Paper Published in Nature Communications

Research by staff and students from the Department of Geography at Rhodes University, through a National Research Foundation funded project on Landscape Processes in Antarctic Ecosystems, has contributed to a Nature Communications synopsis of global permafrost temperatures since the International Polar Year in 2007 (Permafrost is warming at a global scale).  Permafrost, which covers a quarter of the global land surface, is a key environmental element that has the potential to amplify global climate changes. Thermal inertia in the permafrost means that it does not respond immediately to air temperature changes and that it is, thus, an excellent proxy for medium- to long-term temperature changes. The research presented in Nature Communications under the lead authorship of Dr Boris Biskaborn of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, found that global permafrost temperatures showed a significant increase of 0.39°C between 2007 and 2016.  In Antarctica, where the Rhodes University team worked as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme, the average permafrost temperature increased by 0.37°C over the same period.  The controls on the thermal regime in the Antarctic are complex and the implications of the paper’s findings are difficult to predict, especially since the research is carried out on relatively small land islands in a sea of ice, called nunataks. If the results are considered together with the other measurements and the body of research showing significant loss of Antarctica’s ice cap (i.e. the land-based ice), then it is further evidence of warming at a global scale.  Antarctica than Europe, Australia, the whole of Southern Africa, or continental USA, is critical to global climates and is seen as both the Earth’s “air conditioner” as well as its early warning system. The article can be accessed on Nature Communications. For more on this work see the news post by AWI, or the EurekAlert! article.


Rhodes University’s involvement in permafrost research started in 2010, under the leadership of Professor Ian Meiklejohn in the Department of Geography, initially in collaboration with the Universities of Pretoria, Fort Hare and Northern British Columbia (Canada), together with Stellenbosch and Uppsala (Sweden). Investigations centred on monitoring the permafrost and the ground at the surface that melts each summer called the active layer. Geomorphological processes, landforms and their relationship with the Continent’s invertebrates and microbiology have been particular foci.  Since Rhodes’ involvement commenced, ten Masters and PhD’s have graduated from the project at the Institution, together with five from collaborating universities.  The research was carried out in western Dronning Maud Land (Queen Maud Land) on nunataks close to the SANAE IV base, built by the South African National Department of Public Works and which is operated by the Department of Environmental Affairs.  Each year for the three-month summer period, researchers travelled down to Antarctica on the SA Agulhas II and her predecessor, the SA Agulhas. One research location was near the Norwegian Troll Station.  Travel to the bases was by helicopter and the study sites (some up to 120km away) were reached by skidoos (snowmobiles) and also helicopters.  Working in Antarctica is extremely hazardous and a great deal of training was required for the participants.  In addition to the above and the numerous scientific publications, the project had the first female leader of a South African field-team in the Antarctic, Dr Christel Hansen, herself a graduate from the programme.  Ms Tebogo Masebe, who completed her MSc was the first black South African female to be part of a field-based team that worked on the continent. Of the ten Rhodes University degrees awarded, eight were women.




Call for abstracts – SouthCOP

Submit your abstracts to the upcoming first SouthCOP, to be held 4-14 December of this year in Queenstown, New Zealand. Christel and Ian will host a session, together with Dave Hedding from UNISA, on the importance of sub-Antarctic islands within the earth’s cryosphere. Visit the SouthCOP website ( or submit abstracts directly at The session description appears below.

Sub-Antarctic Islands – Sentinels of Change
Straddling the Antarctic Convergence Zone, sub-Antarctic islands are geographically unique and exhibit both periglacial and glacial conditions. Permafrost is largely sporadic in this region but is useful as a proxy for investigating change. Environmental thresholds in the sub-Antarctic are narrow; contemporary climate changes, characterised by warming temperatures, fluctuations in moisture, and a higher frequency of extreme events, has the potential to narrow (or even surpass) these thresholds. As such, these islands are regarded as sentinels of change and serve as global early warning systems. Furthermore, these islands host unique vegetation, numerous threatened species, and are important breeding sites. Changes observed in the glacial and periglacial environment will impact these existing ecosystems as well. This session aims to showcase sub-Antarctic research and the role of the region as a sentinel of change.

Short description: Sub-Antarctic environments and their contribution to our understanding of marginal glacial and periglacial environments and their accompanying thresholds.

Polar Researchers Symposium, Catalina Island, USA

The Next Generaetion of Polar Researchers Symposium will be held 5-11 May on Catalina Island, USA. The symposium brings together emerging researchers from the atmospheric science, marine or terrestrial ecology or ecosystems, limnology, ice science, geosciences, policy, economics, cultural science or other related fields. In order to apply you must hold a PhD and have received it within the last 5 years from application. The deadline for applications is 18 January. For more on the Symposium please visit the website

PhD & PostDoc Opportunities: UNC Charlotte

A number of opportunities at PhD and PostDoc level are available at the UNC Charlotte. These NSF-Funded position(s) examine the broad problem of how mechanical weathering via rock fracture influences long-term landscape evolution. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to design research to suit their interests under this broad topic.

Application Deadline is Feb 1, 2019.  Email or call for more information.

Dr. Martha Cary (Missy) Eppes,  704 687-5993


Call for session ideas SCAR 2020

The International Science Organising Committee (ISOC) for SCAR’s 2020 Open Science Conference is drawing up a preliminary list of session titles and is inviting submission of brief ideas for sessions.  Please send your ideas (one line only) by email to Also indicate if you are interested in convening or helping with the suggested session in any way. Also please specify what type of session  would work best (e.g. parallel session/mini symposium).

Overarching themes may include:

  • Antarctic and Southern Ocean Ecosytems
  • Understanding and observing the oceans
  • Antarctic Ice Sheet, evolution and future
  • Earth Science, geology, geophysics
  • Atmosphere and Climate in Antarctica
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics in Antarctica
  • People in Antarctica – from human biology to human history
  • Antarctica and Sea Level Rise
  • Teleconnections and Antarctica in the global system
  • State of the Antarctic Environment – human pressures and pollution
  • Climate variability and trends
  • Mapping and geographical databases
  • Antarctic law and international jurisdictions
  • Choosing the future of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean
  • Human footprint in Antarctica
  • Harnessing emerging technologies for Antarctic science – from robotics to remote sensing
  • International interdisciplinary initiatives

PhD Positions in the UK

There are several PhD position available in fields related to glaciology/glacial geomorphology/glacial sedimentology at the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast. They are fully funded through the NERC QUADRAT Doctoral Training Programme. Application deadline for all proposals is the 31st JANUARY 2019, with an anticipated start in October 2019. Further inquiries should be directed to the lead supervisor of each individual project.

Christel voices explainer video to ice Flows game

Christel, on of our past PhD students and now a lecturer in the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology at the University of Pretoria, helped voice an explainer video to Ice Flows, a popular game that demonstrates the impact of climate change in Antarctica. Developed by Dr Anne Le Brocq (University of Exeter), in collaboration with games developers Inhouse Visuals and Questionable Quality, the game was created to help communicate the impact of climate change on the Antarctic Ice Sheet to children and game players of all ages. The explainer videos, a new feature, aim to enable players to gain a more in-depth understanding of how ice sheets work and are voiced by a number of international scientists. Christel voiced the second portion of the Sea Level & Climate Change video (video 5). For more on the game please read the press release of visit the website at If you’re on twitter, the game is on @iceflowsgame and use the hashtag #iceflowsgame.