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Department of Earth Science - Research Interests and Current Projects

Research in the Earth Sciences Department is organized in the broad fields of Environmental Water & Science and Applied Geology. The main research areas are in Petroleum Geology, Economic Geology/ Exploration Geochemistry, Tectonic Evolution, Geomorphology, Integrated Water Resource Management and Groundwater studies under the leadership of the UNESCO Chair. These groups do not have rigid boundaries, and graduate students are often associated with more than one group, particularly when the nature of their research is inter-disciplinary.

Prof. Dirk Frei​

Prof. Dominic Mazvimavi​​

Prof. Yongxin Xu

A Senior Professor of Hydrogeology with an interest in the fields of Fractured Rock Aquifer Characteristics , Groundwater contamination, protection and Management, Transboundary aquifers in Africa and an Integrated approach to Groundwater Development and Management in developing countries.

Current Projects
  • Vlaamse Inter-universitere Raad(VLIR) Project 4 – Water – Collaborational project in conjunction with university of Ghent in Belgium and UWC for the

  • Dynamics of Building a better Society.

  • Eco-Geo-hydrogeological studies in relation to human impact – Comparative research in Beijing and Cape Town –SA/China  Collaborational Project with

  • Capital Normal University in Beijing China and UWC.

  • Implementation of Groundwater protection Zones – South Africa/ Argentina Research Cooperation Programme – collaboration with University of Mar Del Plata, Argentina and UWC South Africa

  • Application of Remote sensing for Integrated Management of Eco Systems and Water Resources.

  • Sampling & Monitoring protocol for Radio Active Elements in Fracture Rock Environments.

  • African Groundwater Resources Management – Scoping study in the SADC Region: South African Perspective

  • The Use of Isotope Hydrology to characterize & Assess Water Resources in  Southern Africa.

  • A Method of 3D Connectivity determination and its hydrogeological application.

  • Development of the pressure release flowing test method of artesian flow aquifers with a case study in TMG. ​

Prof. Ebernard Braune​

My research interests include tectonic evolution and solid earth processes, with a particular interest in investigating the tectonic evolution of mobile belts and craton margins as well as supercontinent reconstruction. Current and future research  aims to examine the tectonic evolution of the Proterozoic Namaqua Sector of the Namaqua-Natal Province of southern Africa, particularly along its eastern margin at its contact with the Archean Kaapvaal Craton and to further understand the tectonic evolution of the region and its place in the Mesoproterozoic construction of Rodinia. Related research interests include the construction of Gondwana in the form of research into the tectonic and structural evolution of the Cape Fold Belt. Other research interests include granite petrogenesis and the role of granites in crustal evolution as well as ore-forming processes and ore deposits and their characterisation.

Current Projects

  • Tectonic evolution of the western margin of the Kaapvaal Craton at its contact with the Namaqua Sector, southern Africa

  • The structural evolution and provenance of the metasedimentary rocks of the Kakamas Terrane, Namaqua Sector, South Africa

  • Petrogenesis of the Keimoes Suite granitoids and related tin-tungsten mineralisation, Namaqua Sector, South Africa

  • Characterisation of the volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits of the Areachap Group, Namaqua Sector, South Africa

  • Characterisation and determination of the influence of the floor rock on platinum group element (PGE) mineralisation on the Platreef of the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex.

GIS Prospectivity and subsurface geological mapping in lateritic covered areas: Integration of geochemical, geological and geophysical data

Mineral exploration using infrared spectroscopy

Remote sensing drill core characterization

Application of hyperspectral remote sensing to mapping mine waste  on Abandoned mines and contaminated land

Current Projects

  • Application of Multivariate statistics and GIS to map groundwater quality and radioactivity in the Beaufort West area, South Africa

  • Multi-temporal satellite images for forest reclamation monitoring in the abandoned mine areas

  • Geochemical Characterisation of platreef lithologies and associated base metal sulphide and platinum group element (PGE) mineralisation, northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex

Dr. Timothy Dube

Ms. Yafah Hoosain

Current research interests are in regolith geochemistry over PGE-BMS mineralization. This research investigates the controls of element dispersion in regolith overlying platinum-group element and base metal sulphide mineralization in the Kalplats, Rooipoort, Amalia and Griqua Town areas. The research involves the use of assorted partial and selective extraction techniques to optimize the surface geochemical signatures of concealed mineralization.

Current Projects

  • Optimization of selective extraction techniques and vapour geochemistry for PGE exploration in the Rooipoort and Kalplats prospects, South Africa. 
  • .

    Dr. Jaco Nell

  • Prof. Janny Day

  • Regolith geochemistry in semi arid / arid terrains, element dispersion plumes and enhancement of surface geochemical response by selective extraction techniques.

