Grant of €12m received for international WHIRLS climate change project

31 Oct 2023

Assoc Prof Sarah Fawcett is part of an international research team who received an ERC Synergy Grant.

31 Oct 2023

The exchange of heat and carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere, as well as their distribution within the ocean, is driven by larger currents and smaller eddies – and by even smaller circulation features, termed “whirls”. Through the WHIRLS project, funded by one of the European Research Council (ERC) prestigious and highly competitive Synergy Grants, Sarah Fawcett, an associate professor in UCT’s Department of Oceanography and MARiS researcher; Professor Arne Biastoch from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany; Professor Sabrina Speich from the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris, France; and Professor Sebastiaan Swart from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, will implement a synergistic and interdisciplinary approach to investigate these fine-scale processes.

WHIRLS will be funded at the level of almost €12 million over six years, with €2.3 million awarded to UCT. This funding will be managed by UCT-MARiS and will assist in leveraging state-of-the-art observational tools, ranging from ship-based measurements to satellites, aiming for a three-dimensional, comprehensive understanding of oceanic processes. 

“The Agulhas system is not only unique in terms of its vigorous circulation, intense air-sea heat and carbon uptake and the particularly high productivity and diversity of its marine ecosystem,” said Sarah Fawcett, but “it also plays a key role in the global ocean circulation and strongly influences regional and global climate.” Thus, the Agulhas Current System will be at the forefront of this research. WHIRLS will observe, model and track the interactions among the atmosphere, surface ocean and the ocean interior, and will investigate vertical mixing and the pathways of heat, nutrients and carbon within the ocean.

WHIRLS stands poised to unravel the complexities of the ocean’s influence on our climate, contributing to global scientific priorities and the pursuit of sustainable development. Watch this space!

To find out more, please read the UCT News Article: