The World Meteorological Organization announced on June 26 that a team including Mark Cane, Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has received the 2009 Norbert Gerbier-MUMM International Award for work on Indian monsoons. This award is granted to a researcher or research team that publishes an original scientific paper on the interaction between meteorology and the fields of physical, natural and human sciences. The team was cited for their paper, “Unraveling the Mystery of Indian Monsoon Failure during El Niño,” published in the journal Science in October 2006 (Volume 314, pages 115 to 118).
The rapid modernization of the Indian economy notwithstanding, agricultural output continues to be critical to India’s economic health. Accurate predictions of the Indian monsoon rains would allow for preparation and mitigation of the effects of a poor monsoon. This study has the potential to greatly enhance the accuracy of Indian monsoon forecasting and has implications for the Indian economy at large.
It has long been known that the monsoon rains are typically poor in the year of an El Niño event. (An El Niño event is said to occur when sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific are anomalously warm.) All methods for predicting the strength of the monsoon rely on this relationship. In some El Niño years, however, the rains do not fail, and the reason for this is not known. The team showed that Indian monsoon rainfall depends not only on El Niño occurrences, but on the pattern of the El Niño temperature anomalies at the time of the summer monsoon. If the waters are warmest in the far eastern equatorial Pacific, then the rains are not likely to fail.
Asked to comment on the significance of this work, Cane said: “Scientists have been trying to predict the Indian monsoon since the great drought and famine of 1877 and probably longer. Progress has been maddeningly slow. Our work is nowhere near a total answer, but we think it is something rare in monsoon research – a genuine step forward.”
The research team was headed by Dr. K. Krishna Kumar, Programme Manager on Climate Variability and Change at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology based in Pune, India. The other team members were Dr. Balaji Rajagopalan, Associate Professor and Fellow, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, and Dr. Martin Hoerling and Dr. Gary Bates of the NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder, Colorado.