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UM Rosenstiel School Professor Receives $2.5 Million to Study Agulhas Current

The five-year Agulhas System Climate Array project will monitor changes in the region’s ocean circulation in a warming climate.

Lisa Beal, UM Rosenstiel School Professor of Ocean Sciences discusses a mooring deployment with UM technicians during a prior expedition to the Agulhas Current aboard Research Vessel Knorr.

Image Credit: Valery Lyman

MIAMI – Scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science received a $2.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct a climate research study off the coast of South Africa. The five-year Agulhas System Climate Array is an international program to make continuous measurements of the region’s Agulhas Current to better understand how the oceans are changing due to climate change.

UM Rosenstiel School professor of ocean sciences Lisa Beal will lead this first-of-its-kind research project, in collaboration with scientists from South Africa and The Netherlands, to monitor physical characteristics of the current, such as velocity, temperature, and salinity, to better understand its role in global climate variability.

One of the strongest currents in the world, the Agulhas Current is the Indian Ocean's version of the Gulf Stream where warm, salty water is transported away from the tropics toward the poles. The Agulhas, which is hundreds of kilometers long and over 2,000-meters deep, transports large amounts of ocean heat and is considered to have an influence not only on the regional climate of Africa, but on global climate as part of the ocean’s global overturning circulation.

The Agulhas Current transports waters from the tropical Indian Ocean to the southern tip of Africa, where most of the water loops around to remain in the Indian Ocean (the Agulhas Retroflection), while some waters leak into the fresher Atlantic Ocean via giant Agulhas rings. Once in the Atlantic, the salty Agulhas leakage waters eventually flow into the Northern Hemisphere where they can strengthen the Atlantic overturning circulation by enhancing deep-water formation. Recent research points to an increase in Agulhas leakage over the last few decades caused primarily by human-induced climate change. This finding is profound, because it suggests that increased Agulhas leakage could trigger a strengthening in the Atlantic overturning circulation, at a time when warming and accelerated meltwater input in the North Atlantic has been predicted to weaken it.

The international research team is led by Lisa Beal, UM Rosenstiel School associate scientist Shane Elipot, Juliet Hermes of the South African Environmental Observation Network, Mike Roberts at South Africa’s Department of Environment Affairs, and Herman Ridderinkhof at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

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About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School

The University of Miami is one of the largest private research institutions in the southeastern United States. The University’s mission is to provide quality education, attract and retain outstanding students, support the faculty and their research, and build an endowment for University initiatives. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, visit:  www.rsmas.miami.edu

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agulhas current •  dr. lisa beal •  nsf •