SOCCO is a South African born science programme, in support of the Global Change Grand Challenge and the Marine and Antarctic Research Strategy. It aims to use the challenging problems in the role of the Southern Ocean in 21st century regional and global climate to attract excellent young South Africans to acquire advanced numerical, technological and problem analysis skills in support of a transformed knowledge based economy. It also aims to build partnerships with local and international leaders to strengthen South Africa’s impact as a global citizen with clear commitment to ocean and climate stewardship.

Globe - About Socco
Human Capital Development
  • Advanced numerical and technical skills depth in Earth Systems Science and its Ocean and Atmosphere sub-domains
  • 20 – 25 MSc and PhD graduates 50% HDI
  • Training platform for 20 engineers 66% HDI
  • A new group of Principal and Chief scientist level researchers at CSIR
Local & Global Science Profile
  • Complete the coupling of the the ocean – atmosphere domains in the CSIR Variable Resolution Earth Systems Model
  • Complete the testing of the CSIR VRESM
  • Expand membership of international panels in addition to existing:
    • Membership of the SSG of the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS)
    • Membership of the SSG of Clivar of the World Climate Research programme
    • Membership of the science committee of the 49th Liege Symposium on Ocean productivity
  • Double its output of high quality publications
SOCCO aims to have societal level impact in three main areas of national and global needs:
  • Support South African and global carbon mitigation policy by reducing the uncertainty of annual ocean CO2 exchange with the atmosphere sufficiently so that year to year changes can be resolved. This will be supported by on-going operational products
    • Operational CO2 flux index linked to SA-ICON
    • Operational ocean productivity index
    • Operational heat flux index
  • Support the improvement in century scale climate risk forecasts by making the coupled ocean – atmosphere component of the CSIR VRESM reflect the ocean sensitivity to climate change
  • SOCCO graduates will be playing prominent roles in research and policy institutions
  • SOCCO will be an active participant in the public discussion about the choices of developing economies in the face of global change

SOCCO is an interdisciplinary ESS programme with a balance of strong domain depth and a capacity to jointly engage system scale science.  It’s focus is on questions of scale sensitivity in the links between physics and biogeochemistry in the ocean and its coupling to the atmosphere.  The team engages in joint system scale Carbon – Climate research and publications using a combination of expertise in both ocean observations and modeling.

Dr Pedro MS Monteiro is a Chief Oceanographer at CSIR with a special interest in the understanding of how and why the ocean biogeochemistry of oxygen and carbon adjusts to climate variability. The use of numerical modelling as experimental platforms to understand scale sensitivities of coupled physics and biogeochemical processes in the Southern Ocean is a key focus.  This is being used to contribute to reducing uncertainty in long term evolution of the climate-carbon system in fully coupled Earth Systems models.

Current activities and research interests:

  • Understanding the coupled carbon-climate system in the Southern Ocean and the way that natural and anthropogenic CO2 fluxes in the Southern Ocean influence the long term trend of atmospheric CO2
  • Understanding and modelling the incidence and variability of oxygen in shelf and oceanic systems and their ecosystem implications
  • Modelling the biophysical processes which start and maintain phytoplankton new production in upwelling and open ocean systems

Dr Thomalla’s main research focus was on understanding the biological carbon pump through measurements of primary production (14C and 15N) and carbon export (234Th/238U disequilibrium) and interpreting these data in terms of their physical and biogeochemical control mechanisms. During her studies she participated in a number of national and international research programmes that include the Marion Island Oceanographic Survey (MIOS), the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT), The Crozet Natural Iron Bloom and Export Experiment (CROZEX), the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP) Observatory, the IPY Bonus-Goodhope (BGH) and several South African National Antarctic Expeditions (SANAE).

On starting her post doc in 2008 at the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory (SOCCO) within the CSIR her research focussed shifted to characterising the seasonal cycle of chlorophyll in the Southern Ocean in order to provide a more dynamic understanding of ocean productivity based on underlying physical drivers rather than climatological biomass. In July 2011, she accepted a permanent position at the CSIR as a senior researcher. Her current and future research focuses on the development and application of ecosystem-appropriate, well-characterised products that will translate ocean colour into carbon biogeochemistry and allow new insight into Southern Ocean ecosystem function. A key focus will be in assessing event, seasonal and inter-annual variability in ecosystem physical drivers and their biogeochemical response in order to better understand the potential for carbon sequestration at a regional scale.

Dr Thomas Ryan-Keogh’s main research focus is on understanding variable chlorophyll fluorescence under nutrient limitation and applying this to biogeochemical cycling of the oceans. During his PhD he participated on a number of multi-disciplinary research cruises to the high latitude North Atlantic and the Ross Sea. Dr Ryan-Keogh obtained his PhD in oceanography at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton/University of Southampton.

As part of SOCCO within CSIR his research will focus on understanding the seasonal cycle of phytoplankton physiology across the Southern Ocean, developing new tools and methods to examine the spatial and temporal variability of phytoplankton photophysiology for application to remote sensing data and biogeochemical model development. His research interests also include understanding how iron impacts the biological carbon pump and the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton physiology.

Since joining SOCCO in 2015 he has participated on 7 research cruises to the Southern Ocean, including the SCALE Spring cruise where he was the Chief Scientist. He has also helped to co-author 6 successful proposals as both principle investigator and co-principle investigator.

Researcher: Nicolette Chang is a researcher at the CSIR using numerical modelling to understand the physical oceanography of the surface ocean. She uses the ocean-ice-biogeochemical modelling platform NEMO for these purposes. Her duties include liasing with technical staff at the CHPC to get the ocean models up and running in parallel over numerous cores on their supercomputer. She also develops the model configurations for the research needs of SOCCO, these range from coarse global models to several high-resolution regional models in the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean at varying resolutions. The latter models are developed in collaboration with colleagues from Laboratorie de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l’Environnement (LGGE) in Grenoble, France due to the SOCCLI project.

Dr Chang obtained a PhD in Physical Oceanography at the University of Cape Town funded by a UCT/CSIR bursary. In her dissertation, she used the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) to investigate the seasonal cycle over the Agulhas Bank and to investigate the formation of the Cool Ridge. The developed model was used as physical conditions for several fisheries-related studies.

Tumelo obtained his BSc degree in Computer science and Mathematics and Honours degree in Mathematical Science at the North-West University and joined SOCCO as an MSc student. He since obtained an MSc in Applied Ocean Science from the University Of Cape Town investigating wind variability in the South Atlantic Sector of the Southern Ocean and the Influence on the Upper Ocean in a Numerical Ocean Model.

Currently, he’s combining these fields in his PhD which focuses on developing Earth System Modelling capabilities from a Southern perspective using South Africa’s Center for High-Performance Computing (CHPC).

Zakiena has obtained an MSc in Mathematical Sciences from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) and UCT. Her background is in mathematics, physics, and recently machine learning.

She currently combines these disciplines in her Ph.D. which focuses on the exchange of carbon and heat flux which occurs between the atmosphere and the upper ocean. In particular, her research tries to elucidate the impact/relationship of atmospheric forcing on the mixed layer on a sub-grid scale level through numerical modelling and Machine Learning (ML). The domain of interest being the Southern Ocean (SO) as it is particularly important in driving large-scale heat and CO2 uptake.

Fortunate Shingange is a biochemistry graduate from the University of Pretoria, who also completed her honours degree at UP. She has always been passionate and fond of science, in its all broad aspects and fields. Hence when an opportunity in a different field (oceanography) presented itself, she grabbed with both hands because science is diverse and broad, not in any way limited. She joined the SOCCO group in 2019, as an intern and then pursued (currently) her Master’s degree at the University of Cape Town under the SOCCO group. Her current project focuses on iron (particularly soluble and colloidal fractions) biogeochemistry and cycling in the Southern Ocean. The project aims to address the gap in the literature about the seasonal cycling of iron in the Southern Ocean, by focusing on wintertime distribution. In 2019, she participated in both the winter and spring SCALE cruises. She collected water samples for analysis and quantification to assess the factors contributing to iron distribution in the Atlantic basin of the Southern Ocean.

