In my previous article in Mirror Business on June 11, 2013, the activities of the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) were summarized and also highlighted the lack of coordination within ministries and related government institutions in Sri Lanka, related to weather forecasting and disaster management.
I shall now focus on the upgrading of weather forecasting of the Indian Meteorology Department (IMD) and the other institutions supporting such efforts. One of the major programmes launched by MoES during its 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-2011) had four components, namely Atmospheric Observational Network, strengthening computing facilities, data integration and generation of products and dissemination of information.
Atmospheric Observational Network
Towards strengthening Atmospheric Observational Network (AON) Direct Weather Recording (DWR), 393 Automatic Weather Service (AWS) facilities and 364 Automatic Rain Gauges (ARG) have been deployed.
A set of 10 Global Positioning System (GPS)-based radiosone and 65 Optical Theodolites are also operational. Further, efforts were underway to complete deployment of 13 DWRs, 550 AWSs and 1350 ARGs as a part of modernization of the IMD during the period under review. Also, ten of the upper air stations have been upgraded with GPS sondes.
Satellite observations (a) Data integration and computing facilities
High Performance Computing (HPC) systems of IBM have been operational since 2010, one each at Indian Centre Ocean Information Systems (INCOIS) Hyderabad and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune of 7.2 Flop and two HPCs at IMD and National Centre for Marine Research and Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) with a capacity of 24.5 Tflops for global data processing and Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) for weather forecasting services. The combined strength of HPCs in India for weather forecasting is about 75 TF, which has significantly improved atmospheric-ocean modelling capacity.
Another important component of the modernization of the IMD involves a complete end-to-end forecasting system that includes connectivity of the various instruments and observing systems, their real time transmission and linkage to a central data processing system, their utilization in numerical models providing a state-of-the-art IT-based forecasting environment for all forecasters throughout India. This involves integration of all observations to produce model outputs as synoptic charts showing high and low pressure areas along with effective visualization and finally dissemination of weather forecast to end users.
The other important areas covered by the Earth Systems Science Organisation (ESO) under the leadership of MoES managed by ESO Council are (a) weather modelling (b) agricultural meteorological services (c) aviation services including state-of-the-art Automatic Weather Observation Systems (AWOSs) and continuous monitoring of Runway Visibility Range (RVR) (d) hydrological service including inputs of rainfall to Central Water Commission (CWC) through 10 flood meteorological stations established in various parts of India for operational flood forecasting (e) environmental services including a network for air pollution monitoring stations to collect rain samples for chemical analyses, measuring atmospheric turbidity with the objective of documenting the long-term changes in composition of deleterious substances.
Disaster management (1) Tsunami Warning System
A state-of-the-art Tsunami Warning System was set up in October 2007 with a network of seismic stations including international stations to compute earthquake parameters simulated scenarios of travel time and run up heights at 1800 coastal locations in the Indian Ocean, observing platforms for sea level variations, both in deep sea and coast, effective communication and dissemination system, data centre and decision support system. This integrated facility is recognized as the regional Tsunami Warning System and provides services to many countries in the Indian Ocean as well. It is regretted that Sri Lanka is not linked to this system as pointed out in my article in Daily Mirror Business of April 28, 2012 titled ‘Authorities overreact on borrowed info’.
The other areas covered by disaster management (DM) are (a) earthquake warning, prediction and mitigation (b) earthquake research (c) micro seismic zoning (d) vulnerability maps and (c) cyclone prediction.
Studies on climate change
Centre for Climate Change Research
A dedicated centre has been set up at IITM Pune to address various issues related to climate change including impacts on sectors such as health, agriculture and water. Extended range predictability of Monsoon inter seasonal variability (Active/Break Monsoon Spells) is being investigated. In this regard, the Meteorology Department of Sri Lanka had stated that the recent adverse weather conditions were due to large scale monsoon circulation and vertically integrated moisture transport giving rise to excessive precipitation. The IITM findings point out that the change in such monsoon conditions is due to the role of sea surface temperature (SST) warming trend (0.05 degree C per year) in the tropical Indian Ocean inducing anomalous changes favourable for increased monsoon breaks. Characteristics of wet spells (WS) and intervening dry spells (DS) as experienced in Sri Lanka over the past few years are the most useful information available at IITM.
The other areas covered under climate change are (a) Climate Services and Climate Data Centre and (b) Cloud Aerosol Interaction and Precipitation Enhancement Experiment (CAIPEX).
The Minister of Disaster Management who overlooks the Meteorology Department, Disaster Management Centre and the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) in a recent interview to the media stated that plans were finalized to modernize the Meteorology Department and upgrade facilities in 2012 for a more efficient weather forecasting. To this end, JAICA funds have been allocated and this programme is due to commence in 2014.My contention is that a meaningful approach to such upgrading is to request the Government of India for collaboration with the MoES and link our weather services, Tsunami warnings, earthquake monitoring including micro seismic studies, climate change studies with relevant institutions in India as appropriate and if such collaboration is successful, JAICA assistance could upgrade facilities to receive data from the Indian satellites and other devices as well as the relevant data with modern computers as HPCs and state-of-the-art IT facilities. JAICA be requested to supply the required ARGs, DWRs, AWSs and GPSs as required for the Meteorology Department compatible with those from the IMD.
It is suggested that Sri Lanka make a formal request to the Government of India at the next Indo-Sri Lanka Consultative Meeting to launch a programme to link the services under the MoES with the relevant institutions in Sri Lanka coordinated by a Council of Ministers from the four relevant ministries namely Disaster Management, Environment and Natural Resources, Fisheries and Irrigation. It is further suggested that a comprehensive Plan of Action be formulated by a team of senior scientists and high government officials focusing on the intended benefits to Sri Lanka to be presented to the Indian government. This plan could also include ocean resources and technology and study of ocean - land interface which is an important function of the International Oceanology Centre launched on the World Environment Day by IOMAC and ONS at the BMICH on June 7, 2013.
It must be stressed that forecasting and mitigation of natural disasters related to weather, Tsunami, flooding, landslides, sea level rise, storm surges and cyclones, etc. in Sri Lanka are mostly within the range of the Indian forecasting systems and if Sri Lanka collaborates with India, it will avoid duplication of resources and efforts as the land, atmosphere and ocean space of Sri Lanka encompass the Indian subcontinent and the northern Indian Ocean.
(Dulip Jayawardena, a retired United Nations ESCAP Economic Affairs Officer, can be reached at email@example.com)