NOAA research on South Asian monsoon honored by World Meteorological Organization

July 31, 2012

Ramaswamy, Bollasina and Ming.

Left to right: V. “Ram” Ramaswamy, Ph.D., director of the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.; Massimo Bollasina, Ph.D., of Princeton University; and Yi Ming, Ph.D., a Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory researcher; are recipients of the 2012 World Meteorological Organization’s Norbert Gerbier-MUMM International Award. 

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A 2011 NOAA research paper that tied weaker South Asian summer monsoons to human activities has won the World Meteorological Organization’s Norbert Gerbier-MUMM International Award for 2013. The award recognizes an original scientific paper on the influence of meteorology in a particular field of the physical, natural or human sciences, or on the influence of one of these sciences on meteorology.

The paper, “Anthropogenic aerosols and the weakening of the South Asian Summer Monsoon,” was published in the journal Science in September 2011. Massimo Bollasina, Ph.D., of Princeton University, and Yi Ming, Ph.D., and V. “Ram” Ramaswamy, Ph.D., of the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, N.J., wrote the paper. Bollasina is an investigator for the Cooperative Institute for Climate Science, a partnership between NOAA and Princeton. He is also with Princeton’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program, a collaborative program of GFDL and Princeton.  

The three authors will receive the award next spring at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. The WMO is the United Nations’ agency for weather, climate, and water. The award was named for the late Norbert Gerbier, who served as president of the WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology from 1979 to 1985.

Bollasina, Ming, and Ramaswamy’s research answered an important question about decreasing rainfall during South Asian summer monsoons in the last half of the 20th century. Monsoon rains provide about 80 percent of the precipitation for this region of the world, so weaker monsoons could prove harmful to crops, livestock, water resources, and human and economic health. Policymakers and resource managers needed to know whether the decreased rainfall was part of a natural cycle or was influenced by human activity.

Using the latest NOAA/GFDL global climate model, they compared model simulations with observed monsoon rainfall data and hydrological cycle theory. The results clearly pointed to human influences as the driving force behind decreasing monsoons.

However, increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were not to blame for this observed phenomenon. Aerosols, or tiny particles emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, were. This research indicates the prominent role that aerosols can play in altering regional climate. To read more about the findings, visit the GFDL website.

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