The Indian Meteorological Department has embraced advanced technology for accurate weather forecasts and to save life through with timely predictions. K.J. Ramesh, the Director General of Meteorology of IMD, tells how the organisation is helping the citizens.
Is artificial rain a solution to tackle air pollution in Delhi?
There are multiple factors that contribute to the air pollution in Delhi. The local emissions are already very high in the capital where the transport sector contributes the maximum. Though NASA regularly gives out satellite images of burning of the crop residue, they were given more consideration when it started to affect the air quality of Delhi about two years ago.
Apart from this, the transfer of dust from the Gulf also contributed to this issue. One has to understand that this is a winter phenomenon in the city since the air is denser and thus the pollution settles. However, artificial rain is not a solution. For artificial rains, the clouds are injected to produce rains but in winters there is hardly any cloud formation and thus it is not a workable option.
What are some of the proposed solutions to combat poor air quality in Delhi?
There are multiple actions required to address this issue which have to be both long term and short term. We have to first monitor the pollution to know which part of the day, which part of the city is facing the issue, or if the hot spots are static or dynamic before we can come up with a solution. To monitor the same, we have 44 stations in the city to keep a check on the air quality and identify the emission sources. We also have to update the emission inventory to accommodate the new contributors.
A high level committee has been formed which will advise steps to the capital and the neighbouring state governments to combat this issue. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) is also put in place to come up with short term fixes so that emissions can be modulated. Implementation of Odd-Even, shutting of thermal power plants, avoiding the movement of debris and trucks are some of the short term solutions.
Has accuracy of weather improved over the years? What has brought about this improvement?
The accuracy depends on the quality of input data from observation systems. We not only measure the surface temperature but to measure temperature, humidity and wind speed above the surface, we use the balloon and payload method. This technology has undergone improvements in the last few years. We track a payload which is attached to a balloon filled with hydrogen gas and then released in the atmosphere.
When the inside pressure of the balloon is more than the external pressure, the balloon bursts, which is mostly at 20 to 22 km and then the measurements are taken from 43 locations across the country, twice a day. We plan to increase this to 55 locations in a year’s time. During afternoons and nights, we measure only the wind speed from 60 stations. Almost 40,000 payloads are required per year and as per the global rate contract, currently we pay $59 dollars per payload, which is a heavy investment made only on upper air measurements as the data received from these activities are the lifeline of most of the services.
How are IMD services helping the agriculture sector?
Improvements in weather forecast have had a significant impact on the agriculture industry. We have identified 130 agriculture monitoring stations, set up in the agriculture university campuses, research farms and Indian Council of agricultural Research (ICAR) labs to generate forecasts. Under the Gramin Krishi Mausam Seva, agro-advisory services are provided where these 130 stations cover four to six nearby districts and generate customised weather forecasts, twice a week on Tuesday and Friday for the next four days, for four major crops.
This way, we cover all 656 districts of the country. A weekly outlook is also provided by the ICAR. Apart from this advisory, 42 million registered farmers receive their crop related advisory through an SMS and on the mKisan portal. When we had started this service, only three million farmers were taking the benefit which has now become 42 million. We are now working with states to generate the database of the remaining farmer households and then disseminate this information further.
In 2015, according to a survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, to assess the economic impact of this service, it was found that the total GDP contribution was Rs 48,000 crore. It was also observed that if this service was expanded to 22 crops and penetrated to the block level, then it had the potential to have an economic impact of Rs 3,50,000 crore. Keeping this in mind, we are now expanding the monitoring units to each of the 656 districts. We are going to use the ICAR’s Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) to set up these units. We have 130 stations already in place and of the remaining units we plan to open 200 units by the end of this year.
The loss of lives of fishermen at sea has been attributed to the lack of timely information about weather changes. How are you addressing this issue?
Open sea communication is a challenge and to address that we have come up with some measures to warn the fishermen of changes in weather conditions. The GPRS system delivers alerts up till 12 nautical miles but beyond that, it is difficult to inform the fishermen about possible calamities. We are linking the VHF frequencies at lighthouses with the fishermen boats to reach a larger radius with NAVTEX, wirelessly.
This network can cover a distance of 12-30 nautical miles. The Tamil Nadu government has also brought around 1,000 satellite phones to inform the fishermen not only about sea roughness but also the atmosphere condition. The fishermen can also be alerted about natural disasters while they are at the sea using the NaVIC system, a home-grown GPS. Since there is no mobile network coverage in the deep seas beyond 12 nautical miles, we have introduced NaVIC, which can be mounted to the mobile device and will have bluetooth connectivity.
Writer: Ankita Saxena
Courtesy: The Pioneer