Durban - Research conducted by the first black South African woman to graduate with a PhD in marine geology seeks to understand how coastlines respond to climate change and the consequences of future changes.
Nonkululeko Dladla, received her PhD in marine geology on Friday from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
Dladla, who is also a developmental lecturer in geological sciences at UKZN focused her studies on the stratigraphy and geological evolution of three coastal water bodies along the north-eastern KZN coastline, to gain an understanding of how coastlines responded to a rise in sea levels in the past and better understand the potential consequences of future changes.
According to UKZN, Dlada’s studies concentrated on Lake St Lucia, the Richards Bay Harbour and the Kosi Bay system.
“Dladla looked beneath the ocean’s surface at the complex network of ancient river valleys that underlie these systems, which were flooded during the Holocene epoch as sea levels rose due to melting glaciers,” said the university.
UKZN said despite each of these water bodies being situated in a similar climatic, geomorphological, oceanographic and sea-level framework, Dladla pointed out that each differs in terms of its palaeo-sediment supply and underlying geological framework.
The university said she set out to understand how much these factors influenced the stratigraphic evolution of incised valleys as they evolved from rivers through to estuaries with rising sea levels, and what role they could play in the final geomorphological form.
That final form is critical in understanding how estuaries function today, an important consideration as they act as nurseries for juvenile fish species and are current focal points for development around the world, said UKZN.
“Reconstructing the geological signatures of these kinds of coastal systems can greatly improve our understanding of how coastlines respond to climate change and sea-level rise and improve prediction of the consequences of future changes,” said Dladla.
Professor Andrew Green, Dladla’s Honours, Master’s and PhD supervisor, said he is especially proud of her..
“The quality of her PhD was outstanding. She is an absolute role model for our students who need mentors they can identify with,” said Green.
UKZN said it is the only institution in Africa specialising in marine geology.