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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

UFS gets support for improving university access and success in South Africa
2013-10-24

 

Members of the SASSE Research team are from left: Carike Jordaan, Dr Francois Strydom, Lana Swart, Seisho Gaboutlwelweboutlwelwakemo, Michael Henn en Katleho Nyaile.
Photo: Supplied
24 October 2013

The university’s Centre of Teaching and Learning (CTL) received a grant for US$820 000 (about R8 million) from the Kresge Foundation for their South African Survey of Student Engagement (SASSE) research team.

The SASSE research team is committed to furthering student access with success by promoting quality teaching and learning institutionally and promoting collective impact around student success nationally.

Through this three-year project, the SASSE team aims to provide a range of deeply contextualised and globally benchmarked student engagement measures that can be used at institutional and module/course level for the South African context. The data from these measures can be used to improve the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning, and participating institutions will have access to appropriate capacity development interventions to empower them to use the data to promote evidence-based change in their institutions.

Dr Francois Strydom, Academic Director at the CTL, says the lessons from this higher-education project could be used to develop a stronger post-school sector which could help the country to deal with the massive challenge of youth unemployment; thereby promoting equity, social justice and a prosperous democracy in South Africa.

The Kresge Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation in the United States, which is focused on creating opportunity for low-income people through various programmes. This three-year project forms part of the Kresge Foundation’s Education Programme, which focuses on promoting access and success at South African universities. Therefore the SASSE project aims to contribute to the Kresge-sponsored Access and Success in Higher Education in South Africa (ASHESA), to promote a national conversation on improving student success.

In January this year, the university was one of four South African universities selected to take part in a multi-million rand programme to bolster private fund-raising and advancement efforts. For this programme the UFS was granted US$640 000 (about R5,6 million) over a period of five years.

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