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20 July 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
The view from one of the offices in the Marion Island research station, with fresh snowfall in the interior of the island in the background.

Liezel Rudolph, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of the Free State (UFS), is strongly convinced that the Southern Hemisphere’s past glacial cycles will provide valuable insights to help predict and prepare for future climate change. Climate is changing fast and the magnitude of change we have seen over the last 30 years has taken a hundred or several hundred years to occur in the past. 

It is not only temperatures that are rising, but changes in wind patterns, rain cycles, oceanic circulation, etc., are also observed. As we do not know how the earth will respond or adapt to such rapid and drastic changes in climatic patterns, this poses various threats.

Link between landscape responses and climate change

Rudolph focuses her research on reconstructing the past climate of Marion Island. 

She had the wonderful opportunity to visit the island for the past three years with study and project leaders, Profs Werner Nel from the University of Fort Hare and David Hedding from UNISA, she departed on a ship to Marion Island to conduct fieldwork.They published their research findings of fieldwork conducted in 2017 and 2018.  

According to Rudolph, research in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, and islands such as Marion Island is very important. South Africa is the only African country with research stations that have the ability to explore these regions.

“Marion Island has many landforms that could only have been created by glacial erosional or depositional processes, with glaciers currently absent from the island. To determine when the island was last in a full glacial period, we date the formation ages of these landforms.”

“In the short time we have been visiting the island, it was impossible to notice any drastic changes in the island climate. That is why we use these very old landforms to tell us more about periods before humans visited the island,” she says. 

Rudolph believes that understanding the link between landscape responses and climate change of the past can help to better predict some of the climate change processes that are currently threatening the planet.

“There’s a principle in geography called ‘uniformitarianism’, whereby we assume that the earth-surface processes we observe today, are the same as those that have been active in the past,” says Rudolph.

As scientists, they thus look at evidence of past geomorphic processes (which remain in the landscape in various forms, e.g. residual landforms, stratigraphic sequences, etc.) to piece together what the past climate was like. In the same way, they also use this principle to predict how certain earth processes will change in the future, along with climate changes.

“In return, we understand how the climate and the earth’s surface interact, and we can better predict how the earth will respond to climate change,” Rudolph adds. 

Society to play its part in climate change

In the long run, we as the public should play our part in readying society for the effects of climate change. 

Rudolph says society can play a positive role in terms of climate change by educating themselves with unbiased, scientifically sound information on the true state of climate change and by responding within their own spheres of influence.

“Don’t leave everything up to politicians and policy. As the public, you can start to make progress by assessing the effects that climate change may have on your industry, business or society, and strategise on how to adapt your processes to deal with these changes.”

“Be responsible with our natural resources, reduce your waste, support local businesses that are sustainable, and volunteer at a local environmental protection/clean-up organisation. All the small efforts will eventually add up to substantial change,” she says. 

News Archive

Rasool lauds our university
2011-10-24

 
At the dinner at the residence of the South African Ambassador to the USA, Mr Ebrahim Rasool, were, from the left: Prof. Debra Stewart, President of the Council of Graduate Schools in the USA; South African Ambassador, Mr Rasool; Prof. Jansen; and Prof. Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council on Education (ACE).

The Ambassador for South Africa to the United States of America (USA), Mr Ebrahim Rasool, recently hosted Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of our university and a group of representatives from major science councils, foundations and universities at his home in Washington DC. Our university is the first South African university to be hosted at the official home of the Ambassador.

“The University of the Free State has shown South Africa and the world how to work with the past and how to make the past work for them. “You are a thought leader who had the privilege not to be comfortable with your own ideas of history; you understood the need to change and embraced it. You have moved the fastest towards racial and human togetherness of all the South African universities,” Mr Rasool said.
 
Prof. Jansen responded by saying that Africa needed strong academic universities and that had to be the focus of tertiary institutions across the continent. “We must create opportunities for people to be together and to learn from each other. The UFS is an experiment of human togetherness – and this experiment is taking off,” he said. 
 
During his visit to the USA, Prof. Jansen also discussed research partnerships and new placements for UFS staff and students through exchange visits.

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