Every year around June 1, Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum hosts the world’s most important monsoon systems in India. Chasing the Indian monsoon in 1987, Alexander Frater chose Trivandrum as his first stop and writes that welcoming the monsoon to Kovalam beach made him feel “locked in a roaring cataract of waterfall foaming water”. Now, at this very spot, a prominent meteorologist from India has launched a book explaining the intricacies of the monsoon.
After an illustrious career as a scientist, meteorologist and Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of the Government of India, Madhavan Nair Rajeevan is back in his hometown of Trivandrum, while continuing to guide the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) as as a distinguished scientist. . He started his career as a scientist studying the stars at one of the country’s most important research institutes, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He then joined IMD for more than two decades of dedicated research as a meteorologist, where he rose through the ranks to become Director of IMD’s National Climate Center before joining the Space Department.
Dr. Rajeevan’s love for weather systems brought him back to head the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, for a brief period. From 2015 to 2021, he served as Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, guiding IMD, IITM and other earth science research institutes towards excellence. As a distinguished researcher, he has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers that have been cited over 10,000 times.
Earlier this week, on World Meteorological Day (March 23), we spoke to Dr. Rajeevan to find out more about his experience as a renowned meteorologist and scientist in India. Here is what he had to say:
The monsoon is known for its unpredictability and variability. As a monsoon hunter, how difficult was it for you to decipher its science and use it to better predict it?
The monsoon remains a mystery and a very complex phenomenon. We don’t know everything about the monsoon, although our understanding and forecasting ability has improved considerably. There are gray areas; we have many unknowns about the role of the oceans, land surface and clouds. I started monsoon hunting in the early 1990s. At that time we didn’t have adequate data or good models. We relied more on empirical methods using all the data we had.
But over the past 20 to 25 years, a significant amount of research work has been done by Indian and international scholars. More and more data, especially satellite data, began to arrive and better prediction models evolved, thanks to fast computers. Being in India was an advantage for me because we Indians studied the monsoon years together. The monsoon is our bread and butter. We have a passion for studying the monsoon, even though it’s a difficult problem to solve.
We have, in all humility, continued to study the monsoon more vigorously and improved our forecasts. The Indian government has also offered timely assistance by investing millions in the ambitious monsoon mission with the ultimate aim of better prediction. I’m sure our quest for a better prediction will yield more positive results. At the same time, we must remember that we cannot predict everything about the monsoon and we cannot succeed every time. But we will continue to improve.
You started your career at TIFR in the 1980s. What were the challenges at the time and what pushed you to continue in this field?
Well, in the 1980s, there weren’t a lot of job opportunities. When I got the job at TIFR, I remember my college celebrating. I come from a small village and studied in a local private college. A student from this modest background who joined the best research institution in the country was remarkable. I just continued to do a good job with all sincerity and humility. I never kept any ambition in my mind, but just kept pushing forward. Now, students have many opportunities to choose from. What you need is merit and the motivation to excel.
Please shed some light on the history of meteorological science in India and how it has evolved over the years.
Prior to independence, IMD was well known for its high quality scientific work. Great scientists like Sir Gilbert Walker, known for the Walker Circulation and other Southern Oscillation studies, were once the head of IMD. Even people like Sir CV Raman had great respect for IMD and used to send his students to IMD after graduation. But after independence, IMD did not receive full attention and its quality slowly deteriorated. Government funding has declined sharply as it was under the Ministry of Civil Aviation for many years.
Even after being attached to the Department of Science and Technology, it lacked proper care and required investment. Apart from the regular operating budgets, IMD has only been allocated (approximately) Rs 25 crore for annual expenses, while a radar would cost us around Rs 80 crore. While Europe and the United States have made rapid progress in meteorological sciences and meteorology, we have paid little attention to the weather, which has led to a large gap in technology, knowledge and the quality of meteorological services. . Even within the IMD, we continued to believe in the hierarchy and no reform was attempted.
Under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, IMD and other research institutes have made tremendous contributions to our understanding of Indian weather and forecasting ability in recent years. Thank you for detailing this transformation.
India’s meteorological science has improved tremendously over the past 10 to 12 years. The formation of an independent ministry from the Ministry of Earth Sciences (established in 2006) and the integration of IMD and affiliated institutes like IITM and NCMRWF have led to substantial improvements. The government began to invest more in better technology and human resource development. New, faster computers arrived and the department was able to convert all good science into high quality services. As secretary, I ensured that the three institutes (IMD, NCMRWF and IITM) worked together. For MoES institutes, including IMD, we have recently recruited very talented young scientists who have worked in the United States and Europe.
Today, the MoES has a pool of bright young scientists. We have one of the best technologies, faster computers, top scientists and many collaborations with the international fraternity. All together we now have one of the best weather forecasting systems in the world. IMD is doing a great job, but we still need to improve. Bring in more and more observations, develop better models, produce more custom products, and provide better weather services.
You had a brilliant career as a meteorologist and scientist. What has been your greatest learning experience?
You can only succeed through hard work and optimism. Nothing replaces hard work, which was my greatest learning! I always believed in my abilities and worked hard to succeed. I never had a godfather but I had many supporters. Not having a godfather was advantageous to me; it helped me become a self-made man.
You continued to interact directly with people through social media for many years. What motivated you to regularly share knowledge on such platforms? How was the experience?
It was a wonderful experience. There was a serious communication problem with the ministry and the IMD. We were speaking in difficult language to the user community and that too was not communicated in time. But in recent years, we have changed. We have brought better and new terminology that is clearer and we have improved our communication channels. That’s why I got involved in social media. I also ensured that all MoES institutes joined on social media. IMD now has thousands of people following them on Twitter and Facebook. Despite my busy schedule, I also occasionally tweet important achievements, forecasts and new initiatives. It was the need of the hour and should be supported more.
World Meteorological Day 2022 highlights the importance of “early warning and early action”. What is your message on this occasion?
It is a very important topic. We know that high-impact weather events are on the rise and it is increasingly difficult to provide early warnings that can save lives, reduce damage and mitigation costs, and more. Our early warning systems have improved, but there is still room for improvement. We should invest more in increasing observations, improving high-resolution weather forecasting models and developing multi-hazard early warning systems. This is a priority file for the Ministry of Earth Sciences in the years to come. India should also assume more leadership in this area and provide assistance to other countries in the region.
This article is part of a series of expert interviews. The opinions of the interviewee do not necessarily represent the official views of The Weather Channel. Few answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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