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.

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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

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

RSMAS Science Highlights of 2011

RSMAS was a busy place for cutting-edge science this year. Here’s a look back at the top research studies that made headlines in 2011 and the latest science and education from Virginia Key and beyond.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s study of one hammerhead shark’s lone journey to New Jersey made headlines in early 2011 as did Dr. Lisa Beal’s ongoing research on the Agulhas Current and its link to global change change.

Coral reefs made news this year, including from a newly published study by Dr. Diego Lirman that showed Florida’s reefs cannot endure a ‘cold snap’ and from a study of Papua New Guinea reefs by Dr. Chris Langdon that suggests ocean acidification may reduce reef diversity.


Before the year closed, Dr. Shimon Wdowinski presented a new study at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco that showed tropical cyclones could trigger earthquakes.

RSMAS scientists and student were part of many new and ongoing research expeditions. Researchers and students from RSMAS joined an international team on a six-month field campaign in the Indian Ocean, known as DYNAMO. They are studying how tropical weather brews over the region and moves eastward along the equator, with reverberating effects around the entire globe. Follow the ongoing work from the scientists.

Meanwhile, it was a busy end of the year for Lisa Beal and her research team who embarked on a month-long expedition to the waters off of South Africa to understand how one of the world’s strongest ocean currents – the Agulhas Current – is both affected by climate change and also has an effect on climate change.

On the academic side of RSMAS life, the Masters of Professional Science program was in full swing this year and the newly acquired Broad Key Research Station welcomed its first cohort of students to study the coral reef ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Finally, joint degrees in law and marine affairs was launched at UM to provide students with a unique educational opportunity to tackle environmental issues.

As 2011 comes to a close, RSMAS faculty, researchers and students are looking forward to another busy and exciting year in 2012 filled with new scientific discoveries and educational opportunities.

Tell us about your research plans for 2012.

Update: Agulhas Expedition Winding Down

For the past few weeks, the research vessel Melville has been home to a team of scientists studying one of the worlds most dangerous and fascinating currents, the Agulhas Current. UM Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science Associate Professor Lisa Beal is leading The Agulhas Time-Series Experiment research in the southern Indian Ocean, along with scientists from around the globe, including from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Cape Town, to study the Agulhas Current’s role in global climate change. Check out some amazing videos, pictures and journal entires from their wild adventure in the Indian Ocean.

-Andrew DeChellis
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