School of Chemistry & Physics

Cutting Edge Atmospheric Research Earns Ncipha a PhD

Cutting Edge Atmospheric Research Earns Ncipha a PhD

Dr Gerald Xolile Ncipha from the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP), graduated with his PhD in Chemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Ncipha grew up at Daveyton, a township in Ekurhuleni Municipality in Johannesburg. He studied his undergraduate degree BSc in Chemistry at Wits University before pursuing his Honours in Meteorology at the University of Pretoria, thereafter, his Master’s in Air Pollution Meteorology at Wits University.

‘I came to UKZN because I wanted my PhD study to be supervised by Professor Venkataraman Sivakumar as he is one of the leading experts in remote sensing in South Africa. I also came to UKZN as the university is one of the leading universities in the country,’ said Ncipha.

Having been awarded a bursary from the South African Weather Services (SAWS) for his BSc Honours degree studies in Atmospheric Sciences, Ncipha underwent a study tour to learn about the scientific activities at SAWS. Here, Ncipha was reassured of his career and academic path.

‘The tour to the SAWS office in the Free State province impressed me. I decided, at that moment, that this is what I want to do. As I worked with aircrafts doing aerial surveys of air pollution in a large spatial scale. I learned that satellites also do these measurements at a global scale. I decided to get some training in analysing satellite data through a PhD study which capacitated me with skills to do large spatial scale studies,’ he said.

Ncipha’s research involved establishing a 3-dimensional distribution of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over South Africa and Southwest Indian Ocean islands and to determine the concentration changes of this gas at the surface of the study regions over the study period.

‘My research also demonstrated the role of meteorology and long-range air transport on the atmospheric distribution of CO2 at the study regions,’ said Ncipha. Having realised the lack of knowledge that exists in South Africa about its atmospheric loading as well as the limited amount of atmospheric stations in the country with long-term atmospheric records of CO2, Ncipha knew that this was an important topic to research.

‘It has long been accepted that climate change has devastating consequences to society. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for the warming climate change. In order to mitigate or reverse climate change, there is a need to reduce CO2 emissions and its presence in the atmosphere space.The interventions by governments to achieve this need to be monitored by measuring CO2 in the atmosphere. My study has provided, for the first time, information on atmospheric CO2 over South Africa,’ he said.

Through his work, Ncipha was accepted in the global initiative of Group of Earth Observations (GEO) on Carbon and Greenhouse Gases which aims to co-ordinate international activities on carbon monitoring and analysis.

‘My future plan is to extend my analysis using recent satellite data to determine CO2 distribution over the Southern African region and estimate CO2 emissions using satellite data and inverse modeling,’ said Ncipha.

Words: Zolile Duma

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal