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Meet the PhD whose particular research interest lies in extreme weather events

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Ramontsheng Rapolaki's main research interests within the field of oceanography are broadly in air-sea interaction, atmospheric numerical modelling and physical oceanography.


Ramontsheng deploys an expendable bathythermograph (XBT) on board the SA Agulhas II during its 2015 winter cruise in the Southern Ocean

He is particularly interested in severe weather events over southern Africa and their associated impacts on rainfall and droughts.

This PhD student's prior academic background has focused on severe weather events (e.g. cut-off low-pressure systems, tropical cyclones, tropical storms) and their associated impact on rainfall over southern Africa, in which he maintains an active interest.

Understanding the key environmental drivers

Ramontsheng's MSc dissertation, titled "A numerical simulation of tropical storm Chedza over south-eastern Africa", focused on identifying the atmospheric mechanisms which may have contributed to the heavy rainfall event that occurred over south-eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique, southern Tanzania and Madagascar) during 11 to 17 January 2015, associated with tropical storm Chedza.

When compared to the total rainfall recorded for January 2015, Chedza contributed the largest percentage of the monthly rainfall at the coastal stations in Mozambique (e.g. Mavalane, 84 %; Maputo, 81%). Also, Chedza caused huge damage to property, roads and crops in Mozambique during January 2015. According to a World Bank report, storm Chedza left more than 20 000 people homeless and 75 lives were lost along its path in Madagascar.

During events such as tropical storm Chedza, regions with weak economies, such as southern Africa, are often severely impacted due to poor infrastructure to withstand extreme conditions. Lack of adequate emergency response capacity can also lead to significant loss of life.

An understanding of the main environmental drivers of the variability of severe events (e.g. tropical cyclones, tropical storms, MCCs) is important in order to provide impact-related mitigation and planning information for the general well-being of the people of southern Africa.

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(L) Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite-derived rainfall (mm) over southern Africa; and (R) simulated near-surface storm winds (m s-1) showing tropical storm Chedza in the southern part of the Mozambique Channel (near 19°S,40°E) on January 15th 2015.

Ramontsheng is a Professional Development Programme PhD candidate under the supervision of Prof. Chris Reason and Dr Ross Blamey in the department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and Dr Juliet Hermes of SAEON's Egagasini Node.

He received his BSc and MSc degrees from UCT, made possible through the financial support of the UCT financial aid programme, HCI Foundation Bursary Programme, and the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship Programme.

In his spare time, Ramontsheng mentors high school learners from previously disadvantaged communities and undergraduate students at UCT. He has also been involved in projects that aim to contribute to the upliftment of disadvantaged communities with respect to natural sciences and information about post-matric opportunities available in South Africa.

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