Scientists from India, Britain to use underwater robots to predict monsoon

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 14, 2016 12:35 IST
Monsoon arrived in Kerala earlier this month. (Vivek R Nair/HT photo)

Underwater robotic buoys in the Bay of Bengal. A rain-chasing aircraft. A research ship due to set sail on June 24 for the seas off Chennai.

When India's moody monsoon gets active, so do teams of international weather scientists, drawn to one of the world’s most enigmatic weather patterns. 

A £8-million British project, aimed at more accurate prediction of the monsoon, is the latest one about to take off. But it’s not the only one. 

Thanks to climate-change research, the Indian monsoon is increasingly the focal point of international studies. The rain-bearing system has many connections going back and forth with global weather. 

If the rains are poor in India, mostly due to a cyclical climate pattern known as El Nino, it usually means the opposite in Latin America. A cooler Pacific means normal monsoon. Conversely, warmer oceans mean patchy rains. 

The summer rains are vital not just for India, but to at least six south Asian economies for whom it is the main wet spell. 

Read: Monsoon nears but Delhi is not equipped to tap rainwater again

Made up of the University of East Anglia, the University of Reading and the National Oceanography Centre in UK’s Southampton, the UK team will set sail on June 24 from Chennai into the deep Bay of Bengal on the Sindhu Sadhana, a research ship. 

“Nobody has ever made observations on this scale during the monsoon season itself. So this is a truly ground-breaking project,” Prof Adrian Matthews, the lead researcher, told HT in an email. 

In April, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said it had developed a new model to forecast the monsoon's start and withdrawal two weeks earlier. The institute said it would share its findings to the India Meteorological Department, the national weather bureau.

Read: Why even a good monsoon may not bring food prices down

The Postdam study said for the monsoon’s onset, the focus mostly tends to be on the southern tip of Kerala. Temperatures and humidity in north Pakistan and the Eastern Ghats, a mountain range close to the Indian Ocean, were equally vital in predicting the rains’ onset, it claimed.

India’s IMD is already on a project to switch to a more robust prediction model. “Help from anybody is welcome. The utility of any model will be clear only when it is tested in real-time forecast,” said DS Pai, IMD’s lead monsoon forecaster.

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