Indian and UK researchers team up to reveal secrets of the monsoon

25 May 2016

Understanding the southern Asian monsoon and its effects on the world's climate is the focus of a new UK research collaboration in India.

Scientists stood in front of NERC aircraft

The large-scale observational campaign will see UK and Indian scientists use NERC's state-of-the-art research aircraft to take atmospheric measurements of the summer monsoon, which will be increasingly strong over the next few weeks. Findings from the research could help forecast the arrival of the Indian monsoon more accurately than ever before.

The project has received combined funding of approximately £8 million from NERC, the Newton Fund, the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) and the UK's Met Office.

NERC Chief Executive Duncan Wingham said:

This is the most ambitious atmospheric observation campaign that NERC has undertaken. The campaign will gather fresh data on the region in more detail than ever before, bringing together scientists from the UK and India to improve forecasts of the South Asian monsoon and to learn more about its potential impacts on the global climate.

The monsoon's arrival will bring welcome relief from the intense heatwave which has devastated large parts of southern Asia. Forecasting the precise timing and location of the rains is vital to the region's economy, which is dominated by farming, and for managing its increasingly pressured water resources. The summer monsoon provides 80% of annual rainfall to around a billion people in India. Accurate predictions of intense downpours and breaks in the monsoon are essential to help farmers plan their crop planting and communities prepare for floods and droughts. Last year, the monsoon spread rapidly over northern India, causing devastating damage, whereas prolonged breaks in 2009 led to a severe shortage of rainfall and poor harvests.

NERC's Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) aircraft and its support team, based at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire and co-funded by the Met Office, is set to spend two months in India taking atmospheric measurements of the monsoon. The project will also use Indian research ships and underwater marine robots to take measurements in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, south east of India.

The observational campaign is part of NERC's Drivers of Variability in the South Asian Monsoon research programme, which is expected to last for five years. The programme aims to secure a better understanding of the physical processes of the southern Asian monsoon and its improved representation in global weather and climate models.

Projects are each jointly led by a UK and an Indian researcher. The UK team for this summer's campaign is headed by Professor Hugh Coe (University of Manchester), Dr Andy Turner (University of Reading) and Dr Adrian Matthews (University of East Anglia). They will be joined by Indian colleagues Dr S Suresh Babu (Indian Space Research Organisation), Professor GS Bhat (Indian Institute of Science) and PN Vinayachandran (Indian Institute of Science).

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) office in India has facilitated partnership between NERC and MoES in this key area of research, and continues to build strategic collaboration between UK and India.

Dr Nafees Meah, director of RCUK India, said:

It is great to see the arrival of the FAAM aircraft in India after months of detailed preparation by researchers and officials from India and the UK. Over the next couple of months, the state-of-the-art instruments on board the aircraft will be taking atmospheric measurements which are the key to understanding the progress of the monsoon across the sub-continent.

The programme builds on the success of NERC's Changing Water Cycle programme, which finishes in 2016. The aim of this research was to improve our understanding of how the water cycle in India is changing and the potential effects of this. The highlights of the programme are listed in the notes below.

Further information

Mary Goodchild
NERC media office
01793 411939
07710 147485


1. Earth System Science Organization (ESSO), Ministry of Earth Sciences: ESSO-MoES is mandated to provide the nation with best possible services in forecasting the monsoons and other weather/climate parameters, ocean state, earthquakes, tsunamis and other phenomena related to earth systems through well integrated programmes. The Ministry also deals with science and technology for exploration and exploitation of ocean resources (living and non-living), and play nodal role for Antarctic/Arctic and Southern Ocean research. The Ministry's mandate is to look after Atmospheric Sciences, Ocean Science & Technology and Seismology in an integrated manner.

2. Research Councils UK (RCUK) India: RCUK India, launched in 2008, brings together the best researchers in the UK and India through high-quality, high-impact research partnerships. RCUK India, based at the British High Commission in New Delhi, has facilitated co-funded initiatives between the UK, India and third parties that have grown to over close to £200 million. The research collaborations are often closely linked with UK and Indian industry partners, with more than 90 partners involved in the research. RCUK India is actively involved in co-funded research activities with seven major Indian research funders on a wide array of research themes addressing global challenges such as energy, climate change, social sciences, healthcare and life sciences.

3. The Newton Fund through science and innovation partnerships promotes economic development and social welfare of partner countries. Successfully launched in 2014 and now extended out to 2021, it is a £735 million fund, which has matched resources from its 15 partner countries: Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. By collaboratively working together on bi-lateral and multi-lateral programmes with a science and innovation focus, the UK will build strong, sustainable, systemic relationships with partner countries. It is managed by UK Department of Business, Skills & Innovation (BIS) and delivered through 15 UK delivery partners: research councils, national academies, British Council, Innovate UK and Met Office, working closely with partner countries' funders.

Newton Fund activities are in three broad areas:

  • People: increasing capacity for science and innovation in partner countries
  • Research: research collaborations on development topics
  • Translation: creating collaborative solutions to development challenges and strengthening innovation systems.

For more information visit the Newton Fund website and follow via Twitter: @Newton Fund.

4. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

5. NERC's research centres - the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).

6. UK researchers are being funded by the UK contributors. Indian researchers are funded by the Indian ministry.

7. Highlights of NERC's Changing Water Cycle programme include:

  • A UK-India team led by Imperial College London and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has built new and sophisticated computer modelling capabilities to assess the effect of climate on water regimes, and vice versa.
  • Another team led by the Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, has developed better strategies for management of irrigation water, through extensive experiments, stakeholder engagement, and awareness-raising events with farmers, policymakers, water providers and the wider community.
  • A partnership led by the University of Durham and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has compiled the first-ever integrated assessment of northwestern India's groundwater resources and aquifer system, which provides critical information for effective groundwater management solutions.
  • The University of Dundee, Lancaster University and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment led a UK-India team that has delivered solutions for better management of water resources in areas degraded by extreme rainfall.
  • Led by the University of Exeter and the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, a UK-India team has delivered improved capacity to make better monsoon predictions to benefit millions of people affected by the monsoons every summer.