Child­hood love of the ocean flows into cur­rent dis­cov­ery

Sunday Times - - News Navy - By FAR­REN COLLINS

● Af­ter school Ju­liano Ra­manantsoa would throw down his school bag and head straight to the ocean, where he would play un­til dark.

To­day the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town PhD stu­dent’s re­search into those same waters on the west coast of Mada­gas­car, where he grew up, have led to one of the most sig­nif­i­cant oceanog­ra­phy break­throughs in decades.

In Jan­uary Ra­manantsoa, 33, cel­e­brated the pub­li­ca­tion in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal Geo­phys­i­cal Re­search Let­ters of his dis­cov­ery of a pre­vi­ously un­known coastal cur­rent off the coast of his home­land.

The dis­cov­ery has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ac­claim and was se­lected as a “re­search high­light” by the web­site Earth and Space Sci­ence News.

Born in the small fish­ing vil­lage of To­liara on Mada­gas­car’s west coast, Ra­manantsoa was al­ways drawn to the ocean and says he “grew up” in it.

“My fa­ther was a fish­er­man and my mom was af­fil­i­ated with the fish­ing min­istry,” he told the Sun­day Times.

“I used to go fish­ing in a ca­noe with my dad and un­cles. I couldn’t imag­ine dur­ing that time that this child fish­ing with his fa­ther would even­tu­ally com­bine tra­di­tional knowl­edge and oceanog­ra­phy to pub­lish this dis­cov­ery in the 21st cen­tury. It’s re­ally won­der­ful.”

With the help of re­search from the Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search, the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Brit­tany in France and the French In­sti­tute for Re­search and De­vel­op­ment, Ra­manantsoa was able to prove the ex­is­tence of the newly named South­west Mada­gas­car Coastal Cur­rent. Shal­low and nar­row, it flows to­wards the South Pole.

Ra­manantsoa said he first pos­tu­lated the ex­is­tence of the cur­rent while try­ing to ex­plain the pres­ence of an ex­tremely fer­tile ocean re­gion off the south coast of the In­dian Ocean is­land.

“When we tried to find the force cre­at­ing this ocean event we found a de­fined cur­rent which in­flu­enced that fer­til­i­sa­tion at the south of Mada­gas­car.”

Us­ing satel­lite im­ages, data col­lected by ships and num­ber crunch­ing, Ra­manantsoa was able to con­firm his dis­cov­ery.

His the­sis su­per­vi­sor at UCT, Mar­jo­laine Krug, said the dis­cov­ery was im­por­tant for a num­ber of rea­sons and would help sci­en­tists un­der­stand the move­ment of fish in the re­gion and con­trib­ute to cli­mate knowl­edge.

“On a global scale the oceans are the great­est mit­i­ga­tors for the planet’s cli­mate be­cause they trans­port heat from the equa­tor to the poles,” she said.

“So knowl­edge of how this water is mov­ing from the equa­tor to the poles and how the heat bal­ance of the planet is reg­u­lated is re­ally im­por­tant.

“There’s a con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween the Mozam­bique chan­nel, Mada­gas­car and South Africa be­cause there are species which mi­grate be­tween these re­gions, so hav­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the cir­cu­la­tion there helps in un­der­stand­ing the con­nec­tiv­ity.”

Krug said it was dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish the ex­is­tence of pre­vi­ously un­re­ported ocean cur­rents, and the rea­son the dis­cov­ery had not been made sooner was prob­a­bly due to “poor sam­pling” of the re­gion.

That was partly why Ra­manantsoa took up ma­rine sci­ence af­ter school, be­cause he saw a need in Mada­gas­car for ocean re­search.

Juliet Her­mes, an ocean sci­en­tist at the South African En­vi­ron­men­tal Ob­ser­va­tion Net­work, said the cur­rent was im­por­tant to South Africa be­cause it flowed into lo­cal coastal cur­rents.

“It in­flu­ences down­stream so this cur­rent flows into the Agul­has cur­rent around South Africa,” she said.

“[The Mada­gas­car cur­rent] car­ries nu­tri­ent-rich water and will help us un­der­stand other cur­rents bet­ter.”

I couldn’t imag­ine this child fish­ing with his fa­ther would . . . pub­lish this dis­cov­ery

Ju­liano Ra­manantsoa, left

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