- British and Indian scientists working on $11 million project
- Goal is better rainfall prediction to help farmers in India
Underwater robots may help scientists unlock the secrets of the Indian monsoon, whose onset and intensity are key for food supplies and economic growth in the nation of 1.3 billion people.
Researchers will sail into the Bay of Bengal to release the robots and measure variables such as ocean temperature, salinity and currents, according to the U.K.’s University of East Anglia, which is leading the project. Other scientists will take readings from aircraft. The goal is to monitor weather systems as they are created to improve models of the June-September rains.
The 8-million-pound ($11-million) project is unprecedented in scale for observation of an ongoing monsoon and the insight gleaned could eventually help farmers time planting better, University of East Anglia Meteorology Professor Adrian Matthews said in a statement. The rainy season is complex and little understood, he added.
Hundreds of millions of people in India suffered from one of the nation’s worst droughts since independence this year, following two poor annual rainy seasons and the onset of intense summer heat. Robust downpours in 2016 are expected to bring some relief. Better forecasting would boost the nation’s capacity to prepare for such weather changes.
"The whole country’s lifeline depends on the monsoon," said K. Prasad, a climate scientist at Weather Risk Management Services Pvt. in New Delhi. “The existing models for prediction require data, and the more data they have, the better it is.”
The monsoon accounts for more than 70 percent of India’s annual downpours. The rains help to determine the path of food inflation, the spending power of farmers and the mood of investors. Some critics say the main forecaster, the government-run India Meteorological Department, doesn’t have a good enough track record on monsoon prediction.
One problem is that experts aren’t working together closely enough, said Jatin Singh, the chief executive officer of private forecaster Skymet Weather Services Pvt.
"The biggest deficiency is that it isn’t a collaborative approach," Singh said. "Data has to be let go to anyone who wants to use it."
The university scientists are due to head out into the Bay of Bengal on the Indian research ship Sindhu Sadhana on June 24 and spend a month at sea. The robots are underwater gliders with the ability to measure their surrounding environment.