By: Johan Pauw
Managing Director: South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) was established by the government in 2002. It receives core funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and is managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
SAEON’s establishment was based on the rationale that:
- Short term changes in ecosystems can merely be variability
- Directional changes in ecosystems can be unnoticeably slow – unless one has decades of data
- Environmental changes can be so drastic that no one can be dead sure what all has changed and by how much – again, one must have longer term data from before the event
- South African ecosystems are complex and very difficult to research because:
- They are home to tens of thousands species.
- They are influenced by vastly different global and local driving forces (some are reinforcing other drivers; others are opposing other drivers).
- Often the responses manifested by ecosystems are non-linear
- Researchers are unable to replicate ecosystems in experiments
Accordingly, the required understanding of how ecosystems work and might be changing cannot be improved by short term efforts – time-series data are essential and irreplaceable for ecosystem science. In order to produce such time-series data in a meaningful way, SAEON has established a network of research sites where requisite research equipment address pertinent research questions (see map below).
In the language of business, the value chain of SAEON consists of infrastructure for ecosystems research and the associated research and data. Based on those, SAEON also offers education-outreach programmes and environmental monitoring/research services. From the above, SAEON produces scientific products which are used to inform environmental decision making and when appropriate early-warnings of impending disasters. Overall, the SAEON value chain contributes to economic development and a society that will be safer in the face of ubiquitous environmental changes.
SAEON’s research sites are performing environmental observations under higher order research themes e.g. climate and water and the functioning of terrestrial, offshore and coastal systems.
SAEON is also obligated to ensure that new researchers will be enthused and trained so that they may take on the baton from older scientists. This is done at two levels, namely late high school and university levels.
At school level, SAEON scientists work with grade 9-11 learners and teachers from 22 schools around the country. At tertiary level, SAEON scientists supervise and support more than 85 research students from 13 universities in South Africa.
More information about SAEON may be gleaned from the website: www.saeon.ac.za and the bimonthly award-winning eNewsletter which one can subscribe on the website. Hot-off-the-press news can be accessed through SAEON’s Twitterhandle: @Saeonews , or the social media for professionals: www.linkedin/company/saeon.