Katharine Hutchinson

Climate Researcher

“I am passionate about the ocean, my country and doing good for people and our planet. If in 10 years’ time I can say that I have worked to honour these passions, then I will be truly content.”

Katharine Hutchinson is a young Capetonian scientist who has the unusual distinction of having earned a “co-badged” qualification from the University of Cape Town and l’Universite de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO).

The two universities had signed a memorandum of understanding in 2011, whereby together they agreed to award co-badged postgraduate degrees. Hutchinson’s fluent Italian served her well when she met Professor Speich, an Italian teaching at UBO. Speich expressed an interest in co-supervising the young oceanographer.

Hutchinson gained both fluency in French and a master’s degree, awarded with distinction.

Hutchinson is studying a key factor in global climate change.

“The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is the major flow of the Southern Ocean, making it the longest and largest current in the world,” she explains. “The ACC links the three major ocean basins, the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific, therefore providing a major link in global ocean circulation. Despite the vital role that the ACC plays in the global system, little is known about it.”

Hutchinson’s honours degree in ocean and atmospheric science focused on Southern Ocean research. She presented her findings at two international conferences and to the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research.

They were also published in the Journal of Deep Sea Research. Hutchinson’s master’s thesis on the ACC south of Africa examined changes in temperature and salinity over the past 20 years.

“I found that both the heat and salt content of the area have been increasing over the last two decades. I am currently investigating the possible drivers of this change and what portion is due to the effects of global warming.”

She says: “I am motivated to translate scientific findings to people at all levels of society and I hope that in doing so I can improve society’s knowledge of the circumstances and consequences of climate change.” — Mandi Smallhorne