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Fair weather ahead for meteorology partnership

Unisa has forged a partnership with the South African Weather Service (SAWS) to enhance academic collaboration under the theme The mathematics and physics of meteorology in support of its applications in Africa. This was finalised on 10 July 2017 when Prof Bhekie Mamba, Executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) and Jerry Lengoasa, CEO of SAWS, jointly signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the SAWS head office, signifying the beginning of these relations.

Seated, Jerry Lengoasa (CEO: SAWS) and Prof Bhekie Mamba (ED: CSET) signing the MoU, and, standing, Prof Hannes Rautenbach (SAWS), Mnikeli Ndabambi (SAWS), Anda Sikrweqe (Unisa), Prof Mantile Lekala (Unisa), and Prof Inderasan Naidoo (Unisa).

The MoU recognises that Unisa, as one of the biggest universities in the world, will allow the parties to engage with a much wider international and, specifically, African pool of researchers, academics, experts, and students. Unisa’s open distance learning (ODL) will also allow prospective students from Africa, who are already employed, to conduct their research and study under the framework of this MoU.

The research collaboration is the initiative of the Department of Physics, headed by Anda Sikrweqe and Prof Mantile Lekala, the chair of the department. Lekala emphasised that the signing of the MoU marks not the end but the beginning of a long road and process ahead that, if well executed, will see tremendous benefits for the country, the continent, and the university’s contribution to the world in the areas of meteorology, climatology, and related professions.

“Although the Department of Physics spearheaded the process leading up to the signing of this MoU today, our vision is, and will be, that the framework provides the working space for many other disciplines within Unisa.”

He concluded by saying the department’s interest is to empower postgraduate research students through training and exposure in modelling, monitoring, and forecasting. That includes co-supervision of these postgraduate students by both parties.

The research will include recording and monitoring (weather observations), modelling (weather forecasting, seasonal prediction and climate change projections) and its applications (to sectors, industry and stakeholders) in the following sectors:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Agriculture
  • Health

Strong areas that will enhance the collaboration

The Department of Physics at Unisa is one of the world leaders in the area of Inverse Scattering Theory. It pioneered the method of Equivalent Local Potentials that can find applications in Seismology, Meteorology and Optoelectronics.

The Computational Physics Research Group is now Multidisciplinary—working on problems in Biophysics, Materials Science, and Few-Body Physics—all high-power-consuming computing activities.

The Department of Mathematics boasts a Topology research group that is the second largest in the country.

The School of Computing hosts the High Performance Computing Clusters that are only second to the national CHPC in Cape Town. This infrastructure permits high-level modelling of any system, including simulations of weather patterns.

The key focus is research and capacity development. This MoU signifies the beginning of a great journey in research for the Department of Physics as they establish the joint working committee to monitor this work.

Jerry Lengoasa (CEO: SAWS) and Prof Bheki Mamba (ED: CSET)

Sanele Mthuli (Legal manager: SAWS) and Anda Sikrweqe (Physics Department, Unisa)

Prof Inderasan Naidoo (Director: School of Science) and Mnikeli Ndabambi (General Manager: Operations, SAWS)

Prof Bheki Mamba (ED: CSET)

*By Nkululeko Mpakama