply their mind (and time) to it. We often set our own ceilings based on the general beliefs that society or others impose on us; and it is crucial that we break through these (non-real) boundaries. STEM fields are a case in hand. This is especially true for woman, who traditionally were considered homemakers  or child-carers. In STEM specifically, fields such as mathematics, physics and engineering, and traditionally more field-based disciplines such as zoology, botany, or oceanography, are seen as more suited to men (either because women were not traditionally considered as analytically strong, capable to work in the field, or for that matter, be away from home for any period of time). It is critical that any person (both men and women) should carefully consider what they enjoy, what their specific strengths are (be that a STEM career for a woman, or as a child carer / homemaker for a man), and then pursue that with all their strength and passion. Personally, I was initially directed into a field that I had no interest in (because I could not answer questions asked regarding where I would work if my husband lived in a small town), and from a personal perspective I strongly urge and support woman that want to step out of the “beaten track”, i.e., what is typically expected from you by society, and follow what they are passionate about.

Latest research or study you’re working on?

I am currently involved in a number of larger projects which aim to understand how species (individuals / populations) respond to change. One such project is on sub-Antarctic Marion Island (funded through the South African National Antarctic Programme), where we are assembling the full genomes of a number of macroinvertebrate species, with the ultimate aim to understand genes under selection, and how biotic and abiotic factors shape the genetic diversity on oceanic islands. In South Africa, and in collaboration with national (SANBI) and international partners (an NSF/NRF funded project), we are investigating how reptile species adapt to changing and transformed landscapes, and what the downstream impacts are on their genes, morphology and behaviour. Across the African continent, and in collaboration with the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (Portugal), we are documenting the spatial genetic patterns in a number of economically important larger antelope species (such as roan- and sable antelope); our work here directly informs South African policies on translocations.

Student: Daniela Monsanto

Colleagues & Students at a conference

Students often ask me about their future careers, what they can do with a BSc degree (or broader, a Science degree), or where they will find employment. And my answer is always the same: You can be whatever you want to be. The ultimate aim of science education should be to train students to critically assess situations, to learn how to solve complex problems, and to find solutions to questions. If you have mastered this skill, you can become the President of South Africa, an artisan, an entrepreneur, or a brilliant scientist.

Presentation on Youtube:  UJ zoologist on the management and eradication of invasive species

Profile on Wikipedia and on Researchgate

Follow Bettine on Twitter @bettinevv

Visit website  

Attention all early career scientists

Attention all early career scientists

The information below was sent through by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

SCAR Fellowship Scheme, partnerships and new opportunities in 2019

Fellowship logo

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) have been working together for many years to support talented early-career researchers, scientists, engineers, environmental managers, and other professionals to strengthen international capacity and cooperation in fields such as science support and facilitation, environmental management implementation, and climate, biodiversity, conservation, humanities and astrophysics research by way of an annual funding opportunity.

For 2019, these Antarctic organisations are joined by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), who will each support additional Antarctic-related fellowships.

SCAR Launches Antarctic Fellowship Opportunities for 2019

SCAR today launches its 2019 Antarctic-related Fellowships for early-career researchers. SCAR will offer 5 to 6 fellowships of up to USD $15,000 each for 2019, with additional support for the scheme having been provided by India, Korea and France. A new SCAR/WMO Fellowship is also available in 2019 as detailed below. The Fellowships enable early-career researchers to join a project team from another country, opening up new opportunities and often creating partnerships that last for many years and over many Antarctic field seasons. The deadline for fellowship applications is 17 July 2019.

Additional opportunities in 2019 through the SCAR Fellowship scheme

For 2019 there are a number of extra opportunities through the SCAR scheme, with some restrictions on applicability but using the standard application process for SCAR Fellowships:

  • India is providing support to fund one full SCAR Fellowship, with France providing a contribution to the Fellowship funds.
  • The Republic of Korea will also contribute to one Fellowship to be allocated to an applicant from a country which has been under-represented within the SCAR Fellowship scheme to date.
  • For the new SCAR/WMO Fellowship, the WMO and SCAR will jointly fund one Fellowship for applicants from a WMO country who meet the Fellowship eligibility criteria of the WMO.