    Application of alteration and lithogeochemical vectors in prospecting concealed ore mineralization.

    Current Projects

    • The geochemistry of regolith associated with the PGE mineralisation in the Rooiport prospect, in the Platreef.

    • The framework and geochemistry of regolith overlying the Serpens North PGE mineralisation in the Stella Greenstone belt.

    • The framework and geochemistry of regolith overlying the Sirius PGE mineralisation in the Stella Greenstone belt.

    • The nature of PGE mineralisation in the Waterberg Group, near Nabomspruuit.

    • Controls of element dispersion in regolith over the Au mineralisation at Goudplats, Abelscop & Bothmansrus, Amalia Greenstone Belt.

    • Controls of element dispersion in regolith overlying the Morokweng Impact Structure

  • Prof. Jan van Bever Donker

    Structural Geology and neotectonics as it relates to the control of ground water. This project is currently under way in the arid Namaqualand area where groundwater appears to be controlled by specific fracture directions. Remote sensing techniques are employed to map ythe structures, followed by ground control to establish reliability of remotely sensed data.

    Neotectonics as expressed in the deformation of the recently formed calcarrenites of the Bredasdorp Group in Southern Cape.

    Current Projects

    • The structural evolution and geochemical characterization of metasedimentary gneisses of the Korannaland group along and adjacent to the Neusspruit Shear zone, Northern Cape Province.

    • Structural and geomechanical modelling of the evolution of structures in the Warm Zand area, Kakamas terrane, Northern Cape Province, South Africa

    • A study of the structural geology of an area between the neusspruit shear zone and the brakfontein shear zone​

Dr. Kevin Pietersen​​

Intergrated Water and Resource Management

IWRM has been put forward as an approach to water management that is an improvement on the approaches of the past. However, water management is an activity that finds itself at the crossing of so many boundaries, for example the theory-practice boundary, the ecological-societal boundary and the administrative-hydrological boundary, implementation seems to have been elusive and difficult despite significant investment being made in IWRM by international donor organisations. Many examples of management failure seem to indications are that there is a disjuncture between the theory and practice of IWRM.

Access-sustainability trade-off

At the heart of successful water management is finding a balance between access to water and sustainability of the resource as set out in section 18 of Agenda 21 and agreed on by the international community. In a scenario of increasing anthropogenic demand on water resources and the concomitant increase in water scarcity, these two demands on the resource seem contradictory. The key question in this sub-theme is: What are the system conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to provide access to water whilst simultaneously ensure sustainability of the resource?


Equity, vulnerability and resilience

Achieving the twin objective of providing access and ensuring sustainability does not necessarily translate into improved quality of life for people. Despite success in proving water to people, many communities and households remain vulnerable to the consequences of a lack of water. The key question in this sub-theme is: what are the material conditions needed for access to water to strengthen the resilience of households and address inequities in the quality of life of society?


Resource protection

Ensuring that a sufficient volume of water of good quality is available to provide access and ensure sustainability places an obligation on society to protect water resources. Resource protection is therefore a critical activity in water management. The key question in this sub-theme is: what are the required actions to ensure that water resources are protected from abuse?


Land use

Water use is inextricably linked to land use. This implies that more often than not, to get the water management issues right, the land management issues must be taken care of as well. Natural environments have evolved over millions of years and it is accepted in conservation biology that ecosystems with higher biodiversity is more resilient than ecosystems with lower diversity. In modern times, land use and land use changes is geared towards supporting increasing the quality of livelihoods within the social system. Often, the land use change decreases biodiversity and thus ecosystem resilience. Land use changes also changes catchment characteristics and this has major influence on surface run-off, infiltration and sub-surface flows and thus access and sustainability. The key questions in this sub-theme is: What are the land use practices that compromises the sustainability of water resources in a catchment and at what stage in the life of a catchment does land use practices cause degradation to be irreversible?


Optimal Water use

Using water efficiently contributes to providing access and ensuring sustainability in that more can be done with the same volume of water. Water use efficiency refers either to efficient use or to efficient allocation. Efficient use is about using water sparingly and efficient allocation is about giving water to the user that generates the highest value from a given volume of water. Collectively we speak of optimal water use. The key question in this sub-theme is: In which ways does the concept optimal water use enhances understanding about the impact of different water use practices on providing access and ensuring sustainability?



Governance is a huge issue in water management. Previously, governance was understood to mean: what governments do. However, water governance by governments was perceived to have become inefficient and ineffective and the belief that new ways of governing water needed to be found started. The key question in this sub-theme is: What approaches to water governance will facilitate the provision of access and ensure sustainability?   


  • Environmental Impact Assessment and its role in water resource protection.

  • Social action as a strategy to secure access to water.

  • Land use and the impact on the sustainability of water resources.

  • Development interventions what determine their success or failure?

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