The University of the Free State (UFS) has teamed up with the Appalachian State University in North Carolina to launch a collaborative mountain-to-mountain research programme.
It paves the way for developing two new master’s degree programmes, mountain studies and community development.
The two institutions launched the initiative virtually on Tuesday, 10 November.
The UFS will study Thabana Ntlenyana in Lesotho, of which the peak rises more than 11 400 feet above sea level, while the Appalachian State University has Mount Mitchell, the Appalachian Mountains’ highest point. The UFS Qwaqwa campus has been identified by the institution as home for its research programme.
The United States Embassy and Consulates in South Africa has availed R8 million for the ambitious programme.
The grant will involve the installation of five meteorological weather stations in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains, which will be used to monitor the climate of the mountains’ highly fragile environment.
The programme will engage faculty staff and graduate students at both institutions in teaching and research, mentorship as well as scholarship.
Prof. Geofrey Mukwada, project leader at the UFS Qwaqwa campus, said the programme would bring together researchers from both the UFS and the Appalachian State University and enable them to work together to develop what is currently an underdeveloped research niche, mountain studies.
“It will also support innovation in climate change research,” said Mukwada.
“Through this project, it will be possible to receive climate data from weather stations that are situated in distant, isolated, and generally inaccessible locations.
“We will be able to understand how the climate of the region is changing and assist in developing adaptation measures and decisions that are applicable to agriculture, water, tourism, environment and other sectors,” he said.
According to Mukwada, the programme will enhance the capacity of the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) to contribute to the development of research in mountain environments.