Robots the new rain men?

Robots the new rain men?

To better predict South Asia’s seasonal monsoon, scientists are preparing to release robots in the Bay of Bengal to study how ocean conditions might affect rainfall patterns.

The monsoon, which hits between June and September, delivers more than 70 percent of India’s annual rainfall. Its arrival is awaited by millions of farmers, and delays can ruin crops. Yet, the rains are hard to predict. They can be affected by weather phenomena and could become more erratic with climate change and air pollution.

“It’s such a complex system,” said Ben Webber, an oceanographer at the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, which is leading the U.S. $11 million project. “The processes that occur in the Bay of Bengal are not well understood.”

A big mystery is how the water currents work, with colder and fresher water streaming into the northern part of the bay, while warmer and saltier water flows in farther south from the Arabian Sea. While scientists have known that small changes in surface temperatures can have a big impact, they have never thoroughly studied the changes during monsoon season.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find,’’ Webber said. Working from an Indian research ship out of the port city of Chennai, the scientists will spend a month releasing seven underwater robots across a 400-kilometer stretch. The robots are programmed to navigate up and down through the water to a depth of 1,000 meters, measuring salinity, temperature and current.

At the same time, scientists from the University of Reading and the Indian government will take atmospheric measurements. By comparing the two sets of data, scientists hope to better understand how ocean conditions affect monsoon patterns. The Associated Press