Postgraduates probe earth's early history in the Makhonjwa Mountains
Africa InTouch News recently spoke to four geoscience postgraduate students who visited Barberton and surrounds. Julien Alleon (French); Masafumi Saitoh (Japanese); Andreas Ƶametƶer (German) and Deon Janse van Rensburg (South African), study - and is involved in research at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Jena University, Germany, respectively. The purpose of their two-week excursion to the region was to pursue studies of the early history of our planet, recorded in the famous ancient rocks of the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains.
Africa InTouch News had an impromptu meeting with the men at the home of Astrid Christianson, marketing director of Barberton Tourism. Christianson said it was an absolute joy to interact with the students and requested that they spread the word about the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site.
Veteran researcher of the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains and supervisor to two of the students, Prof Dr Christoph Heubeck from Jena University, jokingly told this journalist the students were so busy that they “have not contacted their supervisor (referring to himself) in Germany since they had left for the airport”. He added, “Still, I have good contacts in Barberton and all around the region. When my students took a breath, I knew about it via email.”
Heubeck said he was not worried too much, as they are capable young men with initiative and well-defined objectives. “I am looking forward to hear their reports when they will be back at the university department."
Alleon, Saitoh, Ƶametƶer and Janse van Rensburg had filed research applications and carried permits by the MTPA. These permits coordinate all geological research in the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site, while a management structure of the latter has not yet been executed.
"It was a fortunate coincidence that my German students and the Swiss students had planned field work at the same time. Because they complement each other in their expertise, it made sense to coordinate their field work,” said Heubeck.
The youngest of the foursome, Ƶametƶer, has been doing geological field work in Barberton since 2017, and is therefore familiar with many of the areas to be visited. Although Janse van Rensburg is only starting out, as a South African he was already familiar with the culture, language and people. The Swiss students, Alleon and Saitoh, are the most advanced in their research, although they were hitherto unfamiliar with South Africa and its regional geology.
“It worked out such that their needs, expertise and interests all combined in a logical way," said Heubeck.
Heubeck also clarified the individual goals of each of the students for visiting the area. He said that Janse van Rensburg's first visit to the Makhonjwa Mountains was meant to acquaint himself with the volcanic rocks of his PhD-project over the next four to five years, while Ƶametƶer expanded his study area from 2017 in the central greenstone belt, to take samples and measurements in order to reconstruct potential ancient desert environments.
“In contrast, the two Swiss postdoctoral researchers, Saitoh and Alleon, mainly focused on taking carefully documented pristine rock samples to study the traces of ancient life forms in some of the oldest strata of the greenstone belt. They sampled dark cherty rocks, rich in organic matter and baryte, and documented their geological context.”
Results from their research are expected within the next few years, after the rock samples have been sent to Europe and analysed via a sequence of sophisticated methods. “The results and their meanings are usually first presented and discussed at scientific conferences as talks or posters and then documented in international scientific journals. More than 800 such publications to date, beginning in 1908, form the permanent archive of our knowledge recorded in the Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains, and about 10 to 15 new publications are added each year,” estimated Heubeck.
Editor: Anchen Coetzee
Subeditor: Lynette Brink
Credits: Prof Dr Christoph Heubeck