My Ph.D. journey

The Ph.D. tempo has considerably increased as I reach the second year of study and panic mode is an element in the equation. My Ph.D. focuses on understanding nitrogen (mainly nitrate and ammonium) uptake in the surface waters of the Indian Ocean (nutrient poor) and Subantarctic Ocean (nutrient rich as nutrients are not fully consumed by the marine microbiota in the upper sunlit waters). This is achieved by analysing nitrogen isotopes of the bulk matter (phytoplankton communities), flow cytometry in the form of fluorescence activated cell sorting in conjunction with the denitrifier method. We additionally analyse for nutrients (nitrate, nitrite, silicate and phosphate) to determine how nutrients drive the biogeography of the microbial community dynamics in these ocean basins. It is a very complicated topic, but it does help that I love doing it!

With a background in Botany (molecular taxonomy and rhizobiology), I had to quickly assimilate marine based fundamentals and dynamics before I could even dive into my particular topic of interest and understand its complicated processes. With a very involved advisor, a cohesive team of multidisciplinary scientists and willing to assist attitudes, I can say I’m quite happy I chose this path. I am also grateful for the Ph.D. community on Twitter, where we share our experiences under the hashtags: #PhDLife, #PhDChat, #AcWri (academic writing). I am currently writing the first manuscript of the Ph.D. on the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA).

Sea surface temperature over the Agulhas region. Other observational programs also marked. Modified (by Dr Juliet Hermes & Tamaryn Morris, SAEON Egagasini Node) from Beal et al., Nature 2011

The Agulhas Current is a phenomenal South African feature with a considerable impact on society. The region influences local and regional biodiversity and fisheries (food security), it also largely controls our weather and climate. On a global scale, the Agulhas Current yields a key pathway of heat and salt from the Indian Ocean into the South Atlantic, which is ultimately conveyed equatorward. The distribution of heat and salt in these oceans is exactly what regulates our climate. This Ph.D. has opened up a number of opportunities for me and in the process, my entire team. It is quite intense and mentally challenging, but which Ph.D. isn’t? The journey continues.


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