UMass Dartmouth Scientists Join U.S.-India Monsoon Research

First-of-its-kind collaboration between the United States and India to support large-scale research on monsoon and tropical weather event forecasting

Scientists from the UMass Dartmouth Upper Ocean Dynamics Laboratory are part of a U.S. contingent participating in a first-of-its-kind joint oceanographic venture with their Indian counterparts. 

The US science component of this bilateral program is led by Dr. Amit Tandon, UMass Dartmouth College of Engineering and Dr. Amala Mahadevan, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and also adjunct faculty at UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology. The U.S. team also includes Dr. Sanjiv Ramachandran, Dr. Tandon's research associate, along with scientists from 17 other U.S. and Indian institutions. 

Researchers from the two countries will be working together to understand ocean processes in the international waters of the Bay of Bengal and their relation to the annual monsoon, which is a dominant factor in the lives of the population of the Indian subcontinent. A long-term ocean observatory, in the form of a deep sea mooring for ocean and weather measurements, will be set up in the central Bay of Bengal. 

Improved forecasting of the monsoon and extreme weather events can both have enormous human and economic impact in India. This is illustrated in a comparison between two of the strongest tropical cyclones to have struck the country in modern times. In 1999, a cyclone resulted in $4-5 billion in property damage and 10,000 deaths. A comparable cyclone in 2013, with better weather prediction and storm preparation, caused $700 million in damage and three deaths. 

"The monsoon has two faces," said Dr. Tandon. "It can be a major destructive force, and yet most of the country's agriculture depends on the timing and amount of the monsoon rains. A fluctuation of just 10 percent from the seasonal norm is the difference between a 'deficient' and an 'excessive' monsoon." 

The U.S. Office of Naval Research is funding the participating U.S. scientists. In addition to the scientists' time and expertise, the U.S. is contributing the resources of the R/V Roger Revelle. The ship made a call in the port of Chennai in mid-June, the first U.S. research vessel to call at an Indian port since the 1980s. The Indian scientists, led by Debasis Sengupta and M. Ravichandran are funded by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences' Monsoon Mission. 

"This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the U.S. on this scale because the kind of scientific observations and data we plan to collect are massive," said Shailesh Nayak, Indian Secretary for the Ministry of Earth Sciences. The data-gathering phase alone is expected to take three years. 

Dr. Frank Herr of the Office of Naval Research noted, "The visit of this U.S. oceanographic research ship to India is an important moment in the history of scientific partnership between our two countries. We hope to grow lasting scientific cooperation between our nations and acquire the knowledge to better forecast the initiation of the annual monsoons." 

"The international collaboration requires enormous science and program coordination," said Dr. Tandon, citing multiple trips he made to the Indian Embassy, as well as trips to India with ONR Program Officer Dr. Theresa Paluszkiewicz to present the project ideas and build scientific relationships. As a capstone to over a year of preparation, Dr. Tandon, along with Dr. R. Venkatesan of the Indian National Institute of Ocean Technology, showcased the collaboration aboard the Revelle on June 14 with the team of U.S. scientists and the Indian scientific team. 

As part of their collaboration, Dr. Tandon and several U.S. colleagues will return to India in July to conduct a two-week training workshop at the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore on upper-ocean dynamics in the Bay of Bengal. 

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