Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ocean science in Africa urgently needs investment

Linda Nording in SciDev.net: Last year, African space science had a big change in fortune. The allocation of more than half of the US$2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope ― a global science and engineering project ― to the continent opened the floodgates for funding, especially for equipment and an expansion of research training.

But there is another important area that requires similarly massive investment: marine science. A new maritime plan — "2050 Africa's Integrated Maritime Strategy" — could do for African ocean science what the SKA has done for astronomy.

But while the plan looks good on paper, it remains to be seen whether African governments are prepared to provide the sustained funding and long-term political support required to turn the dream into reality.

Certainly, the continent has need for marine science: the waters around Africa are among the least studied in the world. Research is needed to tackle the enormous challenges that industries such as fishing, oil drilling, tourism and shipping pose for marine areas.

Scientists estimate that only half of the marine species off the eastern coast of Africa have been scientifically described. And for known species, questions remain, such as where they live and what they need to survive.

Ocean dynamics around Africa are also poorly understood. Thanks to satellites, scientists have a reasonably good idea of what happens on the surface. But anything below a few centimetres requires measurements to be taken in situ. Large swathes of African waters have not been studied at all, due to a lack of funding and equipment such as ocean-going research vessels...

The Somali coast south of Mogadishu, shot by Simisa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


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