Ms Robyn Verrinder

Deputy Director of UCT-MARiS and Senior Lecturer in Dept. of Electrical Engineering

Robyn is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering, a founding member of the African Robotics Unit (ARU) and a Deputy Director of the Centre for Marine and Antarctic Research for Innovation and Sustainability (MARIS). My research area focuses on autonomous marine observation systems, with a specific emphasis on the Southern Ocean and Antarctic region. Our group, the UCT MARIS SEAICE team which comprises staff and postgraduate students from the Engineering and Oceanography fields, aims to design cost-effective autonomous devices capable of persistent in the field environmental measurements to improve our understanding of global climate. Over the past three years, the UCT MARIS SEAICE team has been actively involved in research to improve our understanding of Antarctic sea ice variability and seasonal cycle. Sea ice expansion and melt plays a key role in Earth climate systems but is poorly characterised and understood, primarily due to a lack of in situ measurements during winter and spring. The UCT MARIS SEAICE team has developed new lab-based sea ice physical and mechanical properties testing techniques including artificial sea ice growth experiments, novel ship-based sea ice imaging approaches and an ice tethered wave buoy, which can be deployed in this region to collect both high-frequency time series data and summary statistics, which can be transmitted via an Iridium satellite link to improve our observational capability in this remote and harsh region.

Our ice tethered wave buoy (Southern Hemisphere Antarctic Research Collaborative - SHARC) has been trialled in a series of field deployments including the 2019 SCALE Winter SA Agulhas II scientific cruise to the Southern Ocean marginal ice zone (MiZ) and the 2020/2021 SANAE IV relief voyage from the SA Agulhas II and RV Polarstern 123/124 cruise. In July 2022, we deployed an array of six instruments on consolidated ice in the Antarctic MIZ during a Targeted Observational Experiment on the Southern oCean seAsonaL Experiment (SCALE) Winter Cruise. This experiment was designed to capture the impacts of a polar cyclone moving through the region, resulting in a significant change in the sea ice conditions in the MIZ. Four of the six instruments were collected after 2.5 to 4 days, before and after the cyclone passage. High-frequency inertial time-series, ice drift and environmental data were retrieved from the platforms and to our knowledge, these high-frequency inertial time-series datasets are the first of their kind for this region during winter and allow us to better characterise sea ice motion during a large synoptic event. These measurements were complemented by advanced, ship-based, imaging of ice floes and waves using LiDAR, stereo visual and thermal cameras as well as measurements from other open water buoys, deployed in the region during the same period. These unique high resolution data sets will be used to better characterise wave drivers of Antarctic sea-ice formation during winter and to inform Southern Hemisphere climate predictability.


Current Projects involved in:


Project 1: NRF Earth Systems Science Research Programme Grant

A network of autonomous sea ice observation platforms in support of Southern Hemisphere climate predictions

(2022 to 2024)

PI: RA Verrinder; co-PI: M Vichi

Co-investigators:  A. Mishra, J. Son. J. Hepworth, E. Boje, F.C. Nicolls, J. Pead, T. Rampai, S. Skatulla, E. Rocke, A. Young (NMU), S. Thomalla (CSIR), M. de Vos (SAWS)

A variety of synoptic, seasonal and interannual drivers influence the forms, types and concentration of sea ice in the Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ) in the Southern Ocean (SO). The temporal and spatial distribution of the ice and its physical, mechanical and biological properties are directly related to the natural variability of the oceans and atmosphere, but also anthropogenic climate changes. Climate and Earth System Models have limited sea ice variable parameterisations due to the scarcity of spatially distributed high resolution measurements from the region, specifically during winter/spring. To better understand atmosphere-ice-ocean MIZ processes and to improve future prediction of seasonal sea ice coverage and extent, three main approaches are available: (1) in situ measurements, (2) area-wide satellite data, and (3) numerical and experimental modelling. The meaningful connection of these is essential for enhancing understanding of this region. Improved design of cost-effective autonomous devices capable of persistent in situ sampling at finer spatial resolutions over the winter/spring seasons in the Antarctic MIZ, is key to obtaining the datasets needed to improve ESMs and to validate remote- sensing products. This requires a multidisciplinary approach including engineering, oceanography and climate science. This proposal aims to: (a) improve in situ measurement capability in the SO MIZ through the development of cost-effective networked autonomous buoys; (b) examine the processes that govern the seasonal sea ice life cycle in SO MIZ through a Targeted Observational Experiment to inform Southern Hemisphere climate predictability; and (c) produce data to process-based models and climate predictions of the Southern African climate.



Autonomous network system with specialized and integrated multi-sensor technology for dynamic monitoring of marine pollution

(2022 to 2025)

Coordinator: Prof Nurten Vardar, Yildiz Technical University, Turkey


  • Yildiz Technical University, Turkey
  • AquaBioTech Group, Malta
  • Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology, Malta
  • INTERACTIVE, Romania
  • University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Sirena Marine Denizcilik San Tic A Ş, Turkey

UCT PI: A. Mishra

Co-investigators:  F.C. Nicolls, S. Paine, J. Son, R.A. Verrinder

According to MARPOL 73/78, principles have been determined to prevent pollution of the marine environment. However, illegal discharges by ships above the permitted limits in prohibited areas persist. The protection of coasts and marine waters faces complex and multifaceted challenges. The marine and coastal ecosystems are especially threatened by sea-based contaminants of anthropogenic actions. Therefore, the 2002 EU Recommendation on Integrated Coastal Zone Management and the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive have been developed in order to preserve all European coasts and marine waters.

To address these problems and support EU regulations, the idea of SMARTPOL has emerged with the aim of producing technological solutions for marine pollution detection while establishing data services which will be able to integrate with existing EU services in synergy with the European Green Deal. SMARTPOL aims to present a novel and compact pollution detection, monitoring and analysis system architecture consisting of hardware and software components in order to monitor marine fields and to detect different types of marine pollution. In sum, integration of different types of sensors (e.g. remote sensing, UAV and USV integrated IoT), development of marine pollution detection algorithms using sensor data and state-of-the-art intelligent system technologies including AI-based image processing, autonomous navigation and smart communication systems will be presented as R&I objectives of the project.

Our consortium is made of highly qualified domain expert organizations which will establish the SMARTPOL pollution detection system. The consortium has broad expertise on interface systems for data sharing to overcome lack of extensive data sharing; issues related to the reuse of public sector data and collecting data for the common good; and technical obstacles to data re-use in the marine field.


Project 3: South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI)

UCT Marine Robotics

(2022 to 2024)

PI: E. Boje

Co-investigators:  R.A. Verrinder, F.C. Nicolls, A. Mishra, P. Amayo, A. Patel, J. Hepworth, J. Son, J. Mwangama, M. Vichi


To contribute to the South African ocean economy through international leading research, development, and innovation. Develop human capacity and to generate and share knowledge to contribute to the environmental sustainability and economic well-being of the country.


  • Undertake leading research in Marine Robotics focusing on:
  • Improving autonomy in the marine environment (navigation, control, communication, multi-robot interaction)
  • Innovative sensor and instrumentation development
  • Machine learning for computer vision for marine target detection and estimation
  • Produce robotic solutions to enhance and support South African scientific research efforts
  • Postgraduate training (MSc and PhD students)
  • Short training courses to industry professionals
  • Consulting to industry, government, and the scientific community