Tebatso completed his BSc and BSc (Hons) at the University of Limpopo where he majored in Biochemistry, Microbiology & human Physiology. In 2015, he joined the CSIR (Biosciences, Pretoria) on an MSc scholarship where he completed his studies at the University of Pretoria. His research focus was on studying the pharmacology of phytochemicals of herbal medicinal plants (and concoctions) used traditionally in the treatment and management of a variety of ailments.

Tebatso joined SOCCO in 2019 on a PhD scholarship and is registered with the North-West University.
His PhD research focus is on phytoplankton (microscopic oceanic plants) and the metabolite they produce, Dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP). DMSP plays a crucial role as a cryoprotectant in phytoplankton and has also been shown to support marine biogeochemical processes as a source of sulphur and carbon. Additionally, DMSP plays a role as a precursor of the climatically active dimethylsulphide (DMS) gas in the upper ocean. His research aims to improve our understanding of the links between phytoplankton, DMSP and the physical ocean. Understanding these links will inform the development of a remote sensing algorithm that uses satellite observations to derive DMSP
climatology in the northern Benguela upwelling system.

Asmita holds an MSc in Physics from the University of Pretoria, where she used ultrafast laser spectroscopy to study the excited state dynamics of protein-bound carotenoids in the Light-Harvesting Complex II of higher plants. Combining her background in Mathematics, Physics, Biophysics, Optics, and Photonics, her inter-disciplinary Ph.D. in Marine Biogeochemistry with the Earth Sciences department at Stellenbosch University, and in collaboration with the SOCCO-CSIR group, focuses on the photophysiological response of Atlantic Southern Ocean phytoplankton using variable chlorophyll fluorescence. This involves on-board, short-term incubation studies of phytoplankton with the addition of the Southern Ocean limited micronutrient, trace metal iron over different seasons (autumn, winter, and spring); as well as studying the in situ photophysiological response of Southern Ocean phytoplankton to various key physical and environmental drivers in summer in order to understand climate change effects and the effect on primary production.

Mutshutshu Tsanwani has obtained an MSc degree in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Pretoria. He is currently working for the Department of Environmental Affairs as a Chemical Oceanographer. His responsibilities include monitoring essential biogeochemical parameters such as nutrients, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll-a, DIC, TA, pH and pCO2 on the west coast of SA and the surrounding oceans. His main interest is in ocean acidification and the carbonate chemistry of seawater. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Cape Town. Mutshutshu’s PhD research investigates the combined effects of ocean acidification, hypoxia and temperature changes on marine coastal ecosystems and the impacts on selected marine organisms.

My academic background is in botany and currently I’m pursuing a career in marine biogeochemistry dealing with nutrient uptake (nitrogen cycle). Oceanography’s ability to link different science fields is interesting and exploring such knowledge is exciting. For the M.Sc. degree, I focused on nitrogen uptake by phytoplankton and nitrification in the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. In 2016 I had the privilege of spending a month at Princeton University to analyze nitrification samples, during the trip I learnt three analytical methods to determine nitrification (ammonium and nitrite oxidation) rates, this work was performed at Prof. Ward’s lab. I have started a PhD degree (2017), and for PhD. research I will look at the kinetics of nitrogen and this will be achieved by looking at substrate concentration uptake rates of ammonium (and nitrate in sub-tropical zones) and oxidation rates of ammonium and nitrite in the Southern Ocean. This work will help determine potential maximum uptake and oxidation rates of nitrogen in the Southern Ocean and this work can be useful to model climate prediction.

Natasha van Horsten obtained a National Diploma in Analytical Chemistry in 2010 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

She did her internship at CSIR in 2009 in the Analytical laboratory and was permanently employed in 2010. During her employment at CSIR in the Analytical laboratory she completed her B.Tech in Chemistry at CPUT and graduated in 2013.

She joined the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory (SOCCO) research group on an MSc studentship in 2013, under temporary employment at the CSIR. She undertook her MSc at Stellenbosch University, investigating the photosynthetic response of Southern Ocean phytoplankton under iron and light limitations, through bioassay experiments, graduating in 2015.

