Photo credit: Christo Whittle
Photo credit: Christo Whittle

Mathieu Rouault honoured with memorial symposium

Researcher and professor in oceanography at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), Mathieu Rouault, passed away unexpectedly in January 2023. Earlier this month a memorial symposium was held in Cape Town, to honour his extensive research activities and contributions to education and capacity building.

Mathieu Rouault was the co-director of the Nansen-Tutu Centre for Marine Environmental Research in Cape Town for the past seven years. In January of 2023, just days after returning from participating in the One Ocean Expedition onboard the tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl, he passed away, leaving family, friends, and a scientific community behind in grief.

He was highly appreciated by everyone that met him, thanks to his extensive knowledge and his extraordinary personality. Friends and colleagues describe him as a person with an incredible sense of humour and always willing to help. He has been very supportive, while not being afraid to ask difficult questions and to challenge the current knowledge status. He has been an important supporter for African students and has been enthusiastically committed to his students and their wellbeing.

Mathieu had a great passion for the ocean and ocean science. Throughout his career he contributed significantly to a better understanding of the interactions between ocean and air, especially in the coastal regions along southern Africa. His approaches varied from modelling to experimental data collection, and he combined knowledge from oceanography with meteorology and climatology. He focused his work on the consequences of climate change and climate variability on the marine ecosystem. He has also been especially interested in how the air-sea interactions affect the weather and climate in the countries in southern Africa.

Former colleagues and students contributed to the symposium with stories and memories, as well as with scientific presentations on research inspired by Mathieu. “The symposium emphasized how significant Mathieu has been for students and early career ”, says Annette Samuelsen from the Nansen Center, who is also co-director for the Nansen-Tutu Centre.

The Nansen-Tutu Centre, the Nansen Center, and the University of Cape Town arranged the symposium. From the Nansen Center in Bergen, Norway, senior researcher Annette Samuelsen and senior researcher Johnny A. Johannessen contributed to the organization.

The Nansen-Tutu Centre in South Africa

The centre was established in 2010. NTC is a joint venture between South African, French, American, and Norwegian academic and university partners. The centre is organized as a research unit at the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town and focuses on studies of the Agulhas and the ocean currents around southern Africa.

Mathieu’s main research area

Mathieu Rouault focused a lot of his research efforts on the ocean regions around southern Africa. A prominent feature in the area is the Agulhas Current. It is one of the world’s strongest ocean currents and flows with up to 2-3 m/s. It is over 2200 km long and about 100 km wide, up to 1000 m deep. It transports warm and salty ocean water from the Indian Ocean to the southern Atlantic Ocean. Off the western coast of southern Africa the ocean water is relatively cool. The heat content and temperature difference between the Agulhas Current and the colder water masses affect the unique climate we find in southern Africa.