Indian Ocean study seeks climate clues

Sept. 22, 2011 at 7:52 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they're joining an international effort to learn how global weather patterns are influenced by tropical weather brewing in the Indian Ocean.

The six-month field research will use aircraft, ships, moorings, radar, numerical models and other tools to study how weather systems arise in the Indian Ocean and move eastward along the equator with effects around the world, a National Science Foundation release said Thursday.

The goal is to better understand a phenomenon known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation.

This climatic disturbance spawning in the equatorial Indian Ocean roughly every 30 to 90 days is part of the Asian and Australian monsoons and can enhance hurricane activity in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, trigger torrential rainfall along the west coast of North America and affect the onset of El Nino, researchers said.

Scientists say they consider the oscillation to the world's greatest source of atmospheric variability in a one- to three-month time frame.

"The MJO drives weather in both hemispheres even though it sits along the equator," Jim Moore of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said. "Its origins have never been measured in such a systematic fashion before."

A total of 16 countries are providing staff, facilities, and/or observations in the international effort, the foundation's release said.

Scientists say they need to better understand the phenomenon to improve long-range weather forecasts.

"If you can find out how an MJO event starts, you may get a couple of weeks' warning about wintertime storms in the United States," NCAR scientist Mitchell Moncrieff said.

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