She completed her PhD in 2021, focused on early winter dissolved iron distributions and remineralisation in the Southern Indian Ocean, which was done under a joint PhD agreement between Stellenbosch University, the University of Western Brittany (France) and SOCCO.


Natasha received the Dean’s Merit award in 2007 and graduated Cum Laude in 2010 and 2013.

MSc Tumelo Moalusi. 2020 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Ayanda Npalweni. 2020 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Lebogang Matlakala. 2019 (CSIR / UCT)

PhD Sarah Nicholson. 2016 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Kevin Schmidt. 2016 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Senam Tsei. 2015 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Gilbert Ogunkula. 2014 (CSIR / UCT)

PhD Warren Joubert. 2014 (CSIR)

MSc Nicholas Pringle. 2014 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Fiona Preston-Whyte. 2013 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Katherine Hutchinson. 2013 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Delphine Lobelle. 2013 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Amy Weeber. 2012 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Luke Gregor. 2012 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Stephanie Rainier. 2012 (CSIR / UCT)

MSc Erika Kean. 2012 (CSIR/UCT)

MSc Michael-John Gibberd. 2011 (CSIR / UCT)

PhD Emma Bone (CSIR / UCT)

Emma’s PhD is focused on remotely sensed and in situ observations of fluorescence quantum yield (FQY) in the Southern Ocean. Fluorescence quantum yield is the ratio of photons emitted to those absorbed, serving as a measure of the photosynthetic efficiency of a phytoplankton population. This important biological parameter is influenced by numerous factors including taxonomy, light environment and nutrient status. Understanding the variability in signal through strategic in situ sampling will ultimately allow her to apply her findings to remotely sensed ocean colour data. In order to study FQY from space she will be using a fluorescence line height (FLH) product together with phytoplankton specific absorption determined using an inherent optical properties (IOP) inversion algorithm. She will attempt to attribute variation in the FQY signal to factors identified from her in situ studies. These relationships can be further investigated using the underlying IOP model, which can accommodate various characteristics of phytoplankton communities such as cell size and accessory pigment composition. Having an accurate understanding of the variables affecting FQY will allow her to confidently apply an FQY algorithm over a decadal time series, helping to characterise and better understand Southern Ocean phytoplankton dynamics.

PhD Marcel du Plessis (UCT / CSIR / WHOI)

Physical Oceanography PhD candidate interested in sub-mesoscale upper ocean physics. Current work using autonomous Seaglider in the Subantarctic Zone in combination with remotely sensed variables. Region of interest involves determining drivers that underly the environmental conditions whereby vertical stratification responds to sub-mesoscale mixed-layer eddies.

Localised sub-mesoscale mixed-layer eddies controlled by lateral buoyancy gradients and surface heating interact with atmospheric forcing mechanisms such as wind and heat to modify the stratification in the upper ocean.

PhD Precious Mongwe (CSIR / UCT)

Precious Mongwe is a PhD student in oceanography within the CSIR’s Global Change competence area, registered at the University of Cape Town. He obtained an MSc in Ocean and Climate dynamics from the University of Cape Town. Precious PhD is on the sensitivity of the seasonality of air-sea CO2 flux to fine-scale ocean physics in the Southern Ocean, particularly aims to investigate the impact of fine scales dynamics in simulating the seasonal cycle of the air-sea CO2 flux in the SO using coupled physical-biogeochemical models that are currently included in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) CMIP5 Eearth System Model (NEMO and PISCES), using fine-scale configurations up to 1/36o. The project mainly explore how/if representation of fine scale dynamics at a high-resolution model simulation improves representation and understanding of the seasonal cycle of air-sea CO2 fluxes and biological processes in comparison to observations, and subsequently to diagnose key fine scale mechanisms driving the seasonal cycle of CO2.

