Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

Tiny Island Big Weather Impact

Did you know that Gough Island's meteorological station plays a crucial role in providing valuable climate data for research? It's amazing how a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean contributes so much to our understanding of the world's climate.

Gough Island's Tiny Stature, Massive Meteorological Influence

2023 Atmospheric and Ocean Interaction Studies metkassies team
2023 Gough Island Weather Team

Gough Island and the South African Weather Service Backstory

Tristan da Cunha is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The island group consists of Tristan da Cunha, Nightingale, Inaccessible, and Gough Islands. Tristan da Cunha island is around 248 miles or 400 kilometers away from Gough Island. 

Tristan da Cunha was discovered in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cunha, who christened the main island after himself. The islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about midway between South America and Africa.  

South Africa leases a site on Gough Island for a meteorological station. Meteorological stations on Gough Island play a vital role in monitoring extreme weather events such as storms and hurricanes. Gough Island, a British territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean, has no permanent population. It is around 1,500 miles or 2,400km from the African mainland, with no airport.

Reaching Gough involves a seven-day boat ride from South Africa. The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has been part of the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP). It has operated the weather station on Gough Island in the South Atlantic since 1956. 

Traveling to Gough Island by Ship

Each year, the Polar Class 5, the South African Agulhas II, a research and supply vessel, takes an expeditionary team to Gough Island weather station to conduct meteorological observations and research for about 15 to 18 months. The island's long-term meteorological data serves as a valuable resource for climate change studies. 

The ship has to cross international waters and departs from Cape Town, South Africa. The team members form part of the South African National Antarctic Programme. Each expedition team comprises one Medical Orderly, one Diesel Mechanic, one Electrical Engineer, one Communications Engineer, one Senior Meteorological Technician, two Meteorological Technicians, and three Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Field Assistants. 

Living on Gough Island 

In order to protect the unique ecosystem of the island, certain items are strictly prohibited. These include any animals, plants, seeds, poultry (including eggs), soil, water, and geological samples. Additionally, polystyrene beads, as well as other small pieces of plastic packaging and firearms, are also not allowed on the island. However, there are certain items that are allowed on the island. These include music, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco. 

All the stations, including Gough Island, have the essential facilities to provide a comfortable stay for overwintering team members. These include bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, TV lounges, entertainment rooms, bar, library, gym, laboratories, offices, and workshops. Researchers who live on the island through the winter months gather data on cloud formations, wind patterns, and other atmospheric conditions, contributing to a better understanding of climate dynamics.

Working on Gough Island 

Headed by Dr. Jonas Mphepya, the metkassies (meteorological overwintering team members), when on shift, does visual observations which includes cloud height and type, horizontal visibility, precipitation type, weather present and past and sea temperature. Formal observation is done every hour 6am to 3pm and then every 3 hours during night shift. This is done every day of the week.

The 2023 Atmospheric and Ocean Interaction Studies metkassies team comprises James Joubert Burns, Velelo Mazele, Samkelisiwe Thwala, Khuliso Collen Maphaha, Fulufhelo Brenda Khobo, and Kelcey Maewashe will fulfill a 15 to 18 months research stay.

Importance of Gough Island Weather Service

Gough Island is located in the South Atlantic Ocean and experiences a climate that is unique and isolated from surrounding regions. The island's remote location and lack of human habitation make it an ideal location for monitoring weather patterns, temperature fluctuations, and precipitation levels. 

By collecting and analyzing this data, researchers gain valuable insights into regional and global climate trends, including the impact of climate change on isolated ecosystems. Additionally, the island's extreme weather conditions, including strong winds and heavy rainfall, make it an important location for testing and monitoring the durability of various materials and structures.

The meteorological station located on Gough Island, operated by the South African Weather Service, has been instrumental in collecting and providing vital climate data to aid in research. The island's remote location in the South Atlantic Ocean, which is devoid of human habitation, makes it an ideal spot for gathering important meteorological and oceanographic data, which is then used by scientists worldwide to study the Earth's climate and weather patterns. 

The Gough Island meteorological station has been in operation since 1956 and has been continuously collecting data on various parameters such as temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed, and direction, among others. Over the years, the data gathered has helped researchers make significant strides in understanding the Earth's climate, weather patterns, and the impact of human activities on the planet.

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