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Academic Staff

Professor Barend Erasmus: Exxaro Chair in Global Change and Sustainability; and GCI Director

Professor Barend ErasmusProfessor Barend Erasmus is one of South Africa’s leading experts in the field of climate change impacts, spatial ecology and land cover change. His doctoral degree was the first assessment of climate change impacts on biodiversity in South Africa, and the core paper from the study continues to be cited in international literature. Barend has more than 80 primary publication outputs, with over 3 500 citations. He is the Exxaro Chair in Global Change and Sustainability, and Director of the Global Change Institute (GCI). As the Director of GCI, he is tasked with not only aligning the Institute to reach its core objectives, but to also engage with various key role-players such as government, industry, researchers and business to collaboratively work together to tackle global change challenges. He has forged collaborative partnerships with recognised centres of expertise including the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR), SANParks, the Rochester Institute of Technology (USA) and the University of Bonn (Germany). As the Exxaro Chair in Global Change and Sustainability, Barend’s own research focuses on long-term patterns of landscape change, and how to ensure that ongoing- and future changes take us closer to sustainability. Passionate about research and imparting knowledge, Barend has supervised over 50 Honours, MSc and PhD students. 

Distinguished Professor Coleen Vogel

Professor Coleen Vogel is a climatologist by training and has undertaken research in climate change, climate vulnerability and adaptation, with a particular focus on disaster risk reduction and climate variability. She was one of the key contributors to the writing of the Green and White Papers on South African Disaster Management and was a major contributing author for the Disaster Management Act. 

She was one of the Chapter Lead Authors of the Africa Chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC 4th Assessment Report and was also an author of the Synthesis Report for Policy Makers of the 4th IPCC Assessment Report. This large team of various scientists, together with Al Gore, received a Nobel Peace Prize. Coleen was a Chapter Author on Human Security for the 5th IPCC assessment report. Coleen has also been involved in various international global environmental change activities. She has been Chair and Vice Chair of international committees (for example, the International Human Dimensions Programme, now known together with other international programmes as Future Earth). She has received an international award, the Burtoni Award, for her work on climate change advocacy and science of climate change adaptation. Her current research interests include transformative education for global environment change and sustainability, climate change in its broader context and adaptation and disaster risk reduction focusing particularly on the interactions between physical and social dimensions shaping change. She is very keen to build links and collaborations with others, particularly in sustainability and transdisciplinarity science.
Coleen is currently project lead on the City of Johannesburg Adaptation and climate change. Passionate about youth development she is very involved in mentoring students (both undergraduate and post graduate) helping to advance both theory and praxis in various practical research projects with value-add impacts. In addition to being an adaptation specialist, Coleen is also undertaking research into transdisciplinary research approaches in various African contexts.

Distinguished Professor Bob Scholes

Professor Bob ScholesProfessor Bob Scholes is an internationally renowned systems ecologist with over 30 years of experience. He is among the top 1% of environmental scientists worldwide based on citation frequency, publishing widely in the fields of savanna ecology, global change, and earth observation. Bob has led several high profile studies (for example, Assessments of Elephant Management and of Shale Gas Development,) and research campaigns (such as SAFARI 2000, Southern African Millennium Assessment). He has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the 3rd, 4th and 5th assessments and was co-chair of the Conditions Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and is currently co-Chair of the Global Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration. He has been a member of the following steering committees: Global Climate Observing System; Global Terrestrial Observing System (Chair), Group on Earth Observation (GEO) Implementation Planning Task Team, GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (Chair). Additionally, he served on the boards of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, the South African National Parks and South African National Space Agency. He is a Fellow of the CSIR, Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, Member of the South African Academy and a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences. Bob holds an NRF A rating.
Bob is currently working on a collaborative international research project on projections of food security in the 21st century, and on new methods of detecting land degradation. Looking ahead, Bob anticipates working on codifying and evaluating the experience of running scientific assessments; looking into adaptive strategies with respect to climate change vulnerabilities, especially in relation to biodiversity, agriculture and ecosystems; and helping to establish the South African Research Infrastructure for ecology, called EFTEON.

Support Staff

Barbie Pickering: Financial Administrator

Barbie has been at Wits University since October 2007, where she occupied various positions within the Faculty of Science. She now works as a part-time Financial Administrator at GCI. Barbie is responsible for all travel and financial admistrative duties including the processing of invoices and so forth.  


