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Snap shots from 11th Oppenheimer Research Conference

The Oppenheimer Research Conference creates a platform for researchers and practitioners in conservation sustainability to share their knowledge to increase its impact. Here are a few snap shots of presentations.

Stephan Woodborne: Rivers in crisis in South Africa

Our rivers are in crisis. They are rapidly declining to the point where they will no longer be useful as a water supply. This is a constraint on economic and social development that eclipses climate change because it is happening so quickly.

Woodborne’s research shows that a massive oversupply of nutrients to our rivers because of defective waste water treatment facilities combined with diffuse pollution sources (air pollution) is severely compromising surface water in southern Africa. Combined with over-demand this means that our rivers are facing a crisis of both water quality and quantity. Governance systems are severely compromised in certain sectors.

Explaining how the research came about, he says “we started out studying the reason why crocodiles were dying in Kruger National Park. This expanded to a broader understanding of the pollution system and the fact that water pollution problems, and in particular the impact on aquatic ecosystem functioning, often happen far downstream from the source. South Africa exports pollution to Mozambique via the rivers that flow through Kruger National Park. We forecast problems would arise in Lake Massingir (Mozambique), and on a scale that we could detect from satellite imagery. When it started to emerge we notified SANParks, and the algal blooms that we discovered were proven to be highly toxic. Pre-empting the problem allowed SANParks to pro-act, and also allowed us to inform the Mozambican authorities who informed local fishermen of the risk associated with the poison algae.”

Woodborne is the Senior Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Scientist at iThemba LABS (Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences), Associate Professor at the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria and is a research associate at the University of the Witwatersrand. He uses applied particle physics techniques to address socio-economic and ecological responses to climate change and has 23 years of experience in radiocarbon dating and stable light isotope analyses. He provided chronological dates in partnership with most of the archaeological programmes in South Africa, and his personal research in palaeo-science includes reconstructing atmospheric 14C levels over the last 50 000 years, and the generation of past rainfall records from isotope analysis of tree rings. His palaeoclimate datasets are used to test climate change models. In addition, he has done extensive work on ecological processes relating to the hydrological and nutrient cycles in savanna systems, with ongoing programs in crocodile and river ecology. He has published more than 130 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

 

Author
Yves Vanderhaeghen

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OGRC funds researchers, including several young post-grad students who are in the process of making their mark. The Young Voices series gives short profiles of students and the work they are doing in the field.

Image credits

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