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Project to monitor southwest monsoon at its gateway

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram , May 8

THE Kerala State Planning Board, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) have jointly embarked on a pioneering project to monitor the southwest monsoon at its gateway.

The project, titled `Antariksh' and spearheaded by Dr B. Manikam of ISRO, Bangalore, Prof C.K. Rajan of CUSAT and Dr P. Rajasekharan of the Planning Board, will see ISRO-designed and custom-made Automatic Weather Stations (AWSs) being deployed at 56 centres across the `monsoon gateway State', starting this season.

These will complement the 30 existing full-fledged weather stations set up by various agencies in the State, including the India Meteorological Department (IMD), and help generate badly needed regional weather data.

Dr Rajasekharan of the Planning Board said that the need for monitoring the rainfall and other weather parameters had become vital in the context of water and agriculture management. The observations plotted by the new meteorological network could be a major input in gauging the onset of monsoon along the Kerala coast.

The rainfall pattern in the State is bipolar with a large peak in monsoon season and another in the summer season due mainly to the thunderstorms. Inter-seasonal and inter-annual variability is high, with rainfall distribution being skewed to the coastal and mountainous areas. Rainfall recorded could deviate from the normal by as much as 10-15 per cent creating pockets of flooding and patches of drought.

This eventuality is not adequately captured in the weather data currently available and sourced from select centres. Neither is it truly representative of the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall. A yearlong study was carried out to assess the efficacy of the existing weather stations and the need, if any, to fill `gaps' in infrastructure. This is how the 56 centres came to be identified for basing the AWSs.

The AWS is a low-cost, compact, modular, rugged device to continuously record weather data such as temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, rainfall, relative humidity and solar radiation. It will replace IMD's imported devices in phases. It allows for easy programming of sensors, front panel display, archival of a year's data and communication options via satellite, telephone, modem or cell phone. A GPS (global positioning system) can be integrated with the AWS for accurate time for transmission.

The AWS can operate unattended for at least six years with minimum power from battery and solar panel for long periods in field conditions and remote areas with scarce power supply and communication. Data can be collected through the data relay transponder on board ISRO's Insat satellites.

The State Agriculture Department and the Planning Board represent the State Government in the `Antariksh' project. The Planning Board will coordinate the effort while the Agriculture Department will implement it.

Initially, it will be implemented in four `sample' districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Palakkad and Wayanad. Three of them - Alappuzha, Palakkad and Wayanad - are agriculturally oriented and represent different climatic regions in the State. Alappuzha represents the coastal climate, Palakkad the typical rice belt and Wayanad, the drought-prone.

Thiruvananthapuram was chosen because it houses offices of the IMD and ISRO, crucial players in the project. The rest of the districts will be covered in phases, Dr Rajasekharan said.

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