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2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting: A passport to the latest research


The 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting attracted over 5 000 attendees

By Neil Malan, PhD student, SAEON Egagasini Node


Thanks to support from SAEON and a grant from the US Office of Naval Research, I was able to attend the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

When it comes to ocean conferences, the biennial Ocean Sciences is on a whole different scale, with over 5 000 attendees, more than 170 special sessions and countless tutorials and workshops on every facet of ocean science imaginable taking place over a one-week period.

The purpose of the trip was for myself and Kyle Cooper (an MSc student from the University of Cape Town, also supervised by the Manager of the SAEON Egagasini Node, Dr Juliet Hermes) to present our recent work, in my case on upwelling in the Agulhas and in Kyle's on the assessment of global forecast models, in the session An integrated view of Agulhas Science: Past, present and future. In addition to this, Ocean Sciences provides a fairly unique opportunity to access the latest research in a wide variety of disciplines, sometimes months before it is published.


Neil presented his recent work on upwelling in the Agulhas at the conference 


Every topic under the sun

With up to 20 sessions running simultaneously throughout the day, being completely saturated with information was a daily occurrence, especially when going straight from a session on advances in submesoscale modelling to one on monitoring the occurrence and behaviour of top predators, which requires some degree of mental gymnastics.

It was a real privilege for me to have access to information on such a huge variety of topics at the beginning of my PhD, especially when it comes to coastal modelling, mesoscale and submesoscale dynamics, integrated observing systems and interdisciplinary use of ocean model data, hence this is where I spent most of my time.


There were 3 500 posters on display, including Neil's poster entitled "Links between Agulhas Current variability and upwelling off Port Alfred, South Africa"


Connecting with the Agulhas community

As well as the official conference activities, it was also a great opportunity to connect with the international Agulhas research community for the first time since the 2012 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Chapman conference held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I was able to confirm plans for a research visit to Kiel and had many interesting discussions at the informal dinners organised by the Agulhas session conveners. I also had a very fruitful meeting with Meghan Cronin and Rick Lumpkin from NOAA on a drifter study I have been working on along with Dr Isabelle Ansorge from the University of Cape Town and Dr Juliet Hermes.

Interest shown in my poster entitled "Links between Agulhas Current variability and upwelling off Port Alfred, South Africa" was very encouraging, especially in terms of meeting people actively involved in research on topographically driven upwelling in other parts of the world, such as the Yucatan Peninsula.

The need to approach the study of our shelf waters in a more quantitative way was highlighted, and it was fascinating to see the innovative approaches that are being used to link up ocean modelling with applications such as fisheries forecasts and larval tracking. Also of interest was the implications of the Agulhas Current's response to the El NiƱo Southern Oscillation, which opens up a whole herd of questions relating to the response of the current to inter-annual variability.


The colourful NASA stand in the exhibit hall


A valuable kickstart

All in all, I could not have asked for a better conference to attend at the beginning of my PhD research. The exposure to such a breadth of approaches and techniques and discussions in the hallways and over lunch with other PhD students has really helped me to focus my ideas and move forward efficiently with my own work.

Hawaii is a fascinating place to visit, and being able to de-stress from a busy day at the conference with an evening ocean swim was definitely a privilege. I was also lucky enough to spend an afternoon at the Polynesian Voyaging Society, advising them on the Southern African leg of their proposed circumnavigation in traditional voyaging canoes, hopefully the topic of a newsletter article in the future!

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