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Adopt-a-Float Day - instilling greater understanding of the intricate processes in our oceans

By Gustav Rautenbach, Rudzani Silima and Darren Solomon, Work Integrated Learning students at the SAEON Egagasini Node
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During the SEAmester cruise in July 2017, six Argo floats were deployed at specific intervals along the South Atlantic MOC (Meridional Overturning Circulation) Basin-wide Array (SAMBA - located nominally at 34.5º S).

Four Apex and two Arvor Argo floats were donated by the UK Met Office and the Euro-Argo Group respectively to enhance further research in the South Atlantic.

These autonomous research platforms float in the water column and are directed by prevailing oceanic currents. Additionally, with the use of buoyancy control (increasing and decreasing the volume through pumping oil into and out of an external bladder), the Argo floats can descend and ascend through the water column to a maximum depth of 2 000 metres.

After deployment, an Argo float follows a continuous total cycle of surface to surface in 10 days, where on the 10th day the float descends from 1 000 metres (after drifting for nine days) before actual acquisition of data commences as it ascends from 2 000 metres. After a complete cycle the temperature, conductivity and depth casts of the surfaced Argo floats are downloaded with the GPS coordinates via satellites.

The data is stored on the Global Data Analysis Centre (GDAC) database and made available to the community 24 hours later. With a life span of three to five years (or 150 cycles), the Argo floats generate valuable data sets as they drift away from SAMBA, allowing the scientific community to observe and monitor the intimidating Atlantic Ocean.

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A learner signs their school’s float

Learners from Ocean View High School and their adopted float

Involving “old” and “new” schools

Adopt-a-Float Day is an initiative run by the SAEON Egagasini Node's education programme led by education officer Thomas Mtontsi. The project uses marine science to support different areas of the curriculum (including maths, science, geography and life science).

Representative learners from six schools are invited to attend the East Pier Workshop, where they are educated on the important role that oceans play in our everyday lives. This year, the schools that were involved included Usasazo High, Masiphumelela High, Sophumelela High, Hout Bay High, Ocean View High and a new addition to the project, COSAT High.

Agulhas System Climate Array ( ASCA ) coordinator, Tamaryn Morris, enlightened the learners on the ocean currents surrounding South Africa. She highlighted the importance of these currents in regulating the climate not only in this country, but across the world, raising awareness among the learners of the more pressing matter of climate change.

Her presentation was followed by a demonstration by ASCA officer Jethan d'Hotman on how Argo floats work, bringing to light the significance of the acquisition of data using Argo floats, as well as the value of these data for marine scientists globally.

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Thomas Mtontsi tells the learners more about the important role played by Argo floats

Learners attending the workshop listen attentively to Thomas Mtontsi, education officer at SAEON's Egagasini Node 

Each school was then assigned an Argo float, which they formally adopted by signing their names on the float. Each of the floats has a unique serial number, allowing the schools to keep track of the floats following the deployment of “their” floats on the SAMBA cruise in July.

Involving high school learners in such projects hopefully instils an interest and desire to know and understand more of the intricate processes in our oceans.

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