Faculty News

Lisa Beal, UM Rosenstiel School professor of ocean science, was appointed honorary research associate at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

She was appointed in recognition of her career-long focus on the oceans around South Africa and her ongoing collaborations with South African colleagues to develop capacity for sustained measurements in the Agulhas Current as part of the Global Ocean Observing System.

Beal recently taught in the oceanography honors program at the university.


Beal with her honors class.


Miami Missions

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) is situated on an island just offshore of Miami, linked to the mainland by a causeway. It has exquisite views over the ocean, and its own private beach.


UM Rosenstiel Campus

Surprisingly though, this was not my motivation to visit the school, and I didn’t know how stunning the campus was until I arrived there. Professor Lisa Beal in the Department of Ocean Sciences at the Rosenstiel School was the main attraction, as she is possibly one of the most knowledgeable people on the Agulhas Current, which happens to be the focus of my Ph.D. I am a Professional Development Programme* (PDP) student with SAEON’s Egagasini Node working as part of the ASCA team.  My study is co-supervised by Prof. Beal, who led the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment (ACT, which has now been extended into the ASCA array).

Lisa Beal, Ph.D.

In this ground-breaking study, seven full-depth current meter moorings along with four current pressure inverted echo sounders were placed across the current to follow the trajectory of the descending TOPEX/Jason ground track that leaves the South African coast line at 33.4°S and stretches out to sea approximately perpendicular to the continental slope. The mooring data spans the period 2010-2013, thereby providing 34 months of velocity and transport measurements at an unprecedented resolution.

Valuable dataset

This data is extraordinarily valuable as it can provide insight into the variability of a current which is thought to play a vital role in the meridional overturning circulation, a system of surface and deep currents encompassing all ocean basins. It transports large amounts of water, heat, salt, carbon, nutrients and other substances around the globe, and connects the surface, ocean and atmosphere with the huge reservoir of the deep sea.

IMG_9281 By coupling the mooring data with the overlaid satellite altimetry measurements, Prof. Beal’s team at RSMAS were able to extend the transport data back in time using a proxy, thereby producing 20 years of transport estimates for the Agulhas current from 1993-2013. This dataset will be the foundation of my thesis and was the motivation to work at RSMAS for the very first two months of my Ph.D.

Initially I was apprehensive about spending an extended period of time in Miami as my impression was that the city was all about glitz, glam and superficiality. Never before have I been proven so wrong! The people I met and the places I visited were truly impressive, from the natural beauty of the Everglades and Florida Keys to the mind-blowing creativity of the hipster art district, Wynwood. The impressive sights were complemented by the delicious Cuban food and Latino flair.

A meeting of bright scientific minds

However, my favourite part of the trip was, surprisingly, not the sightseeing and the tasty food, but the Wednesday morning group meetings with Prof. Beal’s research team. This group of extraordinarily bright minds meets once a week to discuss a paper, present their latest research results, or simply brainstorm ideas or challenges for the road ahead.

Being given the opportunity to participate and absorb the ideas flying around the room once a week was an incredible opportunity and education. I have come to realise that being a scientist is not something you can learn by just reading academic journals or processing data, but is better achieved by exercising your curiosity and approaching all scientific statements and findings with a critical mind. “How did they get this result? What processing was undertaken? Why is this different to previous literature? How do we replicate the methodology?” From data analysis techniques, the formation of robust scientific key questions, and the art of finding a signal amidst all the noise, I received a whirlwind education on how to be a scientist.

Research topic

During my time at RSMAS I came up with a very exciting topic for my Ph.D. – how local and remote winds affect Agulhas Current Transport variability.

Figure 1 shows the mean wind speeds for the Indian Ocean from 1993 to 2015 and the position of the ACT /ASCA mooring array. As can be seen from the image, there are two patches of very high wind speeds, one centred around 15S known as the Trade winds, and another south of 50S called the Westerlies. These two maximums in wind speed, and thus wind stress, create a positive wind stress curl between them which, in turn, creates a net northward transport across the basin. This is known as the Sverdrup transport as it is the ocean current pattern produced by the wind induced (Ekman) movement of water.

