Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Network of Research Buoys in Indian Ocean to Improve Monsoon Prediction

Indian Ocean Buoy.(Credit: NOAA)

A new array of moored buoys in the Indian Ocean will provide critical climate and ocean data to help scientists predict the dramatic variations between seasonal monsoon rains and droughts.

"The data from these buoys will provide us with much-needed information to advance our understanding of the oceanic and atmospheric processes that govern the monsoons," said Michael McPhaden, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "We want to improve computer models for seasonal forecasting to benefit farming communities and other weather-sensitive sectors of society."

McPhaden and nine co-authors from Australia, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States describe the Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA) in the April 2009 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The paper's co-authors represent a range of monsoon-affected nations that support the array and participate in monsoon research.

The array was established to collect important oceanographic and meteorological data from the Indian Ocean, which is "the most poorly observed and least well understood of the three tropical oceans," write the authors.

Instruments on the moored buoys measure winds, air temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, water temperature, salinity, and ocean currents. These data characterize the movement of mass and energy throughout the Indian Ocean basin and are essential for developing better monsoon computer forecast models.

Monsoon rains in Africa, southern Asia, and Australia are critical for growing the food that supports a third of the world's population. However, these seasonal rains are irregular, sometimes leaving an area parched by drought in one year and inundated by floods in the next year. The ability for scientists to accurately predict monsoon conditions even one season into the future would greatly improve farmers' chances for successful harvests.

"Data from RAMA helps farmers make informed decisions on a range of practices such as cropping programs, fertilizer and spray applications, and the number of animals to keep on their property," according to the authors. "This helps them better cope with climate-related risks and capitalize on the opportunities."

In addition to improving prediction of the monsoons, "conditions in the Indian Ocean have a long-range effect on North American weather and climate, so RAMA will pay dividends in our own back yard as well," said McPhaden.

By the end of 2008, instruments had been deployed at 22 of the RAMA mooring sites. Contributing organizations intend to complete the full array of 46 moorings by 2012.

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