COMNAP and IAATO have already launched their Fellowship scheme for 2019 and CCAMLR launch their Scholarship scheme with two deadlines in 2019. Details are available at :

Background information:

The SCAR scheme is launched today, noting the complementary schemes of our partners – the COMNAP and IAATO Fellowship Scheme and the CCAMLR Scientific Scholarship Scheme. Full details of these schemes are available on their respective websites below.

For more information on SCAR Fellowships, visit the SCAR website at:

For information on the COMNAP and IAATO Fellowships, visit the COMNAP website at:

For information on CCAMLR Scholarships, visit the CCAMLR website at:

SCAR Structural Review Survey

SCAR Structural Review Survey

Communication via the South Africa National Committee for SCAR Chair – Professor Bettine van Vuuren.

Dear SANAP community,

Below an email from the SCAR Secretariat – It was decided that the SCAR structures be reviewed (at the meeting in Davos, 2018), and following from that, a survey was put together.

We have a real chance to contribute, and to drive change here; change that will work for us. I am the first one to sigh when asked to fill in (yet another) survey, but we really can make a meaningful contribution here. Please find the time in your busy schedules to complete this survey, and please pass this message on.

Remember, the entire SCAR Programme Structure will change in 2020, most meaningfully in terms of the big Science Programmes. Your input here can make a big difference, and if enough of us take the time to complete it, we can make sure that our work and our needs are more fully met by SCAR.

Please look at the email below from the SCAR Secretariat

Dear SCAR Group Leaders,

At the 2018 SCAR Delegates meeting, the Delegates asked the Executive Committee to review SCAR programmes, activities and committees to ensure they continue to be fit-for-purpose as the science need evolves.

To help with this task, the SCAR Executive Committee are conducting a survey of SCAR’s members, scientists, partners and groups that use SCAR data and findings. With the survey we are asking for input on how different stakeholders engage with SCAR programmes and activities and what they expect from SCAR.

You are invited to complete the survey. SCAR would like participation to be as wide as possible, so you are welcome to share the link with colleagues in their institutions, countries, and with international collaborators who benefit from SCAR.

The survey should take between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the level of feedback you provide.

The survey is available at the following link(here) and will be open until Friday May 31st:

Thank you in advance. If you have any questions, please email

SCAR Secretariat

Haven’t met the South African National Committee (SANC) for SCAR yet (click here).

UPDATE: SCAR Open Science Conference 2020

UPDATE: SCAR Open Science Conference 2020

The information below was sent through by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Secretariat. .

Preparations are well underway for the 2020 SCAR meetings and Open Science Conference to be held in Hobart, Australia in July-August 2020. The COMNAP Annual General Meeting will run concurrently with SCAR and the organisers are working to schedule events to encourage participation across the two groups.  The OSC theme ‘Antarctic Science: Global Connections’ highlights the scientific connections between Antarctica and the global system and collaboration in our Antarctic science community.

The Local Organising Committee are working closely with the SCAR and COMNAP Secretariats on meeting preparations including an excellent program of conference and side events. Planning for SCAR COMNAP 2020 includes efforts to minimise waste, encourage sustainable resource management and to foster participation inclusion and diversity.

The first pre-conference circular is now available and outlines some key pieces of information about SCAR COMNAP 2020. This includes the conference structure and indicative dates for abstract submission and registration.

The International Science Organising Committee has also developed a draft list of sessions based on input from the SCAR community – it is available for comment on the SCAR COMNAP 2020 website. Comments, suggested changes, proposals for additional sessions and suggestions for sessions to be merged together should be made to by 28 June 2019.

For more information, please check the SCAR COMNAP 2020 website or contact the SCAR COMNAP 2020 Project Manager, Rhonda Bartley at the Australian Antarctic Division – email:

We look forward to seeing you all in Hobart next year!

Kind regards,

The SCAR Secretariat

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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