Did you know?

The University Research Office is based at the Govan Mbeki building on Westville campus

The University of KwaZulu-Natal currently has more than 250 post-doctoral fellows

Funds requests must be directed through the Colleges at the office of the College Dean of Research

You can upload your own publications on IRMA and ResearchSpace

ResearchSpace is the institutional repository of UKZN. It is a collection of full text theses and also includes research publications produced by UKZN academics.
Water, Environment and Biodiversity

UKZN has wide and varied expertise and experience in water-related teaching, research and outreach activities throughout South Africa and in many parts of Africa and beyond. The research focus area draws in a range of academics and students from all the University’s Colleges and most of its Faculties.

UKZN’s strength in the field of water is evident in its nationally and internationally recognised researchers with active research programmes and postgraduate students in water-related fields, and several ongoing research projects supported by local and international funders. These projects and the contribution of the University’s graduates have resulted in UKZN being recognised as one of the leading institutions in water-related research and training in South Africa and internationally.

Research is centered on improving our understanding of the functioning of the hydrological cycle, its sensitivity to human influences and the development of tools through which this knowledge can be applied for effective water resources management and planning.

Within this context, hydrology research is conducted within the following areas:

  • Agricultural water use and innovation in irrigation practices.
  • Water related aspects of land use change.
  • Hydrology process studies.
  • Hydrological aspects of climate change and forecasting. 
  •  Hydrological model and database design and development.

Development of tools and practices to assist in the implementation of South Africa’s National Water Act and the management of the country’s water resources is an outcome of these studies, but the Research Group is also active in regional, continental and global initiatives. One of the more notable outputs from this group is the Agricultural Catchments Research Unit’s Agro-hydrological Modelling System, a software system that is being used as a research and management tool for water resources planning and operations in South Africa and provides a foundation for several ongoing research projects.

Projects completed recently include a revised agrohydrological atlas for South Africa, and tools to estimate the water use of commercial afforestation in South Africa, both of which are now used by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in water licensing and regulation.

Waste, Water and Sanitation Management
As a result of a Memorandum of Agreement signed between the eThekwini Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Department and UKZN, the University’s Pollution Research Group (PRG) has expanded its activities into municipal water and wastewater management. These activities form the focus of a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, biologists, political scientists and community medical professionals, and have included participation in two European Union research projects related to membrane bioreactors and the identification and dissemination of best practice of water and sanitation supply to unserved communities.

Sanitation projects are being undertaken on pit latrines and urine diversion toilets. Collaborative research on the anaerobic baffled reactor process includes internationally recognised projects being undertaken by the non-governmental organisation Borda, which is working in South-East Asia and Africa.

Research for the Water Research Commission and SASOL is ongoing. The Pollution Research Group recently received a R 2.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund its toilet technology and sanitation research, the aim of which is to design a toilet system that will lead to the safe disposal of waste water in poor communities. UKZN was one of eight institutions – and the only one in Africa – chosen out of 22 to take part in the “Reinvent the Toilet” challenge.

Micrometeorology and Agrometeorology
Investigations are conducted into the energy and water balances between the soil, plants and atmosphere through the Soil-Plant- Atmosphere Continuum Research Unit (SACRU) which specialises in micrometeorotogy and agrometeorology. This internationally-recognised Research Unit has a major research thrust in the investigation of energy and water balances and emphasises the use of and development of methods for the measurement of evaporation, sensible heat and, more recently, carbon dioxide fluxes above land surfaces. Most of this research is funded by the Water Research Commission.

Hydrological Engineering
The way in which engineering interacts with the natural environment and can be used to promote sustainable practices is consolidated in research conducted by the Centre for Research in Environmental, Coastal, and Hydrological Engineering (CRECHE). Projects include the management of landfill emissions, the dispersion of pollutants in the atmosphere and coastal waters, spatial rainfall modelling and estuary bio-hydrodynamics. The Centre also conducts leading national research into radar-rainfall relationships and flood forecasting through its Satellite Applications and Hydrology Group (SAHG).

Biological limnology research, with particular focus on man-made lakes and integrated catchment management, is concentrated in the School of Biological and Conservation Studies. Members of the Grassland Science Group collaborate with communities in the Upper-Thukela on a pilot “Payment for Environmental Services” project funded by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. Here, indicators for the payment of water services are developed and tested.

Applied research into and management of water resources, decision support tools for estuaries, fresh water management and water conservation is conducted by the Institute of Natural Resources, an associate institute of UKZN.

In addition to these larger water research groups there are several other initiatives, notably working on wetlands, soil erosion, community interactions and sanitation, estuary-related research, and water and public health.

Thanks to a major investment by the Water Research Commission, research grants in the field of water total about R20 million a year from international funders, including the Ford Foundation, the European Union and Dutch and Swedish Development Agencies.

The Smallholder System Innovations (SSI) Research Project
This flagship research project cuts across and involves all UKZN groups. An applied and development-oriented research programme, it aims at advancing knowledge on how to balance water for food and the environment with a particular focus on upgrading smallholder rain-fed agriculture in water-stressed catchments. The multi-disciplinary research programme encompasses biophysical and social research themes, Grassland Science and the University’s Farmers’ Support Group, with the researchers working closely with other stakeholders, including local communities at two pilot catchments (Potshini and Makanya) in two river basins (Thukela and Pangani) in South Africa and Tanzania respectively.

The project is being implemented jointly by five research institutions: Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania); Stockholm University (Sweden); the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (Netherlands); the University of KwaZulu-Natal; and the International Water Management Institute. Funded by the Dutch and Swedish governments, the programme – notwithstanding its development orientation – is based on innovative and cutting-edge disciplinary science and has supported two UKZN PhD students and four MSc students as part of a group of more than 20 postgraduates across the partner institutions.

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