Two-year ground-breaking partnership for
Southern African mountain regions


ARU Hickman and Clark

African Mountain Research Foundation Founder Alex Hickman (left)
and Dr Ralph Clark, Director of the ARU

 In a move towards accelerating the collection of geospatial data in the Southern African region, the African Mountain Research Foundation (AMRF) has entered into a two-year ground-breaking partnership with California-based company Planet Land.

Planet operates the largest privately owned fleet of satellites in the world. These circulate the globe on a daily basis, taking images of every inch of the planet and allowing subscribers to their website the opportunity to monitor changes to the earth’s surface on a daily basis.

Essentially, the partnership will provide 100 students, scientists, and researchers based in the Southern African region with access to geospatial data on how tree coverings, water levels, and soil are changing on a daily basis, as well as on a long-term basis. This will be done through a departmental licence that will be hosted by the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) on the University of Free State Qwaqwa Campus.

Alex Hickman, one of AMRF’s founders, said the departmental licence, which is worth 15 000 dollars, was given to the ARU for free for a period of two years. The partnership is a fantastic opportunity to support the community of mountain science practices in South Africa and the region, he said. “It’s really an exciting opportunity for students, researchers, and academics from the UFS, as well as South Africa and Southern Africa. The ARU will host the licence, so interested students should get in touch with Dr Ralph Clark (Director of the ARU).”

Dr Clark described the partnership as a huge privilege, not only for the ARU, but as a service to the region and those who will benefit from it. “Apart from climate change being a big problem in the region, immediate land use transformation is possibly the more important issue, because of the way the land is being used. It’s being vastly degraded, causing mass extinctions, loss of biodiversity and water resources. Planet’s data will allow us to track land use on a larger scale, in a much easier way, and at a much larger resolution.”

16 March 2022 
Story: Nonsindiso Qwabe
Photo: Ian van Straaten
Original article

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SAMC2022 breaking new ground

“We broke new ground when we started the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU), and yet again broke new ground through this conference.” This is according to Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research and Internationalisation, during her closing address on the last day of the Southern African Mountain Conference.

The conference brought together 232 delegates from 19 countries, with various disciplines ranging from plant sciences to meteorology, politics to zoology, and business management to entomology.

Prof Witthuhn said the conference made an impact in terms of diversity and faces. “As natural scientists, we often forget how much science is about seeing and connecting with people. It was fantastic to see and speak to people, look into their eyes, and build networks.”

One hundred and eighty-one papers were submitted, thirty-seven of those by postgraduate students. “In spite of these quite diverse topics, we have achieved the unbelievable task of connecting archaeologists with climate change scientists and engaged management with water quality. Really, you have pushed the boundaries.”

She urged delegates to keep the energy and motivation experienced during the week-long conference.

“We looked at new collaborations, at funding those new collaborations, we helped young people to direct their careers, and made sure that they have the appropriate research direction. Go back to your offices and put new ideas, perspectives, and networks into action.”

The conference ended on a high note, with a gala dinner that included a special performance by South Africa’s singing ambassadors, the Drakensberg Boys Choir. World-renowned ecologist and conservation scientist, Prof Julian Bayliss – often described as ‘the man who discovered an unseen world’ – was the guest speaker at the gala dinner. 

18 March 2022
Story Nonsindiso Qwabe
Photos Ian van Straaten

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by Leonard Botha | 17 Mar, 2022

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