MSc Sandi Smart (UCT / Princeton University)

Sandi completed her undergraduate studies (BSc) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2010, majoring in Ocean & Atmosphere Science and Environmental & Geographical Sciences. In 2011, she obtained her Honours degree in Ocean & Atmosphere Science from UCT. Her Honours work explored the relationship between anomalously warm/cold sea surface temperature events in the northern Benguela region and rainfall variability over Southern Africa.

During 2012-13, Sandi undertook a collaborative Master’s project (based at UCT, in partnership with SOCCO and the Sigman Lab at Princeton University), investigating wintertime nitrate isotope dynamics in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. Surface and depth profile measurements of the nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) isotope ratios of nitrate (an important nutrient for phytoplankton growth) between Cape Town and the Antarctic winter sea-ice edge have provided a unique perspective on the biogeochemical and physical processes at work in the region south of Africa during winter. In future, Sandi hopes to extend her work in the modern ocean to paleoceanographic problems, such as defining the role played by Southern Ocean biology in regulating atmospheric CO2, and thus global climate, through past glacial/interglacial cycles.

MSc Ceinwen Smith (UCT)

Growing up in the mountains and oceans around Cape Town has fueled Ceinwen’s keen interest in the natural world and passion for surfing, hiking, climbing and photography. Her scientific interests include, ecology, botany, biodiversity and evolution in both the marine and terrestrial realms. She completed her honours in Oceanography and Environmental & Geographical Science in 2009 and attended a field biology camp at the University of Michigan in 2010, where she gained experience in freshwater algal taxonomy and awakened a curiosity for the microscopic world. Curiosity, enthusiasm and a keen eye for detail are qualities she believes are vital in pursuing a life in the natural sciences. Outside of her own research, she hopes to inspire these qualities in young scientists through field-based environmental education and outreach work.

Ceinwen’s recently submitted masters thesis explores the use of in situ bio-optical measurements of the ocean to investigate the dynamics of Southern Ocean phytoplankton community structure, physiology and primary production. The focus of her work is on the relationships between bio-optics, cell size, species dominance and physiology, which have implications for carbon export and provide insight into the role of the Southern Ocean’s biological carbon pump.

Dr. François Engelbrecht (CSIR)

Dr. Schalk Kok (UP)

Dr. Sonali Das (CSIR)

Derek Needham (STS)

Mutshutshu Tsanwani (DFFE)

Dr. Thato Mtshali (DFFE)

Senior Researcher: My research focusses on the roles of trace metal biogeochemistry, with particular interest of Iron (Fe), and light dynamics in the Southern Ocean primary productivity. My research interest is on understanding the effects of resource limitations of marine phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean. This research combines Fe speciation, analytical chemistry, and phytoplankton physiology and is approached from two directions: i) Field work measurements and ii) laboratory studies, with projects combining onboard bioassay Fe/light incubation bottle experiments coupled laboratory culture experiments and processed and distributions of Fe pools in seawater. I am always interested to hear from MSc and PhD students. If interested, send me a letter of research interest, CV and academic record.

Dr. Susanne Fietz (Stellenbosch University)

Susanne received her doctoral degree from Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany, investigating phytoplankton and what their pigments can tell about climate and state of the ecosystem in Lake Baikal, Siberia. Afterwards, in the UK, she got involved in polar ecosystem research studying biogeochemical alterations as survival strategy in sea ice microorganisms. In Spain, she combined the fields of biogeochemistry and polar ocean research into the use of molecular adaptation of aquatic microorganisms to understand causes and consequences of climate changes. Susanne joined Stellenbosch University as Senior Lecturer in 2013.

The group currently has an interesting project going on linked to the study of biogeochemical cycles in the Southern Ocean. Marine phytoplankton has been nominated as primary potential tool for climate mitigation. However, phytoplankton, which translates into carbon fixation and thus atmospheric CO2 reduction, depends on the availability of light and macro- and trace nutrients for growth and photosynthesis. Hence, research that leads to a better understanding of how phytoplankton responds to changes in light and nutrient availability is crucial. The projects are interdisciplinary including for example genetics and photophysiology, marine biogeo- and analytical chemistry and dust studies.