This northward transport must be balanced by a flow out of the basin – a task that is largely undertaken by the Agulhas Current. The Agulhas is the western boundary flow of the South Indian subtropical gyre and dominates what may be the highest meridional heat flux in the world’s oceans. The leakage of waters from the Agulhas into the South Atlantic is a critical link in the global thermohaline circulation, feeding warm and salty waters into the upper limb of the global overturning circulation, and therefore playing a vital role in the climate system.

Mean winds zone

Figure 1: Mean wind speed (m/s) from 1993-2015 over the Indian Ocean with vectors showing direction overlaid. The position of the ACT/ASCA mooring array off the east coast of South Africa is shown in black.

Regionally, the Agulhas Current exerts a strong control on rainfall and climate over South Africa, acting as a major source of latent heat for onshore wind systems. Furthermore, the current is also of fishing (and thus economic) importance to South Africa, as upwelling and high levels of productivity are induced when it separates from the shelf during a periodic meander event.

Wind-driven dynamics have been shown to have a critical influence on the variability of western boundary currents elsewhere, but this relationship has yet to be addressed in the Agulhas Current. Decadal trends of surface wind stress have indicated an increase in both the Trade and Westerly winds over the Indian Ocean basin.

A variation in the winds across the Indian Ocean basin would result in a modification in the flow of the Agulhas. An alteration in strength of the Agulhas would have a variety of implications, ranging from local effects on the climate of the east coast of South Africa, an adjustment of upwelling affecting fisheries, and on a global scale, an alteration of the volume flux of warm salty water from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean.

My Ph.D. will endeavour to gain insight into this and shed some light into what has been happening with winds and western boundary current responses in the Indian Ocean over the past 20 years. My two-month trip in Miami was the perfect kick start to my Ph.D. I return home to Cape Town with a topic that I am very passionate about and a strong drive to understand and learn more. Even though it was a reasonably short period of time, it was jam-packed with experiences and lessons.

* The Professional Development Programme of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation aims to accelerate the development of scientists and research professionals in key research areas.

–By Katherine Hutchinson, Ph.D. Student, SAEON Egagasini Node

Exploring Marine Science Day 2014

Saturday October 25, 2014 marked the 12th anniversary of the Exploring Marine Science Day for middle school girls. The Consortium for Advanced Research on the Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE) partnered with the UM Rosenstiel School and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to host this day of interactive learning. Fifty young women from across South Florida spent their Saturday with Rosenstiel’s female faculty, students, and researchers to get an up close look at what it is like to be a marine scientist.


  • The girls learned about corals with Stephanie Schopmeyer and helped with coral restoration by planting coral (skeleton) fragments on special nursery plantforms.
  • The amazing women from Marine Geosciences never disappoint! Amel Saied, Anna Ling, Kim Galvez, and Carolina Bardaro taught the girls how to squeeze water from mud samples and they explored some of the amazing organisms found in the ocean.
  • The highlight of the day is always drawing blood from a toadfish with Dr. Danielle McDonald and her students. They learned about red and white blood cells, plasma, and stress hormones.
  • Rana Fine taught the girls about ocean acidification through an experiment in which the girls test the pH of sea water, before and after the addition of a carbonated soda.
  • Aplysia! CARTHE Outreach Manager Laura Bracken taught the girls about the importance of the amazing aplysia and the fascinating details of their life cycle, but the best part was actually getting to hold their slimy new friend.
  • The girls learned about density during a colorful experiment, mixing salt and freshwater with Meredith Jennings and Renellys Perez.
  • Josefina Olascoaga created a spinning ocean in the lab, complete with dyed ocean currents and eddies!
  • Dr. Lisa Beal completed the day with a powerful video of female oceanographers and a reminder to all of us, “Don’t let the boys have all the fun!”

Attendees had this to say about the event:

“Today’s program was awesome! I did not know there was so much science out in the ocean…”
“I love science and everything I did today was amazing”

“Today was one of the best days of my life!”

