Unique atmospheric research testbed in M.P. village will help predict monsoon better

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on July 28, 2020

It’s often said that the Indian budget is a gamble on the monsoon. Therefore, a lot rides on calling rainfall patterns correctly. With a number of agencies — both national and international — in the business of forecasting monsoon, predictions are getting better.

But to make monsoon forecasts even more accurate, India is now building an atmospheric research testbed (ART) in Madhya Pradesh’s Sehore district. To be situated in Silkheda village, this would be the first such facility in the world to observe and study tropical clouds.

Choice of location

The location was carefully chosen. Apart from being miles away from industrial activity, the region lies directly in the path of rain-bearing portents such as low pressure systems and depressions emanating from the Bay of Bengal.

On Monday, Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan had indicated at an event that the testbed facility will be launched in 2021 with the first phase of instrumentation. “The open field observatory is planned to be spread over 100 acres of land (50 km from Bhopal) and is proposed to give a better understanding of the monsoon clouds and land processes,” he said.

Talking exclusively to BusinessLine, M Rajeevan, Secretary Ministry of Earth Sciences, later shared: “This will be a unique facility where the observations and modelling work will go together to understand and predict monsoon clouds better in models.” The first phase of the project, expected to cost around ₹125 crore, will see the installation of state-of-the-art observational systems such as radars, wind profilers and other instruments for land and atmosphere measurements.

“It is meant for intense observations focussing on existing model deficiencies. In the current prediction models, monsoon clouds are not well simulated and thus, there are errors in forecasting precipitation,” said Rajeevan.

Although there is a similar ART facility at the Southern Great Plains (SGP) Observatory in Oklahoma, US, metereologists point out that it doesn’t study tropical clouds.

“Currently, the world over, scientists and modellers are using data available from SGP. But this facility is located in the mid-latitudes. While data generated at this observtory are good for European countries, it is not suitable for tropical regions like ours,” explained G Pandithurai of the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and scientist in charge of the observatory.

According to Pandithurai, scientists studying monsoon phenomena all over the world will benefit from the data generated by the new facility. This is because the centre would have radars operating in multiple frequencies. This is necessary as frequencies required for studying rains are different from those needed for studying clouds. Similarly, the wind profiler would be able to detect wind speed and direction at various elevations above the ground. “There are only a very few wind profilers operating in the country, but none in the core monsoon region,” Pandithurai said. There is one each in Chennai (used mainly by ISRO for satellite launches from Sriharikota), Kochi, Guhawati and Kolkata.

Currently, balloons are used by the India Meterological Department to do wind profiling. But that can be done just once or twice a day while ART would be doing it on a continuous basis.

Published on July 28, 2020

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