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On the Edge of Change, Episode Two: The extraordinarily powerful Agulhas Current

The second episode of our series aboard the vessel SA Agulhas II focuses on the Agulhas Current and its role in global ocean circulation.

 

 

 

Physical oceanographer and post-doctoral researcher at Locean, Dr Katherine Hutchinson explains, in interview published in The Conversation, that, “The Agulhas Current transports warm tropical Indian Ocean water southwards along the South African coast. It modulates the rainfall along the east coast and interior regions of South Africa by providing the latent heat of evaporation needed for onshore wind systems to pick up moisture and carry it inland.”

Known as one of the fastest currents in the world, along with the Gulf Stream, the Kuroshio, and the East Australian Current, the Agulhas Current “plays a critical role in global ocean circulation, which is why it’s considered important for climatic conditions across the world,” she adds.

In this episode, scientists onboard the vessel and researchers explain how the current not only affects South African weather but also has a global impact; although we are still at the beginning of the research done in our oceans – Atlantic, Indian and Austral – we know that the warm waters of the current have been linked to South African rainfall and floods. Monitoring their width, salinity, heat and turbulence is crucial to understand how our oceans are changing in times of climate crisis.

The polar ship is equipped with different instruments used to measure the properties of the current, throughout the water column. Hutchinson notes: “But the array showed that it has been broadening and not strengthening. The effects of this broadening are currently being investigated, but one outcome is that a wider current allows for a greater exchange of water between the inshore and offshore areas, meaning that pollutants will more easily be shifted out to sea.”

In the next episode of On the Edge of Change, we look at oceans in a changing climate. Says  Professor Isabelle Ansorge: “We have all seen the movie years ago by Al Gore, where he goes up and up, and up, you can see the CO2 rising… We’re even higher than that now. And that movie was nine years ago and he was talking about a warming planet… We are long gone from that. We’re so much further into this sort of firepot.”  ML

The miniseries On the Edge of Change will be published every Wednesday on Maverick Life and Daily Maverick. To see all the videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel

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