“I learned that there was a lot more to marine science than I thought.”

The activities are clearly fun and engaging but most importantly the girls left with a greater interest in science and knowing that anyone can be a scientist. Our scientists are also athletes, mothers, community leaders, and artists. According to the evaluations, the majority has an increased interest in studying science!

Thank you to all of the volunteers from CARTHE, RSMAS, and AAUW for making this day a success.

— Laura Bracken

To Follow the Water: Exploring the Ocean to Understand Climate

Come aboard the research vessel Knorr for a glimpse into the unseen world of ocean science. Join Dr. Lisa Beal’s international team as they measure the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas Current, one of the fastest on Earth, and witness the methods and meet the people who seek to understand the ways of the ocean and its intricate relation to global climate.

Dr. Lisa Beal’s international team is studying the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas Current, one of the fastest on Earth. Witness the methods and meet the people who seek to understand the ways of the ocean and its intricate relation to global climate.

The Agulhas Current is the Indian Ocean’s version of the Gulf Stream. Originating in the tropics, both sprint along the west sides of their respective ocean basins transporting warm, salty water away from the tropics toward the poles.

For more information, visit: http://act.rsmas.miami.edu

Video by Valery Lyman

RSMAS Professor Lisa Beal Visits Cape Town School

IMG_9044RSMAS Professor Lisa Beal was in Cape Town, South Africa in Oct. 2012 for the AGU Chapman Conference on the Greater Agulhas System. The conference was the first of its kind on the African continent and the first conference wholly dedicated to the Agulhas System, which has recently been suggested to play an important role in global climate change (Beal et al., Nature, 2011).
While in Cape Town, she and NOAA scientist Dr. Meghan Cronin visited a science class at the Sophumelela Secondary School to talk about oceans role in the climate system and the Agulhas current that helps shape the regional climate in South Africa.

The Agulhas Current flows as a fast and narrow stream along the east coast of South Africa and is the western boundary current of the south Indian Ocean subtropical gyre. The Greater Agulhas System comprises the sources and influences of the Agulhas current, including its leakage of Indian Ocean waters into the Atlantic south of Africa.
The Chapman Conference was highly multi-disciplinary, including research into the fisheries and ecosystems, coupled ocean-atmosphere processes, water masses and dynamics, and past and future states – through paleoceanography and modeling – of the Greater Agulhas System.
Dr. Beal was one of four lead conveners of the conference, along with Will de Ruijter from University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, Arne Biastoch from GEOMAR Kiel in Germany, and Rainer Zahn from University of Barcelona in Spain.
Click here to read more about Dr. Beal’s research on the Agulhas current.
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School Visit to Cape Town’s Sophumelela Secondary School Introduces Ocean Currents to Students

Thanks to the efforts of Juliet Hermes and Thomas Mtontsi of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Drs. Meghan Cronin (NOAA) and I visited Mr. Ndemane’s science class at Sophumelela Secondary School in the township of Phillipi on the Cape Flats outside of Cape Town, South Africa this past October 2012.

During the presentation we introduced ocean currents to the learners, in particular the Agulhas Current, and discussed their impact on sea surface temperature (SST) and climate. I annotated ocean currents on blow-up globes to donate to the students as fun learning tools.

The high school students were clearly engaged and one learner stood up and thanked us for meeting with them and encouraging them to be scientists. Another learner from the SAEON program came up afterwards to ask for advice on a science fair project on climate change.

The class is involved in the NOAA Adopt A Drifter program (ADP), whereby three pairs of drifters were deployed in the Agulhas Current. Data from these drifters contribute to the NOAA Global Drifter Program (GDP), a component of the Global Ocean Observing System, and can be viewed at http://www.adp.noaa.gov/track_drifting_buoys.html.

I hope to see these learners again next February, when they have been invited to visit the R/V Knorr while she is in Cape Town, on the way to the final scientific cruise of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment.

IMG_9044Lisa Beal, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and Principal Investigator of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment http://act.rsmas.miami.edu/