- A Parliamentary Committee report suggests that the Ministry of Earth Sciences must prioritise the study of monsoon and finds its present budget allocation for this purpose, low.
- The Parliamentary Committee also recommends the allocation of adequate additional funds towards setting up observational facilities to improve the predictability of monsoon at the national level on a mission mode, including studying the link between the monsoon and the ocean through deep-ocean research.
- More observational facilities will also help boost data gathering and improve modeling for forecast in the Himalayan region, a scientist said.
- Climate scientists also say tropical oceans such as the Indian Ocean have a strong influence on the monsoon and regional co-operation needs to be strengthened to bolster observations and address data gaps.
The Committee in its report submitted to the Rajya Sabha earlier this month (March, 2020) underlined the importance of the monsoon for India and its people and stated that a 30 percent allocation of the Ministry’s budget for monsoon research is a low figure.
“The Ministry has taken the Committee’s suggestions into consideration and is considering increasing its budgetary allocation to study the monsoon,” MoES secretary Madhavan Rajeevan told Mongabay-India in response to a query on the report.
The report states that the “committee and the chairperson enquired about the amount of expenditure allocated to the overall study and prediction of the monsoon and its changing patterns. The secretary (of MoES) informed the committee that approximately 30 percent of the budget is allocated to study the monsoon.”
The committee also suggests that the MoES must “prioritise” monsoon research, emphasising on “significant investments to expand the network of radars, high-performance computing systems, etc. for predicting rainfall, cloudbursts, and natural disasters.”
An improved forecast is essential because the Indian summer monsoon supplies the majority of water for agriculture and industry in South Asia and is therefore critical to the well-being of a billion people. Active and break periods in the monsoon have a major influence on the success of farming, while year-to-year variations in the rainfall have economic consequences on an international scale. With the growing population and developing economy of India, understanding and predicting the monsoon is vital, researchers said.
MoES plays a leadership role in the South Asian region by providing more accurate weather/climate forecasts to its neighboring countries. Running computer models on high-performance computing (HPC) facilities is essential for such forecast and prediction services.
HPC constitutes one of the major basic infrastructural requirements to run these various forecast models, according to the MoES. The ministry’s current HPC system has a capacity of 10 PetaFlops (unit of computing speed). The Ministry, the report notes, plans to augment the current HPC from 10 PFlops to 40 PFlops by 2022 and to 100 PFlops by 2024.
Scientist Sarita Azad of Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, who specialises in monitoring and prediction of extreme events like flash floods over the Himalayan region said more observational facilities and supercomputing capacity would bolster modeling and forecast for the region where there is a gap in terms of data.
“For the Himalayan region where there is a gap in terms of data, setting up more observational facilities would enable better modeling and forecasting because weather parameters and topography changes from location to location. We need more automatic weather stations and streamflow monitoring stations across the Himalayan landscape,” Azad told Mongabay-India.
Having adequate data would also be helpful to calibrate weather forecast models for results that are specific to the Himalayan range.
“Once you have data you can calibrate forecasting models to provide Himalayan range specific outputs. The models that we have are not apt for the Himalayan range because of the variability in weather and topography. Weather in plains and mountains is very different so you need high-resolution models. And for running high-resolution models we need high-performance computing,” Azad added.
Apart from discussing the importance of boosting HPC systems for forecast and prediction, the committee recommends that the Ministry must be allocated adequate additional funds towards setting up of observational facilities to improve the predictability of monsoon at the national level on a mission mode, including studying the link between the monsoon and the ocean through deep-ocean research.
Regional cooperation to study Indian ocean and impact on monsoon
According to the MoES, five states (Bihar, Meghalaya, Nagaland, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh) have shown statistically significant decreasing trends in southwest monsoon rainfall. “All these five states along with two more states (Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh) have also shown statistically significant decreasing trends in annual rainfall,” the report said, adding that in the district rainfall, significant changes have been noticed for most of the states.
Climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll who is currently leading research on climate change and its impact on the rapid warming in the Indian Ocean, the monsoon and the marine ecosystem, agrees that the ocean has strong control over how the monsoon varies every year.
“You can say the entire tropical oceans have a major influence. India has a stake in observations in the Indian Ocean. Phenomena like the Indian Ocean Dipole or changes in the Indian Ocean has a strong impact on how the monsoon of each year varies. And we also have seen that the extremes in the monsoon (droughts and heavy rainfall events) are strongly influenced by conditions in the ocean, especially the ocean temperatures,” Koll, a scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told Mongabay-India.
“At IITM we have also explored how the ocean conditions affect the heat waves,” said Koll.
Because the weather and climate conditions over India are strongly dictated by ocean conditions, Koll said, this calls for a good network of observations over the oceans backed by strong science diplomacy for regional cooperation.
“Right now there are a lot of gaps in the Indian Ocean data for several reasons. One reason, for example, the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) which is functional in the Indian Ocean doesn’t always have access to exclusive economic zones (EEZ) because they are under the purview of different countries so we need regional cooperation for that,” added Koll.
Additionally, in some regions, observational facilities that were disrupted due to security issues will have to be reinstated.
“We did not deploy instruments for a long time (for more than a decade) in the Somali region because of piracy-related issues. And now the piracy incidences have gone down there. So we have recommended installing instruments over those regions. The Somali region is quite important because of the low-level monsoon winds which carry the moisture—also known as the Somali jet—are the strongest over this region,” said Koll.
The Somali jet also drives the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters in the Arabian Sea, which caters to the microscopic plants in the ocean called marine phytoplankton. Marine phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain and are also facilitate the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Hence if the Somali jet is stronger, we will get more monsoon rains over the land, and the marine ecosystem and fisheries will thrive abundantly in the ocean. It is hence important that we have a strong observation network that can observe the changes in the monsoon and marine ecosystem over the Indian Ocean,” explained Koll.
“So without regional cooperation, we cannot have observations over all these regions,” added Koll.
Banner: The southwest monsoon as it hits the Kerala coast. Photo by Raji Warrier.