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£8 million monsoon project launches in India

A project involving scientists from the UK and India to predict monsoon rainfall by studying ocean processes in the Bay of Bengal launches today.

The research cruise to the Bay of Bengal, to monitor how ocean conditions influence monsoon rainfall, will be led by Prof. P N Vinayachandran from the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), with scientists from the Indian National Centre for Climate Information Services (ESSO-INCOIS), and the National Institute of Ocean Technology (ESSO-NIOT). 

Scientists from the University of East Anglia and the National Oceanography Centre Southampton will release underwater robots to take further measurements of the ocean conditions and how these vary across the Bay.  The expedition will be carried out on board ORV Sindhu Sadhana, the research vessel managed by CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, India. Scientists from the University of Reading, the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) and IISc will use computer simulations of the ocean and atmosphere to investigate how to improve forecasts of the Monsoon.

It is hoped that the combined results of this large-scale scientific campaign will help forecast the arrival of the Indian monsoon more accurately than ever before.

As well as improving rainfall prediction, the research could revolutionise farming, improve the livelihoods of millions of people, and help mitigate the damage caused by monsoons when they hit land.

Summer monsoons provide 80 per cent of annual rainfall to around a billion people in India.

Forecasting the precise timing and location of the rains is vital to the region's economy, and for managing its increasingly pressured water resources.

Accurate predictions of intense downpours and breaks in the monsoon are essential to help farmers plan their crop planting and communities prepare for floods and droughts.

Last year, the monsoon spread rapidly over northern India, causing devastating damage, whereas prolonged breaks in 2009 led to a severe shortage of rainfall and poor harvests.

The principal UK investigator Prof Adrian Matthews, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “The Indian monsoon is notoriously hard to predict. It is a very complicated weather system and the processes are not understood or recorded in science.

We will be combining oceanic and atmospheric measurements to monitor weather systems as they are generated. Nobody has ever made observations on this scale during the monsoon season itself so this is a truly ground-breaking project.

We are aiming for a better understanding of the actual physical processes. What we have now are imperfect models for predicting monsoon rainfall when it hits land, so this will create better forecasts.

Ultimately, the goal is to improve the prediction of monsoon rainfall over India. This will be enormously beneficial for farmers in India, who need to know when and how much rain will fall. This would then enable them to change the timing of how they plant their crops.

We hope that it will also help to mitigate international disasters caused by extreme rainfall and flooding.

We also hope to better understand how the southern Asian monsoon affects the whole world’s climate,” he added.

The UEA team will arrive in India on June 15 and are due to set sail on June 24 from Chennai into the Bay of Bengal on the Indian research ship the Sindhu Sadhana.

Dr M Rajeevan, secretary for the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences, will visit the ship and meet the research team on the afternoon of its departure.

Once out in the ocean, the international team will take ocean measurements aboard the Indian ship ORV Sindhu Sadhana and  release seven underwater gliders to measure ocean properties such as temperature, salinity and current.

The team will spend a month at sea taking data from a 250-mile stretch of water. 

The project is funded by the the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the Newton Fund.

 

WATCH: UEA's gliders in action

Top image: Raharshi Mitra, Flickr

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