Heidi Robertson: Office Manager

Heidi is responsible for the efficient management of GCI from an administrative perspective. Other responsibilities are to manage the Director’s diary in addition to providing administrative support to all other GCI staff and postdoctoral researchers. She has over 10 years working in university administration.


Jessika Samuels: Operations Manager

Jessika is responsible for managing the flagship projects of the Institute and all operational aspects relating to the institute, postgraduate students and project partners. Her past work experience includes Project Management of network based initiatives at the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) and undergraduate lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. She also holds and MSc degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. While Jessika is not actively pursuing a research career, she remains passionate about scientific research. Her interest areas include the promotion of higher education science degrees in Africa, working on multidisciplinary projects, building collaborative networks, and policy that enables growth in Science and Technology sectors.



Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr Catherine Van Den Hoof

Catherine is currently involved in the “DEVIL” (Delivering Food Security on Limited Land) Belmont forum project focussing on studying the “Influence of climate and its variability on the farming practices in two small-holders communities in the north of South Africa". This case study focusses on two municipalities in the north of the Limpopo Province, South Africa that differ strongly from each other in rainfall. The purpose is to evaluate how the communities, who share a cultural background, have evolved to adapt to their respective environmental conditions, in particular in the context of farming practices and food security. 

She is also working on the “Land degradation determination through state parameter shift" NRF project,  studying the “Processes affecting the relationship between annual grassland productivity and precipitation rate in semi-arid regions” based on the high resolution MISR-HR satellite data over more than 50 grassland sites within South Africa. 

Dr David Olivier

David received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Stellenbosch in 2014 on the social and physical benefits of urban agriculture projects run by non-governmental organisations in Cape Town. He subsequently worked as project manager to the Southern Africa Food Lab on social protection for sustainable agriculture before undertaking post-doctoral research. His current research area focuses on water usage. 

Dr Ferdinand Postma

Ferdinand received his PhD in Microbiology from Stellenbosch University where he investigated the microbial ecology and functioning of a rhizofiltration system treating urban effluent. During his postgraduate studies he also collaborated on research projects which studied the ecophysiology of various fungal species in marine and freshwater environments. Ferdinand aims to use his experience in bioinformatics, molecular biology and ecophysiology to investigate the function of microbial communities in acid mine drainage treatment processes.

Dr Naveen Shahi

Naveen Shahi received his PhD degree in Physics specialising in Satellite Meteorology from Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, India in 2012. He carried out his PhD research work as Junior Research Fellow at the Space Applications Centre, ISRO, India.

His research interest focuses on the remote sensing of the environment using algorithm development, radiative transfer modeling and satellite radiometric measurements. He is currently utilising Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer High Resolution [MISR-HR] tools to monitor woodland cover change and albedo change in an attempt to understand radiative forcing balance over South Africa under the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) project. 

Visiting Scientists

Dr  Emma Archer van Garderen

Dr Emma Archer van Garderen is a Chief Researcher in the CSIR's Natural Resources and the Environment division. A geographer by training, her research specialties fall within drylands, and she has worked on science and policy throughout Africa. She is currently co-Chair for the Africa Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. She is a Visiting Scientist at the University of Witwatersrand's Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, and is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town's Climate Systems Analysis Group. She supervises postgraduate students at both institutions.


Prof Michel M. Verstraete

Michel M. Verstraete received his 'License en Physique' (1974) from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, his 'License Spéciale en Géophysique' (1976) from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, and both his M.Sc. in Meteorology (1978) and D.Sc. in Atmospheric Sciences (1985) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. He worked for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and Nairobi, Kenya from 1979-1981 and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, USA from 1982-1989. He taught at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1989-1990, and worked at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy from August 1990 to August 2013. He then took on the position of Chief Scientist in the Earth Observation Directorate of the South African National Space Agency in Pretoria, South Africa, from October 2013 to March 2016. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, since September 2014. Michel is a member of MISR science team since 1995 and has contributed to various other space missions (e.g., MODIS, MERIS, Vegetation, Meteosat, GLI). He contributed for many years to the Terrestrial and Atmospheric Panels for Climate, and is currently a member of the Global Climate Observing System's Steering Committee. His initial work on topics such as the modeling of atmosphere-biosphere interactions and desertification led him to his current interest in the exploitation of satellite remote sensing data for the quantitative characterization of terrestrial surface properties. In his current position, he is promoting the exploitation of space-based assets to support the sustainable development in Southern Africa, and engaged in scientific lecturing and capacity building in that region.