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Newton Fund helps to understand complexities of Indian monsoon and its impacts

25 May 2016

From the NERC website

Understanding the southern Asian monsoon and its effects on the world's climate is the focus of a new UK research collaboration in India.

Scientists stood in front of NERC's aircraft

The large-scale observational campaign will see UK and Indian scientists use NERC's state-of-the-art research aircraft to take atmospheric measurements of the summer monsoon, which will be increasingly strong over the next few weeks. Findings from the research could help forecast the arrival of the Indian monsoon more accurately than ever before.

The project has received combined funding of approximately £8m from NERC, the Newton Fund, the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) and the UK's Met Office.

NERC Chief Executive Duncan Wingham said:

"This is the most ambitious atmospheric observation campaign that NERC has undertaken. The campaign will gather fresh data on the region in more detail than ever before, bringing together scientists from the UK and India to improve forecasts of the South Asian monsoon and to learn more about its potential impacts on the global climate."

The monsoon's arrival will bring welcome relief from the intense heatwave which has devastated large parts of southern Asia. Forecasting the precise timing and location of the rains is vital to the region's economy, which is dominated by farming, and for managing its increasingly pressured water resources. The summer monsoon provides 80 per cent of annual rainfall to around a billion people in India. Accurate predictions of intense downpours and breaks in the monsoon are essential to help farmers plan their crop planting and communities prepare for floods and droughts. Last year, the monsoon spread rapidly over northern India, causing devastating damage, whereas prolonged breaks in 2009 led to a severe shortage of rainfall and poor harvests.

NERC's Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) aircraft and its support team, based at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire and co-funded by the Met Office, is set to spend two months in India taking atmospheric measurements of the monsoon. The project will also use Indian research ships and underwater marine robots to take measurements in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, south east of India.

The observational campaign is part of NERC's Drivers of Variability in the South Asian Monsoon research programme, which is expected to last for five years. The programme aims to secure a better understanding of the physical processes of the southern Asian monsoon and its improved representation in global weather and climate models.

Projects are each jointly led by a UK and an Indian researcher. The UK team for this summer's campaign is headed by Professor Hugh Coe (University of Manchester), Dr Andy Turner (University of Reading) and Dr Adrian Matthews (University of East Anglia). They will be joined by Indian colleagues Dr S Suresh Babu (Indian Space Research Organisation), Professor GS Bhat (Indian Institute of Science) and PN Vinayachandran (Indian Institute of Science).

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) office in India has facilitated partnership between NERC and MoES in this key area of research, and continues to build strategic collaboration between UK and India.

Dr Nafees Meah, director of RCUK India, said:

"It is great to see the arrival of the FAAM aircraft in India after months of detailed preparation by researchers and officials from India and the UK. Over the next couple of months, the state-of-the-art instruments on board the aircraft will be taking atmospheric measurements which are the key to understanding the progress of the monsoon across the sub-continent."

The programme builds on the success of NERC's Changing Water Cycle programme, which finishes in 2016. The aim of this research was to improve our understanding of how the water cycle in India is changing and the potential effects of this. The highlights of the programme are listed in the notes below.

Please click here to see the article on the NERC website