The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) partnered with local and international universities to investigate the existence of the new ocean current, the South-west Madagascar Coastal Current.
"Revealing the existence of the new coastal current is an important discovery for South Africa as it adds to our understanding of the global ocean circulation and brings new insights about biological connectivity between Madagascar and South African marine regions," said CSIR senior researcher Dr Marjolaine Krug.
The discovery forms part of Heriniaina Juliano Dani Ramanantsoa's PhD, Variability of coastal upwelling south of Madagascar, which Krug supervised.
South African school children have long learnt about the cold Benguela and warm Mozambique current that flows around the country's coast and have an influence on climate.
Fishing industry impact
Researchers combined multiple observation methods including data from ships and satellites to find the South-west Madagascar Coastal Current which has a poleward flow, off the south-west coast of Madagascar.
The new current has a direct impact on the fishing industry.
"Countries have to manage their coastal and marine resources in a way that will ensure the safeguarding of ecosystems. Sustainability is closely linked to how well we manage our marine resources. The more we understand and know, the better we can manage our marine resources," said Ramanantsoa of the Nansen-Tutu Centre for Marine Environmental Research, hosted at the department of oceanography at the University of Cape Town.
The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters, says that the current is less than 300m deep and less than 100km wide.
Similar to the Agulhas Current, the South-west Madagascar Coastal Current is also warm and is located from about latitude 22°S to 26.4°S.
Ocean currents are critical to the climate on land, says the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA).
NOOA says the Earth's ocean currents play the role of a conveyor in transporting warm water and rain from equator to the poles and cold water from the poles to the tropics.
This plays a critical part in weather and rainfall patterns on land.
CSIR researchers are currently working on an integrated 3D marine and coastal monitoring and prediction system that will deliver high-resolution, accurate ocean modelling capabilities.
Beyond the scientific breakthrough - for Ramanantsoa - the research is personal.
"As a Malagasy who grew up along this coastline, I have an intimate relationship with the current. I grew up with this current; it was such a big part of my life. Publishing the research was a truly emotional moment in my life."Follow @Duncan025