SANAE 53: SA Agulhas 2 heading into the Southern Ocean

SANAE 53: SA Agulhas 2 heading into the Southern Ocean

The polar supply and research ship SA Agulhas II arrived back in Cape Town on 13 February 2014 after a difficult but successful 10-week journey to the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) base in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

This voyage combined the annual transportation of relief and logistics supplies, and the ferrying of the SANAE 53 over-wintering team to South Africa’s Antarctic base, with the Southern Ocean Carbon Climate Observatory (SOCCO) research programme led by the CSIR.

According to CSIR ocean systems and climate chief scientist and head of the SOCCO programme, Dr Pedro Monteiro, the voyage was a success and has contributed to building South African leadership in Southern Ocean earth systems science.

The journey saw the deployment of the first integrated robotics platform, combining both wave and buoyancy gliders.

Gliders: A wave glider being deployed on the SANAE 53 voyage

Gliders: A wave glider being deployed on the SANAE 53 voyage

“Following the cancellation of the previous dedicated science voyage, we were still able to achieve some key science objectives on this trip, which was initially scheduled as a logistics trip. It was a complex arrangement involving the research vessel and flight journeys having to meet the needs of both logistics and research. With what was achieved on this voyage, we now have one of the most experienced teams in Southern Ocean autonomous observation.”

“The success of this arrangement was made possible by the collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA),” explains Monteiro.

Buoyancy Glider: A buoyancy glider being retrieved on SANAE 53

A buoyancy glider being retrieved on voyage SANAE 53

The journey saw the deployment of the first integrated robotics platform that combines both wave-driven and buoyancy-driven seagliders in the sub-polar region, 1 500km southwest off Cape Town − one of the main carbon dioxide (CO2) sink regions in the Southern Ocean.

The CSIR’s Dr Sebastiaan Swart, one of the chief scientists on the voyage from SANAE to Cape Town, expressed his excitement at the completion of the robotics experiment which is aimed at helping scientists to understand the precise links between climate and the carbon cycle in the most southern waters of the world’s oceans.

“The whole mission has been a great success. This was the first time that an integrated robotics fleet was deployed in the Southern Ocean to resolve the high resolution spatial and temporal characteristics of the drivers and biogeochemical responses that may help advance our understanding of how the carbon cycle and climate will evolve with climate change.

“It was certainly not a walk in park; we had to deal with testing weather conditions, power supply challenges and satellite communication complications with the sensor on the waveglider, as well as some difficulties with the buoyancy control of the seaglider at depths of 500m,” says Swart.
Swart also praised Captain Knowledge Bhengu, his officers and crew for their support during the voyage. “The vessel’s commander and his team were valuable allies during the expedition; they, along with voyage chief scientists Dr Thato Mtshali, Dr Sandy Thomalla, two CSIR-Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) student engineers, JP Smit and Sinekhaya Bilana, head engineers of Sea Technology Services (STS), Derek Needham and André Hoek, played a vital role in the successful deployment and recovery of all the gliders.”

The expedition included:

Iron-chemistry facility funded by the DST CSIR and Stellenbosch University and led by Mtshali and Prof Alakendra Roychoudhury in collaboration with Dr Phoebe Lamb from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in USA.

The bio-optics research group, which is working to improve the value of satellite data on ocean productivity lead by Dr Sandy Thomalla.


“We have learnt much this past summer on the use, strengths and limitations of ocean robotics in the Southern Ocean. This knowledge will help us, not only to strengthen leadership in this science, but also to extend the benefits beyond the realm of science to support socioeconomic and governance objectives. We thank the DST, NRF and DEA, SANAP, officers and crew of the SA Agulhas II and the entire SOCCO community for the great work they have put in,” concludes Monteiro.

SANAE 53: SA Agulhas 2 heading into the Southern Ocean

SANAE 53: SA Agulhas 2 heading into the Southern Ocean

The polar supply and research ship SA Agulhas II arrived back in Cape Town on 13 February 2014 after a difficult but successful 10-week journey to the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) base in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

This voyage combined the annual transportation of relief and logistics supplies, and the ferrying of the SANAE 53 over-wintering team to South Africa’s Antarctic base, with the Southern Ocean Carbon Climate Observatory (SOCCO) research programme led by the CSIR.

According to CSIR ocean systems and climate chief scientist and head of the SOCCO programme, Dr Pedro Monteiro, the voyage was a success and has contributed to building South African leadership in Southern Ocean earth systems science.

The journey saw the deployment of the first integrated robotics platform, combining both wave and buoyancy gliders.

Gliders: A wave glider being deployed on the SANAE 53 voyage

Gliders: A wave glider being deployed on the SANAE 53 voyage

“Following the cancellation of the previous dedicated science voyage, we were still able to achieve some key science objectives on this trip, which was initially scheduled as a logistics trip. It was a complex arrangement involving the research vessel and flight journeys having to meet the needs of both logistics and research. With what was achieved on this voyage, we now have one of the most experienced teams in Southern Ocean autonomous observation.”

“The success of this arrangement was made possible by the collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA),” explains Monteiro.

Buoyancy Glider: A buoyancy glider being retrieved on SANAE 53

A buoyancy glider being retrieved on voyage SANAE 53

The journey saw the deployment of the first integrated robotics platform that combines both wave-driven and buoyancy-driven seagliders in the sub-polar region, 1 500km southwest off Cape Town − one of the main carbon dioxide (CO2) sink regions in the Southern Ocean.

The CSIR’s Dr Sebastiaan Swart, one of the chief scientists on the voyage from SANAE to Cape Town, expressed his excitement at the completion of the robotics experiment which is aimed at helping scientists to understand the precise links between climate and the carbon cycle in the most southern waters of the world’s oceans.

“The whole mission has been a great success. This was the first time that an integrated robotics fleet was deployed in the Southern Ocean to resolve the high resolution spatial and temporal characteristics of the drivers and biogeochemical responses that may help advance our understanding of how the carbon cycle and climate will evolve with climate change.

“It was certainly not a walk in park; we had to deal with testing weather conditions, power supply challenges and satellite communication complications with the sensor on the waveglider, as well as some difficulties with the buoyancy control of the seaglider at depths of 500m,” says Swart.
Swart also praised Captain Knowledge Bhengu, his officers and crew for their support during the voyage. “The vessel’s commander and his team were valuable allies during the expedition; they, along with voyage chief scientists Dr Thato Mtshali, Dr Sandy Thomalla, two CSIR-Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) student engineers, JP Smit and Sinekhaya Bilana, head engineers of Sea Technology Services (STS), Derek Needham and André Hoek, played a vital role in the successful deployment and recovery of all the gliders.”

The expedition included:

Iron-chemistry facility funded by the DST CSIR and Stellenbosch University and led by Mtshali and Prof Alakendra Roychoudhury in collaboration with Dr Phoebe Lamb from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in USA.

The bio-optics research group, which is working to improve the value of satellite data on ocean productivity lead by Dr Sandy Thomalla.


“We have learnt much this past summer on the use, strengths and limitations of ocean robotics in the Southern Ocean. This knowledge will help us, not only to strengthen leadership in this science, but also to extend the benefits beyond the realm of science to support socioeconomic and governance objectives. We thank the DST, NRF and DEA, SANAP, officers and crew of the SA Agulhas II and the entire SOCCO community for the great work they have put in,” concludes Monteiro.

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