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NOAA image of NOAA personnel servicing a TAO/TRITON buoy in 1999 off the NOAA ship RONALD H. BROWN.April 25, 2005 The system of moored buoys in the Pacific that has helped predict El Niño is being expanded into the Indian Ocean to help improve the understanding of the climate system in that region. Scientists from NOAA are working with international climate scientists to develop a plan for such a system. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA personnel servicing a TAO/TRITON buoy in 1999 off the NOAA ship RONALD H. BROWN. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"We need observations in all of the world's oceans to help us better predict weather and climate, as well as help us understand what's happening in the ocean," said Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Such an array will move us closer to a Global Earth Observation System of Systems to help us fill gaps in our knowledge of Earth's climate system."

Five buoys have been deployed through funding by the NOAA Office of Climate Observation in cooperation with the Indian National Institute of Oceanography and Department of Ocean Development. Another NOAA buoy is slated to be deployed in November. Three additional buoys were deployed by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology. It's expected that seven will be deployed by 2007. Additional buoys will be guided by international plans and future budgets. Plans envision a total of 39 when the array is completed.

Leading NOAA's effort is Michael McPhaden of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and director of the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array in the Pacific. The array, which was renamed TAO/TRITON in 2000 to reflect contributions by Japan, won the Grace Hopper Government Technology Award, or "Gracie" Award, for technological innovation in 2003.

"The Indian Ocean is the least understood of the three tropical oceans, especially as it relates to climate," McPhaden said. "But some recent discoveries, including a fluctuation in that area similar to the El Niño-Southern Ocean (ENSO), underscore the need to know more about the role of the Indian Ocean in the climate system."

Another discovery is the energetic interactions in the region between the ocean and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a 30- to-60-day fluctuation in atmospheric winds, pressure and rainfall that originates over the Indian Ocean.

Scientists say that these interactions can not only significantly affect Asian monsoon rainfalls but also affect weather on the U.S. West Coast, formation of hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic and the onset of El Niño events.

The Indian Ocean is unique in that it is blocked at 25 degrees North by the Asian land mass. This creates dramatic monsoon wind reversals and intense summer rains, which are essential for the agriculture that supports a large population in the area. The reversing monsoon winds also generate a unique system of currents unlike those observed in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific.

McPhaden and colleagues formed the Indian Ocean Panel that will develop the implementation plans for the new array. The panel is chaired by Gary Meyers of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), and is jointly sponsored by the Climate Variability and Predictability Program (CLIVAR) of the World Climate Research Program and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission's Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Office of Climate Observation

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory


Media Contact:
Jana Goldman, NOAA Research, (301) 713-2483 ext. 181