National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Andrew Green

For excellence in marine geoscience research

The Green marine geology machine

Special Annual Theme Award:  Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

In South Africa, the geological sciences are often associated with mining on dry land. However, with rising sea levels and a wealth of off-shore minerals to explore, the demand for marine geologists is growing.

“There’s very few of us,” says Prof Andrew Green. 

After years of advocating for marine geology to support governance and management in South Africa, he now heads Africa’s first and only marine geology research unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is set to co-manage the unit with his former student, Dr Nonkululeko Dladla, who was the first black woman to graduate with a PhD in marine geology in South Africa.

Marine geology looks at the ocean’s ancient past. It shot to prominence in South Africa a few years ago when Green linked increased storminess in the southwest Indian Ocean to warming sea surface temperatures. 

“That opened a whole dialogue with all sorts of local and national governmental agencies, agencies further afield in Mozambique and in Tanzania, and even beyond Africa,” says Green. His data on extreme wave events, cyclones and storm threats are now being incorporated into provincial, local and cooperative governance planning.

Green says some of his research has also changed how we understand the way dunes and barrier islands respond to sea level rise. “Those have gone on to form the underpinnings of global policy, in terms of establishing whether or not you withdraw from rising sea levels or whether you defend against them.” 

Unfortunately, South Africa is still lagging behind when it comes to coastal geological mapping and the management of marine natural resources and mineral wealth, says Green. “All of these things are the fundamental role of a marine geologist, but we just don’t have the critical infrastructure to meet those needs.”

He says the Marine Geology Research Unit at UKZN needs more staff and resources to graduate high-calibre students who will take up employment within the blue economy. Marine geology degrees are in demand in industry, and are needed at the Council for Geoscience, says Green.

He is grateful that he’s been able to grow the field in South Africa with the support of international experts and mentors, and he now serves on editorial boards alongside them. 

“It’s been a fantastic peak in my career — the kindness of people who took me under their wings,” he says. “I finally got my little place in the sun where I’ve gotten that thumbs-up from my international colleagues, which just really tickles me absolutely pink.”

Prof Andrew Green won the Special Annual Theme Award for research and development in ocean science for sustainable development in South Africa. This is in recognition of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. — ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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