Two researchers from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS) at the University of Pretoria, Dr Thulani Makhalanyane and Dr Christel Hansen, have been elected to the South African National Committee (SANC) of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), an interdisciplinary committee of the International Science Council (ISC).
SCAR was created in 1958 and is charged with initiating, developing and coordinating high quality international scientific research in the Antarctic region (including the Southern Ocean), and on the role of the Antarctic region in the Earth system. SCAR provides objective and independent scientific advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and other organisations such as the Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on issues of science and conservation affecting the management of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Dr Thulani Makhalanyane, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, was also the first African to be elected to the prestigious board of the International Society of Microbial Ecology in 2018. Dr Makhalanyane’s research is focused on understanding the microbial ecology of extreme environments. He has established several new research themes at the University, including a marine microbial ecology theme focused on South African geographically strategic regions such as the Southern Ocean. Dr Makhalanyane officially takes over as the country’s representative in the Life Sciences Standing Committee of SCAR.
Commenting on his new role, Dr Makhalanyane says that he is delighted to represent the University and the country in this important ISC committee. “I look forward to advancing the interest of life sciences research in SCAR. South Africa has been a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty since inception. This is a crucial agreement regulating international activities in Antarctica. As one of the original signatories South Africa has direct representation, allowing us to directly contribute to activities in Antarctica.”
Dr Christel Hansen, Lecturer in the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology, and a professional geographic information science practitioner (GPr GISc), was recently awarded the prestigious Society of South African Geographers Centenary Award for 2019. Dr Hansen is a member of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists, the Geo-Information Society of South Africa, the Permafrost Young Researchers Network, the Royal Society of South Africa, the South African Society of Geomorphologists and the Society of South African Geographers.
Dr Hansen is equally elated to have been voted onto the Geosciences Standing Committee of SCAR. “I have been involved in Antarctic research since my master’s degree studies and it is not only fascinating, but crucially important to our continued wellbeing on earth. The Antarctic is seen as a last biological haven, yet is as affected by our actions – especially in terms of climate change – as any other part of the world.
She adds that her field of study, permafrost, may not have equally drastic effects as changes to biological diversity, for example, but is in fact as important. “Serving on the Committee means that I now have a voice and can be called upon to represent South Africa's interest to SCAR for items that fall within the Geosciences Standing Committee. SCAR welcomes input from scientists and this is one way I can contribute to its long-term goals and vision with the South African interest in mind.”
As a young researcher, her election to the SANC will allow her to participate 'behind-the-scenes' on a scientific level and contribute to a large body such as SCAR. “I look forward to working with my other committee members in furthering South Africa's vision for Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research.”