23 October 2013 Volume :1 Issue :8

Student Wins Best Presentation Prize at Groundwater Conference

Student Wins Best Presentation Prize at Groundwater Conference
MSc student Jannie Weitz who received the Best Oral Student Presentation at a recent conference in Durban on groundwater.

UKZN MSc student Jannie Weitz received the Best Oral Student Presentation Award at the recent 13th Biennial Groundwater Division Conference and Exhibition (GWD) in Durban.  

The biennial GWD Conference brings together students, academics, specialists and decision-makers to discuss and showcase groundwater related issues. This year’s extended theme was “Groundwater: A New Paradigm”.  ‘I was excited to attend the conference as it was attended by the top professionals in the field of geohydrology,’ said Weitz. 

His win for best presentation took him by surprise. ‘I was absolutely stunned when I found out I had won, but felt extremely honoured knowing that my research is of such a high calibre. I hope that the win will put me on the radar of certain institutions as this will prove invaluable once I’ve completed my studies,’ he said.  

The research that Weitz presented forms part of his MSc studies focused on the conceptual and numerical modelling of the Lake Sibaya catchment in northern KwaZulu-Natal. 

‘Lake Sibaya, a topographically closed freshwater lake, and the coastal aquifers surrounding the lake, are important water resources which are used extensively for domestic water supplies in the area. A recent increase in the rate of water abstraction from the lake, combined with decreasing precipitation and rapidly increasing pine plantations, appear to be responsible for the dramatic lake level reduction experienced over the last decade,’ said Weitz. 

This reduction poses a threat to the neighbouring ecosystem with the potential for seawater invasion of the coastal aquifer.  Under the supervision of Dr Molla Demlie, Weitz’s study aims to construct a conceptual model of the lake which would later be used for a three-dimensional model of the catchment area. 

The primary goal of the research is the protection of the invaluable natural resource that is Lake Sibaya – upon which the environment and local community depend heavily. It is hoped that the research will highlight the threats to Lake Sibaya so that mitigating measures can be put in place to prevent permanent destruction of the water source.  

Both Weitz and Demlie made the point that while there appears to be a delicate balance between the lake and groundwater flow in the Lake Sibaya area at present, any further development surrounding the lake is likely to cause damage to the surrounding ecosystem. 

Weitz, a survivor of childhood cancer, explains his recipe for balancing his passion for research with his other interests: ‘Through my experience with cancer I realised that each day should be savoured. My positive outlook on life was recognised when I was awarded the National Best Smile Award during my first year of study. When I’m not behind the computer, I’m riding my bike, swimming or entering the next triathlon. I am also involved in a Reach for a Dream initiative where I raise funds for children with life-threatening illnesses through various outdoor activities.’  

-           Barrington Marais


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