Asian scientists on new plan to study monsoon patterns

By Archita Bhatta
Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

a group of Asian scientists has framed a new plan to set up a comprehensive system to approach the study of changing monsoon patterns in Asia. A piecemeal approach towards the subject so far has led scientists to take this step. The plan, called mairs (Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Studies), has been framed under the Earth System Science Partnership--a partnership of climate change scientists across Asia. The scientists will look into the interaction of different components that influence the hydrological cycle in the continent.

The mairs International Project Office set up shop in 2005 and was formally declared open in 2006.According to the plan, there will be a three-fold improvement in studying monsoons
* Asia will be considered in its entirety for any study of monsoon
* Mutual interaction of different components that affect the hydrological cycle will be taken into account
* Interaction between human beings and environment will be addressed

"We have, so far, looked into how each component influences the hydrological cycle. But now, we will also study how the components influence each other and how that affects the cycle," says A P Mitra of Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory and one of the vice chairpersons of mairs.

A study on the monsoon system of south Asia by Florida-based Global Change System for Analysis Research and Training shows that urban area in India has increased from 27 per cent to 45 per cent between 1995 and 2005 and that, simultaneously, the area susceptible to floods has increased almost three times from 19 million hectares (ha) to 59 million ha between 1960 and 2005. It also says that the area inundated due to sea level rise is 5,800 sq km. In Bangladesh, researchers found 60 per cent of the land has become flood-prone with frequent cyclones over the past 30 years and 21 per cent of the population has been affected by sea-level rise.
Holistic approach But scientists are not satisfied. "We have studied the influence of agriculture on the hydrological cycle but alteration of land use patterns brings about changes in emissions, albedo (percentage of light reflected from the earth's surface), and several other factors. The emission scenario may influence the light reflected from the surface and all these influence the cycle. These interactions need to be fed into the models to study their influence on the hydrological cycle. This is one of the major objectives of mairs," says Mitra. He also said that south Asia, south-east Asia and east Asia cannot be separated for the purpose of study. "Changes in each influence the monsoon in the region as a whole," Mitra adds. mairs will also focus on transforming land and marine resources in coastal zones, multiple stress on high mountain ecosystems and biophysical resources in mountain zones, vulnerability of ecosystems due to changing climate, land use in semi-arid zones and changes in resource use and emissions due to rapid urbanisation.

"The National Institute of Oceanography is conducting a study on how the Arabian Sea is losing its capability of acting as a carbon dioxide sink due to high levels of pollution and phytoplankton bloom. Another study shows that ozone pollution in the surface atmosphere has led to 10 per cent decrease in agricultural output in northern India. Black carbon pollution also needs to be factored into this study. Such studies will receive attention in this new approach," says Mitra.

The plan will explore to what extent human activities modulate monsoons and how the changed monsoon climate will impact the social and economic development of Asia in 50 years. It will also study to what extent societies can adapt to such impacts through regulating policies, laws and institutions.

Long-term objectives include fostering a better understanding of how human activities alter natural variability of atmospheric, terrestrial and marine components.

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