17.01.2012 30.06.2021
Application Phase
Selection phase
Funding phase

SPACES II – Science Partnerships for the Adaptation to Complex Earth System Processes in Southern Africa

"SPACES II – Science Partnerships for the Adaptation to Complex Earth System Processes" focuses on scientific cooperation projects in Southern Africa. The nine SPACES II projects contribute to the formulation of science-based recommendations for the management of the Earth System and the sustainable use and conservation of the region's various ecosystem services. German research institutions and universities are working in cooperation with partner institutions in Namibia and South Africa. SPACES II is funded by the BMBF with approximately 19 million euros.

Even though Africa contributes the smallest continental share of greenhouse gas emissions globally, it is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The challenges are particularly critical to the southern African region, due to climatic, ecological and socioeconomic reasons. In southern Africa, observed temperature increases are high compared to the rest of the world. They are coupled with changes in rainfall patterns, as well as increases in the likelihood of extreme weather phenomena, droughts, and floods. The regional climate and weather patterns are significantly influenced by changes in the currents of the South Indian Ocean, South Atlantic and Southern Ocean. The interactions between climate change and anthropogonic impacts, such as slash-and-burn agriculture and overfishing, are particularly strong, because a major proportion of the population depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Major economic and social challenges related to climate change include compromised food and water security.

The research programme SPACES II – Science Partnerships for the Adaptation to Complex Earth System Processes in Southern Africa establishes collaborative research projects between German, Namibian and South African research institutions and universities. The programme intends to contribute to the formulation of science-based recommendations for Earth System management and to ensure the sustainable use of the multiple ecosystem services of the region.

The following priority themes for the projects were set together with the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) (previously the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST)), and the Namibian National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST):

Priority themes for terrestrial projects

  • Functions of diverse landscapes in terms of sustainable land use, land use change, carbon and water flows, and their impact on biodiversity, habitats and ecosystem services;
  • Management options for multifunctional landscapes and societal resilience to environmental change;
  • Development and implementation of measures for the restoration and sustainable use of degraded ecosystems for resilience, adaptation and mitigation objectives.

Priority themes for marine/coastal projects

  • Seasonal and interannual variability and trends in coastal current systems, their role in land-ocean-atmosphere interactions in southern Africa, their impact on biogeochemical cycles, and the management of marine natural resources;
  • The transport of carbon, water, nutrients and pollutants, their transformation mechanisms and dynamics in rivers, estuaries and coastal areas, and their importance as ecosystem services and for biodiversity.

Nine projects were selected from a large number of applicants to form the SPACES II Programme. Five of the projects have a terrestrial focus, and four have a marine/coastal focus.

With regard to the widespread land degradation across South Africa, SALDi aims to develop innovative tools for the assessment of land degradation in cooperation of eleven partner institutions. Modern earth observation methods are applied, and six priority areas are analysed in detail. Socio-economic dimensions and influences of land degradation are also considered, and outputs are evaluated through local stakeholders. From the South African perspective, the work will contribute to the national aim of "land degradation neutrality".

Further information is available at: www.saldi.uni-jena.de/en

EMSAfrica combines disciplines and approaches to study the impacts of land use and climate change on the structure and function of South African land ecosystems. Different measurements, including the monitoring of land-atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide and water vapour, ecophysiological experiments, remote sensing observations, and socio-economic surveys, are conducted at the six research sites. These data are used to create, calibrate, and test vegetation and ecosystem models, and predict the impacts of climate change at the biome level. Climate-relevant solutions are produced via multi-agent modelling for local organisations and land-users. Measurement infrastructures will be transferred as part of South African environmental observation networks via collaborative capacity building.

Further information is available at: https://www.emsafrica.org

In order to assess climate change -related risks to land management in Limpopo, eight partner institutions are working together to develop a new information system on ecosystem resilience and sustainable land use. SALLnet focuses on three land use types – rangelands, arable lands, and orchards – that provide essential ecosystem services and are important for local livelihoods. Experimental work, as well as interviews, modelling, and simulations are carried out. An integrative synthesis will be conducted with stakeholders to assess different land use scenarios for the present and the future.

Further information is available at: https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/592566.html

The twelve partner institutions of ASAP focus on agroforestry systems to find answers to the challenges posed to agriculture by climate change. The ecosystem services and environmental benefits of agroforestry systems as an innovative, multi-purpose land-use management practice in southern Africa are investigated. The exploration of human-environment interactions within agroforestry systems, and benefits to rural livelihoods, are central to the project. The education of students and exchange of early-career researchers are primary goals. Project outputs will be disseminated to researchers and practitioners via local facilitators.

Further information is available at: https://agroforestry-africa.wixsite.com/asap

The six ORYCS partners investigate the opportunities and risks of wildlife-based land use options for savannas. The project's focus was developed following intensive stakeholder dialogues; central questions include feedbacks between wildlife movements and dynamics, vegetation, and related ecosystem functions and services. The study area is located in Namibia, in the southwestern region of Etosha, covering communal conservancies, private game reserves, and the Etosha National Park. The project aims to derive management recommendations for sustainable wildlife-based land use strategies.

Further information is available at: https://www.uni-potsdam.de/orycs

TRACES is an interdisciplinary project that investigates the combined impacts of climate change and anthropogenic effects on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in eastern South Africa over the past 250 years. A combination of new information and existing datasets are gained from estuary and terrestrial sediment archives. Research on the linkages between land use, climate change, and anthropogenic impacts aims to make the use of natural resources in the area more sustainable.

Further information is available at: https://www.marum.de/en/about-us/Sediment-Geochemistry/Traces.html

BANINO focuses on coastal southwest Africa, where a strong dependency on fisheries and tourism makes countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The influence of climate change is complex and not yet fully understood in the area. BANINO combines data obtained from field surveys, remote sensing and simulations, to provide a basis for ocean circulation and climate models. The project aims to build and expand capacities to monitor, analyse and predict the variability of the eastern boundary upwelling system. Building scientific capacity at African universities and institutes is an important further aim.

Further information is available at: https://banino.geomar.de/index_en.html

CASISAC investigates the different factors that influence the Agulhas Current in the Southeast African region. The Agulhas Current is one of the most powerful ocean currents, with a direct influence on regional climate and an important role in global ocean circulation. CASISAC is particularly interested in the impacts of global warming on the coastal zones, such as changes in sea level and waves, storm surges, precipitation and river discharge. Different socio-economic developments and potential adaptation measures for the coastal region will be assessed.

Further information is available at: http://www.crslr.uni-kiel.de/en/projects/casisac.html



TRAFFIC is a collaborative project between German, Namibian and South African institutes. It aims to understand processes that drive the food webs of the northern and southern Benguela upwelling system and the associated impacts on fisheries and climate. While primary production is similar in both the northern and southern Benguela upwelling system, they differ in the composition and biomass of fish fauna and the carbon dioxide balance. The main aim of the project is to unravel the impact of ecosystem structure on fisheries yields and carbon fluxes.

Further information is available at: https://www.leibniz-zmt.de/en/research/research-projects/traffic.html


Capacity building and the training of early-career researchers is a central aim of SPACES II. A programme of over 30 workshops and summer schools is run in South Africa, Namibia and Germany. The training programme is aligned with the activities of regional initiatives, including the Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) and Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL). Topics cover key SPACES II themes, including modelling and simulations, greenhouse gas measurements, field survey methods, remote sensing techniques, ecosystem assessment and agroforestry. In addition, training is organised on research vessels. Furthermore, the DAAD supports a scholarship program Capacity Building/Development (CaBuDe), offering opportunities for research visits, networking and further education in Germany as well as equivalent activities of German scholarship holders in southern Africa.

Previous German-southern African collaborations and SPACES I

Both SPACES II as well as the earlier project phase SPACES I, are built on the previous activities of German scientists in the fields of marine research and sustainable land use, as well as the German-South African Year of Science 2012. Previous international large marine programmes with German participation included the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLME) and the Benguela Environment Fisheries Interaction and Training (BENEFIT) as well as broad-based initiatives such as NAMIBGAS and GENUS. Other previuos initiatives include the collaborative project BIOdiversity Monitoring Transect Analysis in Africa BIOTA and the Earth Science research programme Inkaba ye Africa.

The SPACES I terrestrial projects (2014-2017) conducted research on the integrative decision support for sustainable land use in savannahs in Southern Africa (IDESSA), on the dynamics of ecological and socio-economic processes in the Limpopo region of South Africa under the impact of global change (Limpopo Living Landscapes), on the adaptive resilience of South African ecosystems (Ars Africae) and on the options for sustainable geo-biosphere feedback management in savannahs (OPTIMASS).

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