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SCALE Spring Cruise 2019 – a novel interdisciplinary experiment

By Nasreen Burgher, Intern, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The Southern oCean seAsonaL Experiment (SCALE) is a new interdisciplinary initiative that covers seasonal to decadal time scales in the South East Atlantic Area of the Southern Ocean.

This experiment allows South African science to advance its contribution to long-term and experimental observations via innovative, coordinated and multidisciplinary approaches.

It also allows South Africa to use its geographical advantage to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms that drive and shape the Southern Ocean seasonal cycle by using methods such as integrated ship and robotics experiments that are amplified using model simulations.

Spring Cruise

The SCALE Spring Cruise is the largest South African research cruise to date, consisting of 93 scientists and the first nationally integrated Southern Ocean programme made up of multiple government and tertiary institutions. The scientists on board are organised into 19 teams, each with a different speciality ranging from waves, sea-ice and vibrations to chemistry, phytoplankton production and nutrients such as iron CO2 to meteorology to plastics, whales and seals (For more information:


The science party for the SCALE Spring Cruise

Why is it important?

The Southern Ocean influences the Earth’s climate as it is the largest storage of anthropogenic CO2 and heat on Earth. The Southern Ocean also plays a vital role in ecosystem regulation of the supply of nutrients to lower latitudes, which supports more than half of the ocean’s production.

Despite its importance, the Southern Ocean remains one of the least observed systems on the planet. The dynamics of the Southern Ocean are changing in response to climate change and the magnitude of this change may have severe impacts on the environment. Addressing these knowledge gaps requires continuous long-term observations of the Southern Ocean domain as well as multi-institutional collaborations across the globe.

My role and experience


The Plankton team from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. (L-R) Steve Tebele, Simone Louw (team leader), Christopher Nkosinathi Jabulani (a fellow CPUT student from the Chemistry team), Nasreen Burgher (SAEON intern), Christiaan Louw, Bianca Jooste, Megan Shipton and Nadine Ellis

The SCALE Spring Cruise departed from Cape Town on 11 October 2019 and returned on 21 November. For six weeks, scientists from various backgrounds conducted experiments and collected samples. I was a member of the Plankton team from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), which consisted of seven members, including our team leader.

We were responsible for filtering seawater to obtain chlorophyll-a, particulate inorganic carbon (PIC), particulate organic carbon (POC) and protein samples, among others, from an underway system and CTD deployments. We worked in pairs for eight-hour shifts and when we were not on shift, we were either helping other teams or capturing the breath-taking scenery of Antarctica.

I would like to thank the chief scientist, Dr Thomas Ryan-Keogh from the CSIR, who did a tremendous job coordinating and leading the science on the cruise. A very special thank you to Dr David Walker from CPUT, the principal investigator for the Plankton team, to whom I am especially indebted – without him I would not have been given this opportunity.

Additionally, thank you to my team for all the support, laughs and memories as well as to the rest of the science party. I would also like to thank the captain and crew of the SA Agulhas II who saw to our safe arrival and return.


Above and below: View from the Monkey Deck on the SA Agulhas II surrounded by the ice of Antarctica



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