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A tribute to Dr Chris Hartnady

Dr Christopher John Hubert Hartnady has also sadly and unexpectedly passed away from COVID-19 complications on Friday 23rd July at the age of 76. Chris was technical director of Muizenberg-based earth science, groundwater and integrated water resource management research consultancy Umvoto Africa from when he joined the company in 1999 until 2016, following which he fulfilled the role of non-executive director until his passing. During his time at Umvoto Africa Chris played an integral role with Rowena Hay in the understanding and development of the deep fractured aquifer systems of the Table Mountain Group, where he pioneered the use of remote sensing, geothermal, space-geodetic and hydroseismic studies of these unique fractured aquifers. He became a respected legend known as the “the Professor” with farmers in the Citrusdal and Klein Karoo regions, due to his finding groundwater in the TMG at depths and areas where it was thought not possible.

Prior to joining Umvoto Africa, Chris had a storied career as an academic in the earth and geological sciences at the University of Cape Town. Chris achieved his BSc (1965), BSc Honours (1966), MSc (1969) and PhD (1978) degrees in geology from UCT. His MSc work on the structural geology of the Malmesbury Group in the Western Cape, and PhD work on the structural geology of the Naukluft Nappe Complex in the Damara Orogenic Belt of Namibia, is still referenced today. Chris then went on to be a junior lecturer at the UCT geology department from 1972-1974, research (1974-1980) and senior research (1980-1986) officer at the Precambrian Research Unit (based at UCT), and finally an associate professor in structural geology at the UCT geology department from 1987 until his early retirement in 2000. During his academic and consulting career Chris published over 50 peer reviewed papers, book chapters and monographs, over 100 conference abstracts and presentations, and hundreds of technical consulting reports. Chris was internationally renowned in the fields of geotectonics and geodynamics, and made fundamental contributions to understanding the past and ongoing motions of the African plates (including discovering a major new “Lwandle” plate in the global tectonic system). Chris also played a major role in studying and better understanding geohazard risk and promoting disaster risk reduction on the African continent, and was a strong advocate for appreciating the seismic risk in Cape Town and the Western Cape (there are very few, if any, people with as exhaustive knowledge about the history of earthquakes in Cape Town as he had).

Chris was the epitome of a geologist, in the best way possible. He was active in the field even into his 70s, and would stay up until the early hours of the morning or wake up at the crack of dawn to watch volcanoes such as Mount Etna (his other love after Rowena and his children) on live stream or review the impacts of major earthquakes, perusing any data he could find. He was meticulous in the analysis of the most fine-scale geological and hydrogeological data, and would identify trends and features invisible to even the best geologists. Despite his intense focus and sometimes stubborn nature (“it’s the Catholic Irishman in me” he would always say with a giggle), he was never selfish with his knowledge and would joyfully spend hours discussing whatever topic was at hand with students, colleagues and friends. This is shown in the over 40 Honours, MSc and PhD students he supervised, many of whom have become major leaders in their respective geological fields and industries.

Chris was a loving partner of Rowena (who also sadly passed away from COVID-19 recently), father to Mike and Ruth, much loved brother, and mentor to numerous Umvoto Africa staff and UCT (and other university) students. He was positively stoic and hugely caring, and only ever wanted people to reach the potential that he could see in them. Along with his incomparable mind and knowledge, his stories (such as how the Hartnady family found their way to South Africa) after few glasses of good red wine will be greatly missed. One of his retirement goals was to walk the Appalachian Trail, and we hope he and Rowena are out there hand in hand walking it together right now. Umvoto Africa and The Umvoto Foundation sends their deepest condolences to the Hartnady and Hay families, and all of Chris’ friends and colleagues.

Any condolences can be sent through to Umvoto Africa at amanzi@umvoto.com, as the family has asked for privacy at the moment.


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muizenberg, Cape town