Innovation for information – report on SASAS

The 32nd annual conference of the South African Society of Atmospheric scientists met recently in Cape Town – FCFA’s Nkulumo Zinyengere tracked the big debates.

Cape Town played host to the 32nd annual conference of the South African Society of Atmospheric scientists (SASAS) which saw the participation of FCFA researchers. SASAS is one of the oldest running annual conferences in Africa that presents an outstanding opportunity for climate scientists in South Africa, Africa and beyond to engage and present their latest Africa-focused climate research. More importantly, SASAS has provided a primary platform for young and early career climate scientists in South Africa and the wider African region, making it a leading platform for discovering and nurturing young talent in the climate science field in Africa. This year’s event was hosted by the Climate System Analysis Group in Cape Town South Africa, and was attended by FCFA-affiliated researchers from FRACTAL, UMFULA and IMPALA

Key messages and issues

The two-day event provided an eclectic mix of discussions on climate modelling, impact modelling, climate change adaptation and climate services. This year’s conference had a strong slant toward the delivery of climate information to the “next user”. Some of the primary messages from the conference included:

  • Climate models need to be improved to provide better future climate projections.
  • Data issues are a major hurdle for carrying out decision relevant climate science in Africa.
  • Uncertainty in climate change projections is an import issue which needs to be rigorously interrogated.
  • Understanding climate change impacts and informing adaptation demands integrated assessments that go beyond sectoral silos.
  • Climate scientists and climate information providers need to be cognisant of ethical issues in service provision.
  • Climate change is a cross-cutting issue that demands not only that research be interdisciplinary but also transdisciplinary to ensure that socio-economic and socio-political issues are fully understood and considered. Therefore, engagement with all actors should be considered at all stages of climate change related research.

FCFA researchers at SASAS

The conference had over 100 delegates with a good representation from researchers in FCFA, who presented their most recent research work.

Rachel James and Neil Hart, presented work on Tropical-Temperate Troughs (TTTs) and interrogating climate model representation of TTTs over Africa, seeking to understand if the model representation of TTTs and onset of rainy seasons can be trusted. FRACTAL’s Francois Engelbreght introduced current work on a model being developed by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa named Variable-Resolution Cubic Ocean Model (VCOM). FRACTAL’s Coleen Vogel challenged scientists to start doing climate science differently, by not only doing research for the “end user” but rather with relevant actors and stakeholders at all stages of their work in order to make research more relevant, and salient for decision-making and practice on the African continent.

The issue of ethics in climate information websites was discussed by FRACTAL’s Bruce Hewitson and Chris Jack, who highlighted that climate information portals have proliferated in recent times and present an “ethical-epistemic dilemma that warrants assessment.” They indicated that climate information portals often do not meet the standards for robust information and in some cases are simply engaging in indefensible and inappropriate practices. As such, ethics will need to be seriously considered in providing climate services and information on websites. This is an issue that they hope will be strongly debated in the forthcoming Fifth International Conference on Climate Services (ICCS5) to be held in Cape Town in February-March 2016.

FCFA supports attendance of early career researchers.

FCFA supported 10 young African scientists to attend the SASAS conference and present their work. This support resonanted with a key theme raised by various researchers at the conference: The need for more African scientists doing climate science in and on the continent, to address emerging climate related issues. FCFA will continue to support a small group of early career researchers for the duration of the programme through similar conference and research grants, and tracking learning on how to support young researchers as effectively as possible [see a brief on early career researchers’ capacity development here].

More information on the conference presentations can be found in a peer-reviewed extended abstract on the website. The next SASAS conference will be held in Limpopo province of South Africa.