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His pulse beats with climate

As the world discusses global warming, climatologists here work barefoot to keep dust away, writes Reshma Patil.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2007, 02:58 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil

While the world discusses rising global temperatures, climatologists in Mumbai work barefoot to keep dust away. Data generated by the powerful computers in this sterile, air-conditioned climate-change laboratory in Pune is borrowed by Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan.

Later this year, a supercomputer will be set up in Mumbai to dramatically boost the job of predicting rising sea levels, temperatures, droughts or heat waves. Its 1,000 processors will buzz day and night, generating data from climate models with codes running into lakhs of lines.

Since this laboratory started tracking the global warmth in a section of the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) four years ago, its data has exceeded thousands of gigabytes of computer memory. And it's only growing.

"Our research will grow into hundreds of terabytes of disk space," said K Krishna Kumar, head of the climate dynamics and change group at the IITM. A terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes.

"Climate modelling models everything in nature with mathematical formulation, including all interactions between land, ocean and atmosphere at every location on the globe," said Kumar. He was one of the reviewers on the United Nations panel that released its latest climate change findings in Paris this month.

In January, IITM Director BN Goswami and Kumar were among five teams selected from 103 competitors for a $1 million grant for Indo-UK research. "We'll collaborate with the University of Reading to start scientist exchange programmes, fund two Indian PhD fellowships in UK, and scale-up research collaborations," said Kumar.

His team released climate change predictions last year — after using two years of computing time — to warn that India will warm by 3-4 degree celsius by mid-century. They are working on new results to be released by next year.

"Our plan is to generate an ensemble of climate change scenarios in future, not just one or two," said Kumar.

A monsoon and El Nino expert, Kumar's research has been reported in international journals like Science during 24 years at the IITM. This laboratory was started with funding and collaboration with climatologists at the Hadley Centre, UK. "Our group had a history of studying the chaotic monsoon and its trends from records over a century old," said Kumar.

But increasingly, the research outlook is to the future. Today, when researchers in India want to know if sea levels are rising in Kolkata or Mumbai, they just dial this Pune centre.

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