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Exploring Africa's Heartbeat - Earth Science Program between South Africa and Germany

In the presence of the Federal Minister for Education and Research, Dr. Annette Schavan, the University of Cape Town and the GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ, Helmholtz Association) signed an agreement for collaborative research of the African continent.

The GeoForschungsZentrum views a closer cooperation with the AEON Institute (Africa Earth Observatory Network) at the University of the Cape Town in the future as a basis for developing its existing research programme:

"We want to follow up on the very successful Inkaba I programme which has been running for four years. The AEON Institute will become a key focal point for Inkaba II", explained Prof. Reinhard Hüttl, Executive Scientific Board of the GFZ. "Understanding the processes which formed the African continent are of key importance for an overall knowledge of how Earth systems operate".

The coordinating scientists for Inkaba are, on the German side, Prof. Brian Horsfield (GFZ Potsdam) and for South Africa, Prof. Maarten de Wit (director of AEON).

Why Africa?
Inkaba I studies a cone-shaped segment extending from Earth's core to outer space that encompasses southern Africa and the adjoining oceans. About 135 million years ago, the process of separation between South America and Africa began. The fundamental mechanisms of this are still not completely understood. Inkaba I investigated this process in three major, interdisciplinary projects.

The subproject "Heart of Africa" dealt with the transfer of energy from Earth's core to space, "Margins of Africa" undertook marine and onshore research on the causes of southern Africa's separation from the Gondwana supercontinent, and "Living Africa" studied the evolution of southern Africa's continental margins.

These questions are not just of academic interest, since southern Africa's rich natural resources, from oil and gas to diamonds, resulted from this part of Earth's history. This is why the successful work in Inkaba I will be continued.

More than Development Aid
The entire Inkaba programme encompasses the full spectrum of the Geosciences, from Earth's magnetic field to climate change, ocean circulation, and tectonics. Besides the GFZ Potsdam, other key German partners are the Alfred-Wegener-Insitute in Bremerhaven (AWI, Helmholtz Association) and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) in Hannover. Of special interest is also the program for education and capacity-building, which foresees about 50 positions for South African PhD students.

"Together with our South African partners we will establish a Global Change Observatory in Southern Africa in order to study climate change in the southern hemisphere," said Professor Hüttl, "Both the AEON Insitute and the GFZ have a similar, cross-disciplinary research strategy which will lead to a close partnership in this area as well."

Franz Ossing | alfa
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