Dr. Warren Joubert (SAWS)

Researcher: Warren’s research is focussed on carbon cycling in the marine environment. His background is marine chemistry, and holds a M.Sc investigating carbon remineralisation in relation to sediment oxygen demand on the organic rich mud belt along the Namibian inner shelf. Warren recently completed his Ph.D in 2014, investigating surface ocean primary productivity in the Atlantic Southern Ocean, using a variety of in situ observation techniques. These include radiolabelled nitrogen tracer experiments for the uptake of nitrogen by phytoplankton, and net community productivity (NCP) using underway Equilibrator Inlet Mass Spectrometry to investigate the role of drivers such as nutrient- and light availability in explaining the observed primary productivity and NCP. Recent work highlighted the importance of variability in the mixed layer depth (which sets the surface irradiance and nutrient) in driving the variability in NCP, particularly in the Sub-Antarctic Zone.

Currently, Warren is responsible for ship based observations of ocean carbon parameters (pCO2, Total Alkalinty, Dissolved Inorganic Carbon) to establish a long-term ocean CO2 inventory in the African sector of the Southern Ocean. These measurements will assist in constraining interannual variability and contribute to global estimates atmosphere-ocean CO2 flux estimates.

Ass. Prof. Craig Lee (University of Washington)

Dr. Alessandro Tagliabue (University of Liverpool)

Prof. Danny Sigman (Princeton University)

Prof. Amala Mahadevan (WHOI)

Prof. Michael Bender (Princeton University)

Dr. Richard Bellerby (NIVA)

Dr. Phoebe Lam (Princeton University)

Dr. Steven Herbette (UBO)

Dr. Christoph Heinze (UiB)

Dr. Christopher Sabine (NOAA-PMEL)

Dr. Marie-Fanny Racault (PML)

Dr. Seb Swart (University of Gothenburg)

Senior Scientist: Dr Swart is a physical oceanographer who specializes in both satellite and in situ observations in the Southern Ocean. He is currently a Senior Scientist at CSIR in Cape Town and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town. He completed his PhD in 2009 at UCT with extensive collaboration at the Laboratoire de Physique des Oceans, University of Brittany, France. He has been actively involved in Southern Ocean research since 2004 and is an experienced sea-going oceanographer after participating in 12 research cruises of which he was Chief Scientist on four of them to the Antarctic. His primary scientific interests involve large-scale open ocean circulation and dynamics as well as smaller scale ocean mixing processes and relating their impact on biogeochemistry and the oceanic carbon cycle.

Over the past four years, Dr Swart has been heavily involved in implementing a new national engineering facility on robotic ocean gliders in South Africa. These innovative instruments greatly enhance observational efforts in the Southern Ocean and boost national R&D activities. They provide a safe and cost effective means to observe the ocean at fine temporal and spatial scales over extended periods of the year, previously not possible using research ships alone. Within the community, Dr Swart provides leadership through service on international science steering committees, including his role as the Physics Vice-Chair of the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS). Dr Swart supports and advises masters and doctoral students and lectures graduate level courses on Southern Ocean dynamics and experimental design.

Dr. William Moutier (CSIR / UCT)

Dr William Moutier received his Phd in physical oceanography from the University of the Littoral Côte d’Opal (ULCO) at the laboratory of oceanology and geosciences in France. His main research focus was on understanding the impact of phytoplankton heterogeneities on their inherent optical properties and to understand the variability around bio-optical models. During his Phd he combined biogeochemical and cytometric measurements with radiative transfer simulations to analyse the evolution of phytoplankton optical properties at different growth stages linked to their morphological and intra-cellular variations.

On starting his post doc at SOCCO he participated on the ACE expedition where he spent 3 months circumnavigating Antarctica. As part of his postdoctoral research his focus is on the development of new bio-optical algorithms specific to the Southern Ocean that better characterise the phytoplankton population using IOP’s with respect to particle concentration, size, carbon content and functional type.

National strategic partners are a key part of the strength of SOCCO.  These partnerships are both of mutual benefit as they are aimed to be long-lasting.  SOCCO is proud of its partnerships and the role that they play in both the up-stream and down-stream sides of its science.