Indian Ocean buoys help solve climate puzzles

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A vast network of research buoys across the tropical Indian Ocean is helping farmers better plan their crops and to unlock the climate secrets of one of the least studied expanses of water, a team of scientists say.

A dhow sails in the Indian Ocean near Lamu archipelago, a small group of islands off Kenya's north coast, December 10, 2003. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

The Indian Ocean was the most poorly observed and least understood of the three tropical oceans, the scientists say in study on the network published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Yet monsoon rains in the Indian Ocean region were critical to grazing and cropping that supported a third of mankind from East Africa and India to Southeast Asia and Australia. The ocean also had far-reaching climate influences, such as on Atlantic hurricane activity.

“The Indian Ocean is one of the remaining great unknowns because historically we had little ocean data from that part of the world,” Gary Meyers, one of the report’s authors, told Reuters.

“We haven’t even had very good meteorological data from the Indian Ocean,” said Meyers, director, Integrated Marine Observing System at the University of Tasmania in southern Australia.

So far, instruments have been deployed at 22 of the 46 mooring sites that stretch in an arc from Sumatra in Indonesia to the east coast of equatorial Africa.


A variety of ocean and weather measurements are beamed via satellite to researchers and the data is available free to the public, Meyers said.

Countries including India, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and the United States are funding the array, which is expected to be finished by 2012.

Meyers said the array would help improve weather forecasts and also improve the understanding of the impacts of climate change.

Data from the network, called the research moored array for African-Asian-Australian monsoon analysis and prediction (RAMA), would also help scientists better predict the impacts of phenomena such as the Indian Ocean Dipole, a fluctuation in ocean surface temperatures.

When it is in a negative phase, it creates cool water west of Australia and warm Timor Sea water to the north. In a positive phase, the pattern of Indian Ocean temperatures is reversed, weakening the winds and reducing the amount of moisture picked up and transported across Australia.

Australian farmers were already using forecasting data about the dipole to plan their cropping.

Editing by David Fox