While working as a civil engineer on a range of water projects I grew increasingly aware that water, energy and food insecurity cannot be tackled from an engineering viewpoint alone. I worked on irrigation, dams and hydropower projects in Pakistan, Vietnam, Georgia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Each of these projects required interactions with different disciplines, through which I gained an awareness of the environmental, sociological and political aspects of water projects. I chose to study Water Security and International Development at the University of East Anglia to broaden my understanding of these aspects, and it was during this course that I heard about some of the multi-disciplinary research being conducted at the ACDI.
I applied for an ACDI internship and was fortunate to be selected to conduct research related to invasive alien trees which are spreading across many regions of South Africa and displacing native vegetation. The most critical invasive alien trees typically have deeper roots and taller, more dense canopies than the vegetation that they are displacing. Due to these characteristics these trees result in higher rates of transpiration and rainfall interception, thereby reducing the amount of water that flows into rivers and into the region’s water supply reservoirs. The recent droughts in the Western Cape have further highlighted the need to better understand and control the extent of invasive alien trees, particularly in mountain catchments where much of the region’s water originates.
At the start of the internship I learnt about ACRU, a hydrological modelling software that can simulate the partitioning of rainfall based on daily rainfall data and numerous parameters related to the climate, soil and vegetation. I subsequently set up a series of ACRU models of a mountainous catchment in the Cape Floristic Region to investigate the impact on water resources that could be anticipated in the future if uncontrolled expansions of pines, eucalypts and wattles were to displace the existing natural vegetation. I was advised throughout my time in Cape Town by my ACDI supervisor who encouraged me to read through existing literature in order to identify areas of uncertainty that our ACRU modelling could further investigate.
The internship was a great opportunity to learn about a critical issue and develop new technical skills. It was also beneficial to hear about other research and to gain an insight into how ACDI aims to continue to strengthen climate change research and education. I was always made to feel very welcome at the ACDI; I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cape Town, and I would strongly recommend this internship to others with an interest in climate research.