Young Namibian scientists discover the secrets of sand

Article By: Mekondjo Hitila and Kashona Theopolina Iita

A group of Namibian students huddles around a slowly-beeping machine, at 2:36 in the morning, out on the gravel plains of Namib-Naukluft Park, slowly measuring soil respiration. What are they doing? As most Namibians are aware, environmental issues are a major limitation for the sustainable development of Namibia. In order for sustainable development to be implemented effectively, it requires environmental awareness, skills, a change in attitudes, and expertise, which are critically limited in the country. Most young people have limited practical experience and knowledge of the Namibian environment, relevant environmental issues and, most importantly, how these problems might be dealt with, hence the introduction of the Summer Drylands Programme (SDP).

The Summer Drylands Programme (SDP) was designed as a practical, field training experience for students from Namibian tertiary institutions. The Programme is coordinated by the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DFRN) using the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre as its training base. This year’s SDP has 13 students from the University of Namibia (UNAM) and Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) from various study fields, including Agriculture, Fisheries, Geography, Wildlife, Nature Conservation, Regional Planning, Environmental biology and Environmental Sciences.The 19th Summer Drylands Programme runs from December 2015 to January 2016 and it focuses on soil respiration in the Namib Desert at six selected sites, of which three are in the World Heritage Site (the Namib Sand Sea) and the other three in the gravel plains, across the climatic rainfall and fog gradient from the coast to dunes. This problem solving approach of “Namibian solutions to Namibian problems” has made a substantial contribution to the well-rounded training of Namibia’s technical experts and policy makers.The current research is the very first attempt to understand the soil respiration in the Namib Desert. Students have set out to understand soil respiration and how it varies across the Namib Desert. Furthermore, it will give us a broader understanding of the effects of global climatic change, particularly rainfall and how it will impact the Namib Desert. Current results indicate that respiration rates are higher in gravel plains compared to dunes. Each two-month project provides the opportunity for the application of theory to practical problem solving. Economic, social and environmental sustainability are all considered when investigating contemporary issues such as; dams in the Kuiseb, fruit trees in northern Namibia,   water management and supply perceptions in the Iishana sub-station. The students’ work, which includes a scientific report, will be presented at Gobabeb’s annual Information Day, to be held on Saturday 30 January 2016. SDP students and Gobabeb invite the public and former SDP students to join us for the weekend, to learn more about soil respiration dynamics in the Namib Desert and the important work these young Namibian scientists are undertaking.

Figure 1: Two SDP students monitor soil respiration in the morning, at a site just outside of Ganab MET station.

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