The SA Agulhas II left Cape Town on Tuesday evening, the DEA said.
The SA Agulhas would be conducting a research voyage in the Southern Ocean that would take an estimated 25 days to conclude, with research taking place in three primary research areas – the third Southern Ocean Seasonal Cycle Experiment, South Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation South Africa and the Southern Ocean Trace Metal and Bio Geochemistry. Research in these areas would be undertaken through seven research projects.
DEA spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said the DEA was collaborating with the Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation and the Council for Scientific Industrial and Research to carry out the project.
The project is part of the DEA’s commitment and contribution since 2011 to research carried out by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which in 1991 established an international monitoring programme in the Southern Ocean to map spatio-temporal patterns of plankton, including krill.
“This voyage is particularly important as it will highlight changes in the abundance, distribution and diversity of plankton communities in the Atlantic and Indian sectors of the Southern Oceans to the South of Africa, which have generally not been studied in much detail, particularly in winter,” said Nqayi.
The research, he said, would also look at “the sensitivity of plankton species to environmental variability and climate change as indicators of the health of the Southern Ocean”.
South Africa is the closest African country to Antarctica. This made the country the only African nation on the continent with a foothold in Antarctica. It was for this reason that this research trip was important because South Africa “bears the responsibility to serve as a channel for broader African research in the Antarctic region,” added Nqayi.